Louis Krages, better known in racing circles as 'John Winter', has committed suicide in his Atlanta home.

Although Mercedes urged him to change back to his real name, the entire German racing scene remembered him best as 'John Winter'. The businessman from Bremen used this synonym ever since he started racing because, he said, his mother should not find out about her son?s dangerous hobby.

Mother Krages? worries about racing were unnecessary - her son never got hurt seriously. But now, Louis Krages is dead. His body was found with gunshot wounds in his house in Atlanta, where he had started to set up a new business after a dramatic failure in his native North German town.

Winter became famous by driving a Porsche 962C in the private sports car team of Reinhold Joest, nowadays responsible for the works Audi R8. When winning the 1985 Le Mans 24 hours, his mother finally found out what son Louis was doing on the weekends - and was so touched by seeing him on the winners? picture that she immediately started supporting his hobby.

Money never seemed to be an issue. His parents ran a wood selling business - and set it up as one of the biggest companies in Bremen after World War II. Krages Jr turned Louis Krages GmbH & Co into a company that was worth more than 100 million Deutschmarks, while work from Krages had a reputation of being exclusive but still affordable and durable.

Krages could easily afford his expensive hobby of sportscar racing. He even bought himself a cockpit with Opel in a DTM Calibra. A horrible fiery accident on Berlin?s Avus race track nine years after his Le Mans win made Winter famous all around the world - although he left the wrecked Calibra unhurt.

But the accident marked a change in fortune for 'John Winter'. His wood company - with its stock in Bremen?s harbour covering a massive 200.000 square metres - suffered from severe management problems and recorded huge losses. Krages invested private assets in keeping it going, but still lost the fight against the banks. When his company was finally sold to Finnish wood company Finnforest, who later also swallowed Krages?s arch-rival Lauprecht Holzstoffwerke Gmbh and formed a new wood power on the base of Krages?s achievement, rumours never stopped that 'John Winter' and his racing had also played a major role in the company going bust.

Krages left Germany and tried to set up a new business in Atlanta. He tried his hand at making wooden toys - but didn?t really succeed in the US either.

He was found dead in his Atlanta home last week, but news about the tragic death of Germany?s best known gentleman driver only broke yesterday. First investigations have led the Atlanta police to believe that the former DTM and sportscar hero has committed suicide. He was 51.