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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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!"
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?)
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."
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!"
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
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
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.