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Hans Ruesch


Obituary reprinted from The Times Online 21/9/07

Swiss Grand Prix driver who later became an accomplished author and committed activist

A man of many talents and interests, Hans Ruesch was thought to be the last surviving winner of a motor racing grand prix held before the Second World War. He was also an author, screenwriter and animal activist.
Hans Ruesch was born in Naples in 1913, of an Italian-Swiss mother and a German-born father. His father was an industrialist and archaeologist who was a leading expert on Pompeian art, and the young Hans spent his childhood in Italy.

Already fluent in Italian and German he added French after a period at boarding school, before studying law at the University of Zurich. But in 1932 he abandoned the university and took up motor racing.

His first outing was in an MG at the Klausenrennen circuit. He soon made a significant step up, competing in the 1932 Brno Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo, coming third in the 1.5 litre class, as well as notching up several hillclimbing wins. In 1933 he set a new standing-start kilometre record at Montlhéry in a Maserati, and took first place in both German and Austrian hillclimbs. The following two years continued in much the same vein, with many class and hillclimb wins. There was also the highlight of finishing third at the Norwegian Grand Prix at Oslo towards the year’s end.
In 1936 Ruesch was at his most competitive. He purchased a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo formerly driven by the great Tazio Nuvolari. Bringing the car to England, he finished second in the 3-litre class in the Shelsey Wash hillclimb and then entered the British Grand Prix. For this he shared the car with Richard Seaman, then Britain’s top racing driver.

Ruesch took the first stint, and led with considerable ease from lap 3 to lap 60 before handing over to Seaman, who completed a comfortable win. He followed this up with victory at the Grand Prix de Bremgarten (Switzerland), with more hillclimbing wins in France and Hungary, and a third place in the grand prix at Albi, France.
In 1937 he won the Mountain Championship at Brooklands, and had three more Grand Prix wins: Bucharest, Bremgarten and the Grand Prix de Frontières. He then added the Coupe de Vitesse to this tally.

With war approaching he sold his Alfa Romeo and took up writing. He visited America to broaden his horizons, but on his return German forces were invading France, all borders were closed and he could only go to Spain on a transit visa. After a short spell in jail he continued his research in Lisbon before returning to America, where he remained, writing, until 1946. His racing career met disaster when he crashed into the crowd at a race in Bolzano, causing one death and three serious injuries. Greatly upset, Ruesch never raced again.

He wrote a string of successful novels, which were translated into many languages. They included Top of the World (1950), about Inuit life; The Racer (1953) which was made into a film, The Racers (1955), starring Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland; The Stealers (1962), about the Neapolitan exploitation of the liberating US forces; and Back to the Top of the World (1974), a return to an Inuit society now disintegrating under its contact with Western industry and commerce.

By the 1970s Ruesch was living in Rome, having spent a while studying medicine. There he edited medical handbooks. This was the stimulus to what was to become an active opposition to vivisection. Ruesch set up the Centre for Scientific Information on Vivisection, of which he remained head until his death.

His books thereafter included Slaughter of the Innocents (1978), a denunciation of vivisection on moral, medical and scientific grounds, and Naked Empress (1982) which attacked the medical profession for being led by the pharmaceuticals industry.

Numerous books followed, and Ruesch was a frequent visitor to protests, and and an adviser to antivivisection movements, almost until the end of his life. He married in 1949 Maria Luisa de la Feld. They separated in the 1970s, and she died last year. He is survived by a daughter and three sons.

Hans Ruesch, racing driver, author and antivivisectionist, was born on May 17, 1913. He died on August 27, 2007, aged 94





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