Wolfgang Kaufmann Interview
’Piranha’ – On The Past, Present & Future
© Markus Berns
With your 2006 season about to begin, it is time to take stock of
last year; what were your personal high points of 2005?
A: First, the development of the only internationally campaigned
Porsche GT1 turbo, by A:Level Engineering, and the third place at
the Le Mans Endurance Series race in Silverstone - but also the
podium finish at the FIA GT race in Imola, with my team mate Luca
Moro, whose progress as a driver I have been overseeing since the
end of 2003.
At first I thought
that this result against the two factory supported GruppeM cars
would be very hard to top. In truth, you can feel a moral victor
when you reach the podium; their technical superiority is a bit
scary and frustrating for the FIA GT2 privateers. Then came the
FIA GT round at Brno where I drove for my regular team Renauer Motorsport.
And with a little luck we again drove to the podium, this time in
If I had to
single out a race it would be the Silverstone 1000 Kilometers, with
the A:Level Porsche 996 turbo. The weather was in fact “very
British”, with lots of water on the track. Water and yet more
water made for extremely difficult conditions, worse than what we
had had in the FIA GT race at the Lausitzring in 2000; back then,
Hubert Haupt and I won with the Freisinger 993 GT2 - still the only
GT1 (they were still called “GT2” back then) victory
for Porsche in FIA GT history.
Although your appearances in FIA GT with the Lammertink RS and the
Renauer RSR (Monza and Brno for Renauer; Imola (left), Oschersleben,
Zhuhai, Dubai, and Bahrain for Lammertink) were only sporadic, you
were able to establish yourself as fastest privateer behind the
Porsche works drivers. Do you keep an eye on the overall standings,
or is the individual result all you think about?
A: True, I did drive only sporadically in the 2005 championship,
and the emphasis was on the individual results at first. But once
I’d achieved those two fine podium results, my own personal
goal changed. I wanted to be the best placed privateer behind the
factory men. Unfortunately technical issues in Zhuhai and Dubai
put an end to that.
Q: To get
back to the season’s high point, with the A:Level 996; the
people at the track were cursing the weather, but you are renowned
as a specialist in rainy conditions. What was the race like from
your point of view?
A: You had to be careful as hell as you were aquaplaning all over
the place, and there was always a real danger of losing control
of the car on the straights. But I did enjoy myself quite a bit.
The turbo Porsche had great traction, and except for a few small
problems the “Burner” ran faultlessly. After my double
stint I handed the car to my team mate Marcel Tiemann, in the lead.
Unfortunately we lost that lead due to some small “issues”.
The headlights kept getting weaker, and throughout the dusk and
darkness, the oily windscreen made the visibility even worse. So
I do look at our third place with a trace of regret.
Q: Did you
feel sorry for the fans?
A: Such weather really is less than perfect for the fans out there,
and especially for the spectator turnout, and thus for the promoters.
That said, the British fans did show up in force at Silverstone.
I’ll bet it was a tad uncomfortable in those stands –
but endurance racing fans are made of sturdy stuff and know how
to protect themselves from the elements with the appropriate gear.
It is enormously encouraging to see, though, that people trackside
are putting up with such conditions to see us race.
Q: How much
does a driver see of the fans at the track?
A: Generally you do catch some of the atmosphere around the circuit.
I think about the 24 hour races at Le Mans and the Nürburgring,
or the 12 Hours of Sebring, that’s an incredible atmosphere
there; it is unbelievable how many people come to these races. And
the party aspect, the camp fires, the smell of barbecues, comes
across as well. It all depends on the weather of course. In conditions
like what we had at Silverstone, you must keep 110% focused on the
track and the car.
After a weekend like the one in Silverstone, what has more value
for you, the result as such or the definite signs of progress?
A: Both! But mainly the result. I have been involved in the A:Level
Engineering’s GT1 Porsche turbo project from the beginning;
when you look at how the car has come along since 2004, it’s
impressive what team manager Vladimir Raikhlin and his crew have
achieved. And this podium was also my, and Marcel Tiemann`s, way
of saying thanks to the team for their tireless effort.
the A:Level Porsche, you went to the season finale of the Spanish
GT Championship, and drove home to a dominant victory. Sadly you
were disqualified for a minor pitstop infringement. How about the
return to the series where you competed in 2001?
A: The last Spanish GT race was a complete success for Team A:Level
Engineering! In terms of the driving crew as well as the car’s
potential, we were the favourites going into the race. But this
race has its own special rules. You were not allowed to use a pressurised
fuel rig during the race, each stop you could only take on 24 liters
of fuel, with a canister. Because of this we were at a slight disadvantage
to the atmospheric engines with our thirsty turbo. It was not the
usual two races of one hour each, as is normal in Spanish GT, but
one two hour race with set maximum drive times for each driver.
Also, every team was given a time “penalty” according
to its specific driver/car combination, which had to be served twice
during the race. Still we would have won, even though we went the
whole distance on one set of Dunlop tyres. It wasn’t until
the Dubai race that I got the news that we’d been disqualified
for an irregularity. Marcel Tiemann supposedly exceeded his maximum
drive time by a fraction.
of Spain, your partner Paco Orti “awarded” you the nickname
Piranha during your 2001 season there. How did this come about?
A: The name was also Orti’s idea, but mainly my mechanics’,
as I always fought with determination, was always aggressive on
the overtaking, and never gave up, especially when we had to start
from the back.
Q: You have
already mentioned that you were plagued with technical trouble toward
the end of the FIA GT season. How does a driver keep up his motivation
at such a time? At the next race, do you think about the previous
A: Of course failures such as Zhuhai and Dubai make you sensitive
with regards to the car’s mechanics, you really listen for
the car’s every noise. But there is no if, but, or maybe in
motor racing. You always keep looking forward. Maximum Attack!
you are not driving races, you work as a safety instructor at the
Nürburgring. So inevitably you will have observed when cars
such as a Radical or a highly modified Donkervoort roadster were
used for attempts at the title of “fastest road car on the
Nordschleife”. In 2001, you and tuner Gemballa also duelled
with Roland Asch and TechArt, on street legal tyres. As a former
“contestant”, how do you see this race for the Nordschleife
A: I have been working as a freelance instructor at the Nürburgring
driving safety center a lot, going back all the way to 1994. In
addition to this, I am an instructor for performance driving courses
such as the ones organised by Sport Auto magazine. The road car
record is a difficult subject to comment on. When I held the record
with Gemballa, the parameters were different to what they are today.
Certainly we have now reached a point where the technical evolution
on a track such as the Nordschleife must be reined in. But Sport
Auto has already taken steps, and as of 2006 will follow the Tuner
GP regulations. This is definitely a step in the right direction.
at your history, you had your own Formula 3 team from 1986 to ’89.
How did you get to set up your own team at age 20? An unusual step
for an up-and-coming driver to take.
A: throughout my time in the VW Polo Cup I’d been marvelling
at the Formula 3 and Super Vee cars; I was never too excited about
Formula Ford 1600. Sadly I never had the budget to get associated
with one of the major F3 teams. So the only way of staying involved
in racing was to organise, prepare, and run everything myself. We
were a very small outfit; my father, my mother, my brother, and
a friend – that was it. We made up for it with plenty of extra
effort. Everything we achieved we had to work and fight for the
hard way. I’d especially like to thank the Spiess family,
Bertram Schäfer, and Horst and Gisi Schübel, to whom I
owe a great deal. For this, I am still very grateful.
reward for this was an Opel factory contract for Formula 3. In 1991
you fought for the championship with none other than Le Mans record
winner, Tom Kristensen – until your heavy accident at Diepholz.
How do you recall that accident?
A: The 1991 German championship did have its ups and downs. After
the `90 season, it was decided that the Schübel team would
not run Spiess engines anymore, but rather those built by Peter
Gärtner of Gätmo. Horst Schübel’s goal, and
my own, was clearly to win the championship. At the first race nothing
came together. The second round, on the late, lamented Grand Prix
circuit at Hockenheim, we won – a really good race, and a
tough fight with Tom Kristensen. We also won at the Nürburgring
and got a few podium places (Zolder, below), I was third
in the championship behind Peter Kox and Kristensen and had a good
shot at winning the 1991 German F3 title.
And so we went
After an excursion
onto the grass my Dallara’s underbody caught a landing light
that was solidly anchored in the ground. It tore up the monocoque,
the car went straight up in the air, flipped over and came down
on the track, on the rollbar; it slid along the asphalt for a few
hundred meters, wheels up. I was very lucky! But, in the collision
with the landing light I’d sustained a fracture of the right
heel bone. At first I thought it was no big deal, planned to sit
out one race and come back for the last two rounds. But I soon found
out that a fractured heel bone is something very unpleasant and
tedious. It was the end of the world for me when I was out of the
contest for the F3 championship with three races to go.
the accident, did you ever consider giving up motor racing?
A: No, I never had that thought at any time.
Q: Two years
later, you changed categories. In GT racing, you were unknown at
the time, and so was the team you would collaborate with for many
years, Freisinger Motorsport. How did you get together?
A: I met Manfred Freisinger by coincidence at the 1992 Nürburgring
24 Hours. Thanks to the trust Herbert Linge had put in me, I did
the Carrera Cup race on the Nordschleife (this is at Hockenheim,
below) in the Pirelli/Shell VIP car.
the regular drivers Edgar Dören and Michael Irmgatz were nominated,
with no third driver. Again the impulse came from Herbert Linge,
a very interesting, friendly and fair person, and Manfred Freisinger
gave me the chance to drive his RSR in the 24 Hours.
with Freisinger, you worked your way up into FIA GT. Where did you
race through the years?
A: Manfred Freisinger, the Freisinger Motorsport team, and myself
complemented each other very well, and progressed together into
FIA GT. At that time, Freisinger was mainly active in the Veedol
Langstreckenpokal. We also did the BPR series together; in conjunction
with the French Chateau Sport team, the French GT championship;
Nürburgring 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours, (second overall in
2001 with the Porsche 996 GT3 R), Sebring 12 Hours, Le Mans; 1000k
at Suzuka and Fuji; FIA GT, basically everywhere you could run a
GT in the ‘90s.
at Jarama and Zhuhai, and Le Mans - all in 1995, below)
you clinched Porsche’s first and so far only GT2 (now GT1)
win, in 2000; you won the Porsche World Cup, and half way through
the 2001 season, you were out of the Freisinger drive alongside
Stephane Ortelli. What happened?
A: The 2000 Lausitzring FIA GT race was a grand show. On that Saturday
evening, the race went into the darkness, and it rained very hard.
Through standing water and aquaplaning, Hubert Haupt, the Freisinger
team and myself managed Porsche’s only FIA win for a 993 GT2.
I was able to work with many splendid drivers at Freisinger, most
notably Bob Wollek, Thierry Boutsen, Olivier Grouillard, my long
team mate Michel Ligonnet, or Yukihiro Hane of Japan. I still don’t
quite see the reasons that led to our parting of ways in the middle
of 2001. Personally, this decision hit me hard at the time.
Q: The next
disappointment came in 2002. You were supposed to start with a Viper
in FIA GT. The project never came together and you were without
a steady drive right before the start of the season. Did you think
about your starting own team at this point?
A: My sights were firmly set on FIA GT again for ’02 –
in GT2 with a Chrysler Viper, a good team mate, Dunlop tyres, and
a newly formed German team. I had committed to this team and passed
up other offers for Spanish GT as well as the ALMS, or only agreed
for races that did not clash with FIA GT. Well, the Viper project
and the whole new German team never came about, for reasons that
have remained a mystery to me till this day. So after a terrific
’01 season, I was left empty handed. What can I say, that’s
racing. 2001 had really been super fine, with the Porsche World
Cup, the Nordschleife lap record, complete seasons in the French
and Spanish GT championships with a 993 GT2, third overall in the
Spanish series; 2002 it all collapsed around me. I did think about
running my own GT team more than once during this period. In the
end I never gave it a try as without strong financial backing from
sponsors, you don’t stand a chance these days. Times have
changed quite a bit.
so far it is confirmed that you will take on the 2006 FIA GT season
with Renauer Motorsport, where else will we see you this year?
A: I will in all probability start in three races of the Le Mans
Series. Spa-Francorchamps, Nurburgring and the Monza replacement
race are on my shortlist at the moment. Without a permanent entry,
Donington is very uncertain. For the Nürburgring 24 Hours I
don’t have a drive at the moment but I hope to find one in
by Johannes Gauglica. With thanks to www.projectlemans.de