Gerhard Mitter (1935-1969) was a German racing driver who was active during the 1960s before he lost a life in a crash at Nürburgring during the practice for the German Grand Prix. Before that deadly accident, Mitter recorded five starts in the Formula World Championship between 1963 and 1967.
He was more successful in hill climb racing and sports car racing, scoring a victory at 1969 Targa Florio as his greatest result. He participated five times at 24 Hours of Le Mans as Porsche factory driver, not finishing neither one of those five races. On the other side of Atlantic, he scored three class victories at Sebring 12 Hours with Porsche.
Extremely successful in the German Formula Junior
Mitter was born in Schönlinde (Krasna Lípa) in Czechoslovakia in August 1935, but his family was expelled from there to Germany during World War II. During the fifties, Mitter started his racing career with motorbikes and then, in the late 1950s, he switched to car racing in the German Formula Junior.
He was extremely successful in that category, winning championship titles in 1960 and 1962. According to some sources, he scored forty victories in Formula Junior. One of those wins was in the traditional Eifelrennen at Nürburgring in 1963.
Gerhard Mitter at 1963 German Grand Prix in the #26 Porsche
Fourth place at 1963 German Grand Prix
In 1962, it was time to try the luck in Formula 1. He finished sixth at non-championship Solitude Grand Prix in July 1962 at Solitudering near Stuttgart, driving a Lotus-Climax. Next year, he was fifth at Solitude Grand Prix in a Porsche 718.
Mitter made a debut in the Formula 1 Championship in June 1963 at Zandvoort, driving a Porsche 718 at the Dutch Grand Prix. He retired after just two laps with a broken clutch.
Then, in August 1963, Mitter came to Nürburgring to drive a Porsche 718 at German Grand Prix and finished in the fantastic fourth place, behind John Surtees (Ferrari), Jim Clark (Lotus) and Richie Ginther (BRM).
Gerhard Mitter (left) and Jo Siffert
Five Le Mans attempts with Porsche
In June 1964, Mitter made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the #30 Porsche 904/8 with Colin Davis. They retired after twenty hours with a broken clutch. The same duo returned to Le Mans in 1965 in the #33 Porsche 904/8. This time, their race lasted for just twenty laps.
Jochen Rindt was Mitter's partner at 1967 Le Mans 24h in the #40 Porsche 907. They retired after nine hours. Fourth attempt and fourth DNF followed in 1968 when Mitter was sharing the #32 Porsche 908 with Vic Elford. They were disqualified because of non-permitted change of alternator belt.
In June 1969, in Mitter's final attempt at 24h Le Mans, he was sharing the #23 Porsche 908 LH with Udo Schütz, who had an accident at the Mulsanne kink.
Three victories at Sebring 12 Hours
While he had no luck at Le Mans, Mitter was successful in the US, scoring three class victories in five appearances at Sebring 12 Hours and one class victory at Daytona 24 Hours.
In 1965 at Sebring, he and Herbert Linge were ninth overall and first in P2.0 class with Porsche 904/8. A year later, Mitter raced in two different Porsche 906, reaching class victory in the #52 car with Hans Herrmann and Joe Buzzetta. In 1966, he also scored a class victory at Daytona 24h with Joe Buzzetta.
In 1967 at Sebring, Mitter and Patrick Scooter finished third overall and first in P2.0 class in a Porsche 910. Two more attempts at Sebring followed in 1968 and 1969 when Mitter was sharing Porsches with Rolf Stommelen (DNF) and Udo Schutz (5th).
Gerhard Mitter at 1965 German Grand Prix
Three F1 attempts with Team Lotus
Parallel to his successful sports car racing career with Porsche, Mitter was returning three times to Nurburgring's F1 German Grand Prix with Team Lotus. In 1964, at the wheel of the #23 Lotus 25-Climax, he finished in the ninth place, one lap behind race winner John Surtees.
In 1965, again with Lotus 25, Mitter retired after eight laps due to water leak. In 1966, Mitter was driving Lotus 44 at German Grand Prix, setting the 29th qualifying time but not starting the race.
In August 1967, Mitter raced at German Grand Prix in a Brabham BT23 Formula 2 car, retiring on the opening lap with a broken engine.
Gerhard Mitter in the #266 Porsche at 1969 Targa Florio
Victory at 1969 Targa Florio
During a career, Mitter recorded several good results at the famous Targa Florio race. In his first attempt there, on June 1965, he and Colin Davis finished second overall and first in P2.0 class in a Porsche 904/8. In 1966, Mitter and Jo Bonnier recorded DNF in a Porsche 906. Two more DNFs at Targa Florio followed in 1967 (accident) and 1968 (driveshaft).
In May 1969, Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schütz were sharing the #266 Porsche 908/02 at the 53rd edition of Targa Florio, scoring a victory ahead of three more Porsche factory crews.
A wreckage of Gerhard Mitter's BMW
Death at Nurburgring in a BMW Formula 2 car
After a victory at Targa Florio, Mitter raced with Porsche in sportscar events at Spa, Nurburgring and Le Mans before going to Nurburgring to Formula 1 German Grand Prix event. He planned to race in a BMW 269 F2 car which he was using earlier that year in Formula 2 races.
On August 1, during Friday's practice for the race, he crashed out at Schwedenkreuz and lost life, at the age 33. A suspension or steering failure was suspected for the crash so BMW withdrew from the race with their other cars.