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LMES - Nurburgring - 1000 Kilometres Around The ‘Ring
A Brief History
© Johannes Gauglica

dailysportscar.comThe 1000 kilometre race on the Nürburgring was first held in 1953, the inaugural year of the World Sportscar championship; from 1956 to 1988, it was a permanent fixture of the World Sportscar Championship, the World Championship of Makes, the Sports Prototype World Championship, or whatever it was called over the years. Curtailed to 480Km as of 1989, the Nürburgring race remained on the calendar through 1991, the series' penultimate year. The prestigious 1000KmM format was resurrected for the American Le Mans Series' continental European round in 2000, but then did not continue: the European Le Mans Series held its only 1000Km event at Estoril in 2001, and the FIA sportscar series never saw a need for longer races. Now the organisers of the Le Mans Endurance Series are trying to firmly reestablish endurance racing on the European calendar with a series of four "proper" long-distance events. It is only fitting that this grand old race would be a part of such a series.

Rob Schirle is one (of many) who is absolutely convinced that the LMES format will be the catalyst to recreate the great events of the past.

“This championship has now started to capture the imagination of both teams and drivers, and will I am sure go from strength to strength. With the advent of new cars arriving for next year in GTS, and strong competition in all classes, it will only be a matter of time before the fan base in Europe is 'reborn' back to the days even I can remember of the Silverstone 1000Kms, which used to be run in May just before Le Mans.”

dailysportscar.comUntil 1984, the Nürburgring 1000Kms was the race just before Le Mans. The inaugural edition went to Ascari and Farina with a Ferrari 375MM; but the most successful marque of the '50s was undoubtedly Aston Martin, with a string of victories for the DBR1/30 from 1957 to 1959. The Scuderia from Maranello finally made the race its own in the '60s, with varying machinery but a permanent place on the top step of the rostrum from 1962 to 1965. The following year saw one of only two victories for American cars: the Nordschleife was not lucky territory for the GT40s, and the 7 litre version never showed up, so Jim Hall's Chaparral stable won its first race on European soil.

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The elegant white 2D coupé was arguably one of the most beautiful cars ever to grace the Nordschleife, drivers Phil Hill and Joakim Bonnier enjoying (?) the comfort of a two-speed automatic gearbox. The other American win would not happen until 2000, when Panoz defeated BMW and Audi on their home turf; Jan Magnussen and David Brabham did the driving that day. What a shame we have neither present this week – but we do have a collection of other sportscar stars.

German marques had not previously featured too strongly in the 1000Km. Mercedes-Benz had its finest hours in 1954 and '55 (when the race was not held), and was gone by 1956. Names like Borgward and Veritas had long disappeared by the mid-'60s. It was the new Porsche marque that quietly worked its way up the categories, and up the result tables. In 1967, they finally won their ‘home race’ overall. But a look at a report from the era shows that all was not well in 1967: in the August '67 issue of Swiss motorsports magazine Powerslide, racer / journalist Rico Steinemann (who was to become Porsche competition manager just two years later) reveals that the total number of over-1600cc prototype entries was only a meagre dozen - we wish we had this many today - and half of them were factory-entered Porsche 910 models. Three of these were 2l six-cylinder cars, the others had the new 2.2l 8cyl. engine. No factory Fords or Ferraris. The author calls it an "acute crisis" - sounds familiar, even if the reasons are different: the over-abundance of prestigious endurance events was blamed for the lack of high-profile entries in the 1967 Nürburgring race, with the "upstart" 1000Km races at Spa and Monza, not to mention the then-brand new BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, taking away attention, and entrants, from the Ring.

dailysportscar.comObviously it was not expected back then that a factory team would contest all endurance races of the year: "the status of a World Championship round does not help [the event] at all because neither Ford nor Ferrari care about the Prototype Trophy, or the Manufacturers' World Championship". The remedy, as suggested by the author in 1967: better promotion of the event. It still seems like a good recipe today. And in the light of the current situation in American sportscar racing, another statement also sounds surprisingly contemporary: "perhaps [the organisers] will be inspired by Bill France who with his Daytona Show is worrying even the folks at Le Mans". Not now, not Le Mans. Nevertheless, this Nordschleife race had 250,000 spectators. Steinemann also suggested extending the race to 12 hours, for the added drama of night racing.

dailysportscar.comThis shows how little importance television had back then; today, the needs of TV seem to call for ever shorter races – but on Saturday, we do have racing into the dusk.

In any event, Porsche seized the opportunity in ‘67, and when the new 8cyl. cars failed, the other 910s came home 1-2-3, Udo Schütz and Joe Buzzetta scoring the first of what would be many wins for the Stuttgart marque in the following years. From 1968 to 1988, Porsches won 12 of the 20 Nürburgring 1000Km races run (there was no race in 1985).

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dailysportscar.comWe know that Porsche will not add to its tally of overall victories this year. Audi has taken its place as the dominant marque in international sports prototype racing. A number of European privateer teams have taken an interest in the LMP1 class, but the programme that can take the challenge to the Audis is still nowhere in sight - yet.

Nevertheless, But Rob Schirle is confident about the future:

“The ACO, with its strict technical enforcement and a proven class structure, will be reaping the benefits not only for the series but also for the 24 Hours itself. Once manufacturers come to realise that it now makes a lot more sense to develop and build cars not only for one or two races a year but for a genuine pan European Championship, I feel sure we will see more new cars in all classes.“

We still have the pleasure of a very good entry this weekend, but we know what he means. Now, what about an Audi R8 around this (right)?

 

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