The Darling Buds of May have fled, so another 24 hour contest is upon us, but before we turn our attention to Le Mans, let's have a final few thoughts about the epic race held in Germany, the 37th ADAC Zurich 24h-Rennen. Once again Porsche triumphed and it was a fourth consequtive win for Manthey Racing. It was a hat trick of wins for the driver line up of Marc Lieb, Marcel Tiemann, Roman Dumas and Timo Bernhard. A new distance record was set, the weather was great all during the race, an almost perfect weekend.
It was also a personal landmark for Marcel Tiemann, whose outright win tally now stands at a record five times. A former winner of the Monaco Formula Three race and works driver for both Mercedes Benz and Opel in DTM and sportscars, he has become star on the VLN endurance racing scene. Who is to say that win number six will not happen in 2010?
The main opposition to Manthey came from the four Audi R8 LMS cars entered by Phoenix Racing and Abt Sportline. Audi's press people were at pains to emphasise that despite appearances this was not a big budget effort like their Le Mans campaigns and that the main reason for racing was to learn and improve the product before it goes on sale to customers at the end of the year. Yes, up to a point, Lord Copper, as the expression goes.
Whatever was said there was a serious attempt to win, but it is clear that Audi were under no illusions about the scale of the task that faced them in trying to take on Manthey and Porsche, proven winners in all conditions. There was a full turn out of top brass, from Dr. Ulrich to engine guru Ulrich Baretski, on hand to support the effort. In the end a little bad luck and a few new car niggles prevented a famous victory but as Porsche took the chequered flag it knew it had been in a real fight. Next time the result might be different, roll on 2010.
A key element in the dna of any endurance event are the fans and the Nurburgring 24 Hours has a very special breed of follower. They have to be hardy as the elements are frequently harsh, they enjoy the racing and drink beer in prodigious quantites and generally party hard. The weather gods were benign this year so beer flowed. On my way in the car to Schwalbenschwanz at dawn on Sunday I passed a figure on the dirt track, a little unsteady on his feet. After parking the car I had to make the same trek to get access to the circuit and he passed me going the opposite way, still unsteady but now the proud possesor of two large beers, one presumably for another soul who was somehow less mobile. That's real friendship for you, walking half a mile at dawn to get your mate a beer. It is the spirit of endurance and would be instantly recognised by those who attend Le Mans or Sebring.
Even a circuit as long as the Nordschleife gets a bit busy in places, here at Brunnchen there are improvised grandstands and rows of garden chairs. This year the ACO (organiser of Le Mans) and the ADAC created a promotion giving fans a discounted ticket to both events. This first step in an alliance is an important one and shows that the ADAC want to develop their event to have an international element.
The growing international involvement is not confined to the spectators but also to full factory backed entries. I feel it is significant that there are no werks Japanese teams at the 2009 Le Mans 24, whereas Nurburgring featured teams from Lexus, Subaru and Nissan. Many motor manufacturers use the Nordschleife as a proving ground and have workshops located there, some open, some covert. So perhaps it is logical to extend the development of their performance products by competing in the 24h-Rennen. It is also considerably cheaper than the trip to La Sarthe and the multiplicity of classes means that bragging rights are easier to acquire.
Another feature of the German enduro is the senior executives in the motor industry who actually drive in the race. VW's Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, responsible for Development across the brand, was part of the crew that raced CNG powered VW Scirocco GT24, he ended up in 101st place. We have already covered "Morizo" and his day job as President of the Toyota Motor Corporation in the piece on the Lexus LF-A. Most successful of the Boss Class was Dr Ulrich Bez who shared a class win and 21st overall in the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. The car was pretty much standard, still having the original green paint under the respray to accomodate the sponsors. Motorsport needs all the supporters it can find during these times of financial pain, so the more directors who race, the better.
In out Temple of Speed features we try and look at those places where great things happen. The whole Nurburgring Nordschleife has that accolade but perhaps the most iconic corner is the relatively slow Caracciola Karussell so I managed to find my way for the first time on the interior roads to get to the outside of the corner (inside of the circuit or drivers' right). It is spectacular as cars come firing through the banking on their way to Hohe Acht.
Of course you could not have an endurance race anywhere on the planet without a contingent of British Marshals being present, bringing with them humour, beer drinking abilities and some of the finest marshalling skills around. They are often taken for granted till there is a solids/fan interface, then you see their worth. There was even a West Ham supporters' flag on display but I decided to spare the readers that sight.
The word hero is so debased these days it almost has no real meaning but now and then you find someone who actually deserves the title in the original sense. One such man I would contend is Arturo Merzario. Back in 1976 at the Nordschleife's last Grand Prix he arrived in his Williams FW05 at Bergwerk on lap 2 to find the wrecked Ferrari of Niki Lauda on fire with the great Austrian trapped unconscious in the car. Along with Harald Ertl, Guy Edwards and Brett Lunger, little Art waded into the flames to release the seat belts and free Lauda, undoubtedly saving his life. Walikng into the fire took real courage but Art was always a little left field. He was a works Ferrari driver in Formula One and in sportscars, winning at Spa and Kyalami plus the Targa Florio. That, for those of you who don't know, was one of maddest races ever on the planet. It was held down in Sicily on 72 kilometres of public road or Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie as the locals would call it and the competitors would try and complete the race distance of 11 laps. The race was eventually dropped off the Sportscar World Championship in 1973 on safety grounds and 4 years later even the Italians stopped holding sportscar races there. This was truly a time when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. Arturo and his Marlboro cowboy hat became famous in paddocks all around the world.
So it was a delightful surprise to arrive at Media Accreditation on the Wednesday to see a yellow 350Z parked up out front on a trailer and the familiar Italian sponsors plastered over the car. I had been lucky enough to get know him back in the 90s and we exchanged ciaos and handshakes………….then I started doing the math, he was born in 1943? That makes him 66 and still he races………….inspirational……….and he and his Italian crew finished the race, down in 114th place but getting to the flag is a victory in itself.
Another old mate I bumped into in the paddock was Marino Franchitti who was having a weekend off from his ALMS race campaign with Dyson. He was in the Mamerow Racing Porsche GT3 along with Chris and Peter Mamerow and the mighty Jorg Bergmeister. They were running really fast but retired late in the race with just over two hours to go. Marino sported a big grin when asked about the track, he was having some real fun.
Certainly for the 2009 24 Hours the Nordschleife put on its best face, early Sunday morning and an R8 heads for the Flugplatz.
Speaking of mates racing one lucky dog was my old pal Marcus Schurig. Marcus is the sports editor of the top German monthly car magazine, Sport Auto, who just happen to be media partners to the 24h-Rennen. So as he is a bit of a Nordscheife expert and works with the magazine he often gets an offer to drive in the 24. This year the fruit machine came up with three cherries as BMW decided late in the day to field two GT4 entries, a Z4 and an M3…………..and invited Marcus to join them at the race. Of course they asked another journalist, Jochen Ubler to race as well. Then BMW told their factory pilots Joerg Muller and Andy Priaulx about it all, lord knows what their initial reactions were. Joerg is a former F1 test driver and winner in the ALMS and WTCC, a bit tasty. Andy is three time FIA World Champion Touring Car driver. This is a bit of a tall order to expect anyone to jump in a car with these pair and match them but Marcus had the cojones to try and do so. If you cannot guess the athlete on the left is Andy Priaulx, the other one…………
OK matching was perhaps a bit strong as Jorg posted a 9:41.684 in qualifying with Marcus some 20 seconds down on this. During the race he found the missing 20 seconds but so did Priaulx and Muller and the car's fastest lap was 9:24.341, it was like chasing a moving target. The M3 GT4 was v fast in a straight line but a handful in the corners as it had no aerodynamic grip and a fair amount of weight…………just what you want on a track configuration with almost 100 turns.
The race was a disappointment for the team as there were several driveshaft failures, one of which stranded my man out on the circuit for 30 minutes at around 4.00am…..he was not amused………………..still they did get to the finish in 47th place and third in class but it could, and should, have been better. Don't tell Marcus but I was quite proud of his efforts, to race with top line professionals such as these two and not be disgraced was some achievement.
The final verdict from Andy on how Marcus was getting on behind the wheel……….not bad he said, all the right lines, wrong circuit mind you……………..
The spread of entries for the event was incredible, a Ford Mondeo is chased down by an Audi Quattro, a BMW M3, a Porsche and a Ford Focus.
Amazingly there were no full course caution periods, cars were retrieved to safety using these Course Cars and most folks behaved themselves. Yes it is an old Opel Manta………….
Perhaps the crucial moment of the race came at around 2.00am when the leader, the Manthey #1 911, was given a three minute stop and go penalty for ignoring yellow flags in a dangerous situation. The marshals had reported the car for speeding but did not have any radar to back up their claims. Manthey Racing were able to present their data logs as part of an appeal against the penalty and when the officials ran the data through their system the found that the Porsche had been going at "an acceptable pace" so the penalty, assessed at 3 minutes, 26 seconds, was reversed. This was the point at which most of us thought that the karma had swung back the way of Manthey, the transmission problems that hit the lead Audi a few hours later merely confirmed it.
So the Porsche quartet grabbed the silverware and sprayed the champagne (or Henkell Trocken), another year, another victory, another great event.
Next year go if you can, there is nothing like the Nurburgring 24 Hours, anywhere.