31st ADAC Nurburgring 24 Hours – Final (Sunday) Report
“What A Great Race It Has Been“

In 45th place, and hoping to make it home with a car in less than perfect health, is German Ring veteran Uwe Reich. He has contested every 24 Hour race here so far, 30 (soon 31) since 1971; there were no twenty four hour races here in 1974 and 1975. He has opted to leave the emotional last stint in front of 194 000 spectators to one of his team mates. So has Volker Strycek, looking on as Manuel Reuter has taken on the task of bringing the V8 Opel Astra OPC home. Some way behind the yellow coupé, Marco Werner has mounted a last charge, desperately trying to make up a time difference that cannot be made up in the remaining 40 minutes. On top of this, oil has beenlaid down in a number of places by crippled cars crawling toward the line. Also on a late charge, with tthe top 10 as their goal, is the Moor International motorsport M3, Messr. Moore, Cox, and Barrow on their way to a very respectable result.

In third now, it looks to be a happy ending of sorts for the Manthey Porsche 996 turbo. Team owner Manthey wanted to win this, now he'll be reasonable happy with a podium result.

Werner still hasn't slowed down, but others have. The Audi TT-R has to work its way through clusters of slower cars, among them the Nissan Skyline; 56th place for them, right behind Michel Vaillant (who usually wins such things on the last lap, something wrong with the storyboard there).

After Friday's downpour, the weather has held up nicely, and the thunderstorms forecast for this weekend luckily did not happen; this will be a picturebook finale to a great event. Time to recall Volker Strycek's words: "Phoenix is the best touring car team in the world." they have done a fine job turning a car designed for sprint racing into a 24 hour endurowinner, and the drivers of #5 did not put a wheel wrong (#6 was lost to driver error). Phoenix is one of the home teams here, located less than a mile from the main gate; so this victory is going to be an especially popular one.

While Marco Werner has a lonely and, I would imagine, fairly desperate last lap, Manuel Reuter is acknowledging the ovations of the many Opel fans along the track, headlights ablaze, the traditional Opel yellow resplendent in the afternoon sun. He has chosen not to hang about, and decisively attacks what will be his last lap. Four minutes to go; barring any acts of fate, this will have been it. Leaving the Grand Prix track now, Opel flags and airhorns everywhere. Over the bridge onto the Nordschleife, down Hatzenbach. Slowing up a little now, he can't open the door of this purpose-built DTM car and wave to the fans; this car has massive gullwing doors. Hocheichen, Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz. No suicidal spectators this year, everyone is staying behind the barriers. Ahead of him, the usual traffic jam at the long Döttinger Höhe straight begins to dissolve as the clock says 1500; everyone crossing the line within 20 minutes of the leader will be classified.

dailysportscar.com

The Viper comes through to the finish, as does the Morgan - safely home. Lights are out on the Audi, a sign of resignation almost for Marco Werner, Christian Abt, Kris Nissen, and Karl Wendlinger. The Opel winding its way along the track, through turns that have names and others that don't, only a few more now between Reuter and the chequered flag. Slowing right down now, savouring every remaining mile of this last lap of what has been an exceptionally hard-fought race. Harald Grohs comes through, fourth a brilliant result for this low-key Porsche effort. Döttinger Höhe, a convoy of race cars forms behind the yellow Astra, the historic Manta 400 close behind, as well as the blue "Eifelblitz" BMW, and the third-placed Manthey 996 turbo. The Bilstein bridge, one more corner, and victory it is for the Phoenix Opel Astra OPC in the 2003 Nürburgring 24 Hours.

dailysportscar.com

dailysportscar.com

The Opel team on the pit wall, over the pit wall, out on the track, flags waving, airhorns blaring, tears flowing freely, this is emotional. Reuter throwing the tired Astra into a series of triumphant doughnuts, the first interviews, the drivers saying in so many words that they are lost for words. Opel team members out by the main grandstands, throwing every imaginable variety of team gear into the crowd - flags, gloves, shirts. The winning ceremony postponed as the crowd will not let go of its champions. This is VERY emotinal.

No, will you please let go of the August Bilstein trophy Mr. Strycek. No really you will get it back later we promise. But now - please. Mr. Strycek...

And an unbelievably messy champagne bath for ELEVEN tired drivers.

Some Quotes

Lucas Luhr: "We were down to 160th after a petty little problem, and in truth, it was no fun anymore, we'd already lost all motivation; but then we said, right, nothing to lose, let's go for it. And it paid off."

Marco Werner on his first drive in a DTM car: "This really isn't a touring car any more, much closer to a prototype. These are fun to drive!"

Karl Wendlinger (in typically stoic manner): "The team did a fine job, the car was perfect, and we had some pretty good fights with the Opel." (any further questions?)

Christian Abt: "No one thought we'd last through the formation lap! So we are happy we coulkd challenge Opel and BMW . I was just a relief driver on this car, the others did such splendid work I thought I'd just tag along.. - congratulations to the Opel team, we'll have to try harder next time out."

Volker Strycek: "Before this race, nobody gave us more than 12 hours. We have proved that you can last 24 hours at sprint pace. the car was absolutely perfect, nothing wrong with it all race, except for some repair work in the middle of the night after I'd driven it through the kitty litter, and the engine ingested some pebbles." - Will you be back next year? "Not sure but.......we'll try. The car is so good we can drive it next year as well!"

Manuel Reuter: "Emotionally, this win rates higher than my two Le Mans wins. With all our fans here, and after what we have been through over the last two and a half years, this means so much to us."

dailysportscar.com

Marcel Tiemann (who will likely not drive another race for Opel this year): "I did two races with this team, one in preparation for the 24, and now here - and won both! That's a 100% record for me!"

The officlal German press release uses the word "Volksfest", which describes this moment pretty well. In a literal translation, it means "party for the people". Opel, and its charismatic "playing captain", have long been the people's champions in Germany. Too bad the party was spoiled somewhat by the developments surrounding the Zakspeed Viper; we may not have heard the last of this.

I have made this point in the preview to this race; and it may be blatantly polemic but allow me to reiterate the sentiment now: do the right thing GM, send the Cadillac LMP02 over to Mr. Strycek, c/o Opel, Germany - and then sit back and watch things happen.

This may not be the Greatest Race on Earth but what a great race it has been.
Johannes Gauglica

dailysportscar.com

 

Contents Copyright © dailysportscar.com. All Rights Reserved.