Theodor 'Theo' Helfrich (1913-1978) was a German racing driver who was active during the 1950s. He recorded three starts in the Formula One World Championship but he was more successful in other competitions, finishing second overall at 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours and winning the 1953 German Formula 2 Championship.
Successful early years in a Veritas-BMW
Born in May 1913 in Frankfurt am Main, Theo Helfrich started his racing career several years after the World War II. In that time, he owned a car dealership in Mannheim. His first recorded race was the Nurburgring Grand Prix in August 1949. He finished seventh in a BMW-powered Veritas RS.
Later that year, he scored a couple of podiums at Grenzlandring and Sachsenring. The first win came at Hockenheimring's Mai-Pokal in May 1950, still in a Veritas-BMW. He was using that car in hill climb races also, gaining some success.
Theo Helfrich's #20 Mercedes at 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours
Second place overall in a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans
Helfrich continued to race with Veritas-BMW over 1951 and 1952, making a switch to Mercedes in his debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 1952. In his first race at Circuit de la Sarthe, Helfrich achieved a fantastic result, finishing in the second place.
He and Helmut Niedermayr were sharing factory-entered #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL W194, completing 276 laps over 24 hours, one lap less than race winners Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess in the #21 Mercedes.
Formula One Championship debut at Nürburgring Nordschleife
On the first weekend of August 1952, Helfrich participated in the race meeting at Nürburgring Nordschleife which included sports car race and Formula 1 German Grand Prix. He finished fourth in the sports car race, driving the #23 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.
In his first F1 race, which was held under F2 rules, Helfrich was driving the #122 Veritas RS-BMW. He was the 18th-fastest qualifier among 34 drivers. In the race, he stopped after just one lap with a broken engine.
Theo Helfrich in a Cooper F3 car
German F2 champion in 1953
Helfrich was also active in Formula 2 and Formula 3 races, taking his only championship title in 1953 when he was the German F2 champion. He clinched a title in a Veritas-BMW race car.
In August 1953, he repeated a double participation at Nürburgring Nordschleife race meeting. He was third in the sports car race in a Borgward RS 1500. In the Formula 1 German Grand Prix, he raced again in a Veritas-BMW, finishing the race in 12th place.
Helfrich third and last F1 attempt followed in August 1954. This time, he was driving Hans Klenk's Meteor-BMW, retiring from the race after eight laps with a broken engine.
Helfrich was driving the #22 Klenk Meteor at 1954 German Grand Prix
Ending a career in a Porsche
In 1955, Helfrich raced in a Porsche 550 in sports car events, but without notable results. Next year, he scored two good results by finishing fifth at Rouen Grand Prix and third at Berlin Grand Prix. He also raced in hill climb events with Cooper-Norton F3 car.
After few more racing attempts in 1957, at the age of 44, he ended his racing career. He died in April 1978 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein.