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The 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours was an important event for Mercedes-Benz and German racing as a whole – the first international victory since World War II. Sharing that glory were 1930s star Hermann Lang and the lesser known Fritz Riess.
Entering the last hour it had appeared that “Pierre Levegh” would score a remarkable victory by driving his Lago-Talbot single handed. However, the Frenchman’s con-rod failed and the Lang/Riess Mercedes 300SL was through to an historic victory.
Post-war Formula 2 career
Riess drove a Hermann Holbein-designed HH-BMW Formula 2 car during 1949 in what was his first full season of motor racing. Normally on the podium in German races, he switched chassis for the following season – first trying a Veritas before racing an AFM.
With Germany readmitted to the FIA, Riess raced abroad for the first time in 1950 when seventh in the Prix de Berne that supported the Swiss Grand Prix. Riess scored his highest profile victory in the category a week later at the Nürburgring by passing Toni Ulmen on the last lap to win the Eifelrennen. He also won the 1950 German 2000cc Sportscar Championship.
Le Mans success and Grand prix debut
The 1952 season began with victory at Dessau in a Veritas and, unusually for him, Riess drove foreign machinery in the Eifelrennen although his Ecurie Espadon Ferrari 212 retired. Having won Le Mans on his debut in the event, Riess then entered his only world championship GP. He qualified well and finished seventh in the 1952 German GP with a sports bodied Veritas RS – the first local car home.
A second and final appearance at Le Mans ended in retirement in 1953. Riess tested a Formula 1 Mercedes at Hockenheim during the following season but scaled back his racing activities thereafter. His last international race was the 1957 Nürburgring 1000Kms when sharing a Mercedes 300SL with Walter Schock. They finished in 20th position overall to win the GT class.