32nd ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours - Preview
The 2003 edition of the
Nürburgring 24 Hours received much acclaim internationally,
for all the right reasons. With close racing and an attractive field
of competitors, it was to all intents and purposes a success. Since
then, the event has also seen some coverage for the wrong reasons.
With 52 weeks available, why (oh why) do two such important events
have to happen on the same weekend? It is an opportunity wasted
for the event, and the whole Eifel region - following last year's
race, some Le Mans fans (and media!) - will no doubt have been thinking
about attending this event as well. Now, the Vierundzwanzig Stunden
will once more be bridesmaid to the Vingt Quatre Heures. Oh well,
we have been through this before. For this year, it can't be helped;
for next year and beyond, it should be helped, if the organising
ADAC Nordrhein truly wants this to become one of the main events
of the international calendar.
Not that there will be
a lack of spectators. This race has its fans, and about a quarter
of a million of them are once again expected to turn up over the
course of the weekend. Around this time last year, many of them
did not know what to expect of a race with so many unknown factors
- the DTM cars, new to endurance racing but with factory money behind
them; the M3 GTR with Schnitzer and Stuck, seemingly an irresistible
package; the turbocharged Porsches, all of them unproven in a 24
hour race. There was a lot of guesswork going on: the DTM cars probably
would not last, the experienced campaigners of Porsche and BMW had
a few aces up their sleeves. How would the bullet-proof Viper fare
against such opposition, would it upstage the factories?
As we now know, none
of this happened. Schnitzer's attention to detail backfired in a
cruel way; the Zakspeed Viper team was competitive on the track
but found itself enthralled in an unsavoury conflict over the interpretation
of the regulations, which dragged on right through the race itself,
and went all the way to a court of appeal; the turbo Porsches had
teething trouble; and the DTM cars just kept motoring, racing each
other hard all the way. Yes they had their share of trouble, and
two of the four silhouette racers did not make it to the finish,
but only one of these succumbed to mechanical woes. The Opel and
Audi factories put plenty of effort into the testing and preparation
of their cars, and it proved to be a worthwhile investment. As Christian
Abt put it, "noone thought we'd go any further than the formation
lap". They were wrong. Now the pressure is on Opel and Audi
to prove that this strong performance was not a fluke, while everybody
else will want to set the record straight and send the tintops back
from whence they came.
There is plenty of international
interest in this event: the revised entry lists 33 drivers from
Great Britain, seven from the United States, ten from Australia,
one from New Zealand, and ten from Japan, along with such international
celebrities as Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, and their boss, Mr.
Slate; Bugs Bunny; and Michel Vaillant. With over 200 teams competing
for honours in countless categories and sub-categories, close racing
going on in most of them, and only so much bandwidth available,
it is a matter of practicality to concentrate on the battle for
overall victory; otherwise you would still be sitting here reading
this in July. Not surprisingly, the main factory interest comes
from Germany, with Japanese marques as outside favourites.
winners stated their intention of defending their title defence
immediately after the race, and the first 2004 car - once again
an Astra coupé - rolled out in January. Still essentially
a by-product of the DTM programme, the Astra OPC V8 racer is based
on the 2003 DTM car, with extensive (and expensive) modifications.
Some of the technical restrictions of the DTM do not apply here,
and so these vehicles are probably more "DTM plus" than
last year's debutantes. The development and preparation work is
once again carried out by the Phoenix team, in conjunction with
the Opel Performance Center, GM Europe's performance and competition
think tank. Phoenix is located right on the outer perimeter of the
Nordschleife, just down the road from the main entrance; the factory
takes the endurance car and crew along to its DTM tests in Spain,
Italy, and Portugal. Nice work if you can get it.
Peter Dumbreck, Great Britain
Marcel Fässler, Switzerland
Christian Menzel, Germany
Manuel Reuter, Germany
Timo Scheider, Germany
Volker Strycek, Germany
Marcel Tiemann, Germany
They could have won it last year, and they know. In terms of sheer
race strategy, Audi had a slight edge over Opel, but was not able
to capitalise on it. The last few hour of the race were a straight
dogfight between the two teams, all strategic considerations thrown
to the wind. The TT-R seemed mechanically more fragile than the
Astra, and ultimately the Abt team did not have luck on its side.
Audi's Nürburgring project is set up in a similar way to that
of Opel, with an experienced contractor handling the day-to-day
development and preparation. This is the Abt Sportsline team, long-time
associates of Audi from the heyday of Super Touring competition,
and the instigators of the marque's involvement in the current DTM.
The factory side of things is handled by the quattro Gmbh, Audi's
"skunk works" for special projects.
Audi is taking a more
prominent role in the DTM this year, with an expanded squad of fully
works-supported drivers, some of whom have earned their laurels
in the ALMS and Le Mans. In terms of endurance racing credentials,
this must be the most formidable line-up of them all. Who will be
doing what on June 12/13, will some of them attempt to take part
in both races? It has been done before. Audi would undoubtedly like
to win two 24 hour races on the same weekend, at two of Europe’s
most historic of tracks.
New additions to the
team are Swedes Fredrik Ekblom and Mathias Ekström, and Germany's
Christian Abt, Germany
Fredrik Ekblom, Sweden
Mattias Ekström, Sweden
Patrick Huisman, Netherlands
Frank Stippler, Germany
Karl Wendlinger, Austria
Just as with Audi, Porsche has the problem of dividing its attention
between the two 24 hour races on that same weekend. In Porsche's
case, this will primarily affect the allocation of works drivers
to the various supported teams. Who will race where, and with what
team? A dilemma every unemployed driver would love to be faced with.
The interest among the Porsche factory drivers to take part in this
event, as opposed to the other one, is rumoured to have been considerable.
There will be no directly factory-supported Porsche teams at the
'Ring; but the marque will nevertheless play a prominent role through
the sheer number of 911 derivates in the field, from 964 to 996,
as well as one or two immediate contenders for the race win. Among
these are certainly the two 996 Specials prepared by Manthey Racing
and Jürgen Alzen Motorsport.
Manthey crew of factory drivers made the podium last year, in a
fine team effort that brought them back from the very bottom of
the timing screen to third place, but was still disappointed with
the way the race had gone for them. The 2003 car now competes in
Belcar, and Olaf Manthey has devoted his attention to the development
of a normally aspirated version. Down on outright power compared
to the Alzen turbo car, it has better fuel economy, and may well
have the edge over the turbo car on Sunday afternoon. It has certainly
proved to be the more reliable of the two.
Marc Duez, Belgium
Arno Klasen, Germany
Lucas Luhr, Germany
Olaf Manthey, Germany
Manthey and Alzen reportedly had some degree of disagreement with
the Porsche factory late last year over possible works support for
FIA-GT programmes. In the end, Freisinger remained the official
works team; this especially affected the Alzen brothers' plans.
Now they have settled comfortably into a cooperation with Franz
Konrad, and are campaigning a Saleen S7-R for Uwe Alzen and Michael
Bartels on the European FIA-GT tour and the LMES, but the self-developed
996 turbo was never in doubt as the team's first choice for the
'Ring 24. This car is a beast. Last year, it was the fastest thing
on the track until, quite predictably, the transmission cried "enough".
Its power output is rumoured to be somewhere in the 700s, but they
have to propel 1300kgs of weight. Former Opel and Mercedes works
driver Uwe Alzen has a lot to look back in anger on; both employments
ended in acrimony. Michael Bartels is an ex-DTM man as well, in
the process of getting his career back on track after a spell in
the moribund V8STAR series. Team owner Jürgen Alzen is an old
hand on the Nordschleife, and the only driver on the team not to
have previously won this race; and late addition Klaus Ludwig needs
no introduction. Internationally, the team's main claim to fame
with a self-prepared car is a fine performance at last year's Bathurst
24 Hours, fourth overall with a humble Cup Porsche.
Uwe Alzen, Germany
Jürgen Alzen, Germany
Michael Bartels, Germany
Klaus Ludwig, Germany
right then, one more try. The Nissan Skyline will return, in the
now traditional blue and turquoise livery of the Falken tyre company,
and once more entrusted to Brungs Motorsport which has handled the
Falken campaigns for the last four years, with varying success,
a fifth place in 2002 their best result to date. Prepared by Shift
Race Car Engineering of Japan, the 6 cyl. twin-turbocharged engine
comes straight from the NISMO laboratories. The 2003 outing was
an emotional rollercoaster ride for the team; they were in third
place when a conrod let go and an oil fire caused an electrics meltdown
during the "graveyard shift". Three hours and a complete
overhaul later, the Skyline was on its way again, en route to a
lowly 56th place, but a finish nevertheless. The driver line-up
is the same as last year, Roland Asch and Dirk Schoysman are already
veteran disciples of the Church of Skyline. There had been some
uncertainty about whether Asch would again be a part of the team,
but these have been resolved in time for the race.
Roland Asch, Germany
Takayuki Kinoshita, Japan
Dirk Schoysman, Belgium
Tetsuya Tanaka, Japan
Which brings us to another aging supercar with a chequered history
on the 'Ring: still renowned for its excellent suspension and handling,
as well as its revvy V-TEC engine, the Honda NSX is experiencing
an unexpected comeback of sorts. With its many bumps, yumps, ditches
and crests, the Nordschleife is perhaps the ultimate "chassis
track"; good handling and road holding are a key to success,
and can compensate for a lack of grunt. This year, GS Motorsport
/ Honda Germany will once again field two cars. Based on the same
production model, they have little in common.
GS Motorsport "sport auto" NSX-R started life as a road
car imported from Japan for a track test, and beyond the mandatory
safety equipment (and an impressive rear wing), it differs relatively
little from a roadgoing NSX-R, certainly compared to the team's
other NSX (see below). The engine is still quite close to "stock".
One of two NSXs supported by Honda Germany, the car preparation
and racing side of the effort, is in the able hands of GS-Motorsport,
a team run by the experienced Nordschleife and Belcar racer, and
DTM veteran Georg Severich. Main backing, and much publicity, comes
from the popular German car magazine "sport auto"; and
the driver squad is made up of journalists, all of them competent
and usually reliable drivers with plenty of experience on this track,
and rally driver Uwe Nittel. They will be very lucky to make the
podium but the top 10 is certainly within reach. That's where they
were last year, in seventh overall, until a crash saw them drop
out of the top 40.
Uwe Nittel, Germany
Peter Paul Pietsch, Germany
Jochen Übler, Germany
Horst von Saurma-Jeltsch, Germany
the "other" GS-Motorsport entry must, in theory at least,
be considered an outside favourite for the race win. This 3.5l version
is a former Japanese GT Championship GT500 contender, and therefore
a purpose-built racecar, in fact the 2002 JGTC runner-up. Due to
technical problems, the amount of miles covered on the Nordschleife
prior to the 24 Hours was limited to say the least, but several
modifications have already been made to the car since its arrival
in Europe, with support from the factory. Is this the forerunner
of more JGTC-based cars on the Nordschleife?
Drivers Walter Lechner
jr. and Armin Hahne are former winners of this race (in 1991 and
2000, respectively), and Hahne may well be the longest-serving NSX
racer: he was involved in the initial GT2 programme for Le Mans
1994, and has driven the Altschach car in previous races. Ex-DTMer
Markus Oestreich also has a wealth of experience on the Nordschleife
(although he is probably better known these days for his exploits
in truck racing), but also a slight physical disadvantage: at about
190cm, he has to fold his tall frame into a car designed with drivers
no taller than 180cm in mind. He has also won here before, in 1986.
Scotsman Robin Liddell adds the experience of many endurance races
on both sides of the Atlantic to a team that will be worth keeping
an eye on if they can make the car last.
In addition to the two
NSXs, GS has two more Hondas in the race, an S2000 and a Civic.
Are they stretching themselves too thin?
Armin Hahne, Germany
Robin Liddell, Great Britain
Robert Lechner, Austria
Markus Oestreich, Germany
it still cannot run (almost) anywhere else. With a new 3 series
already in the pipeline, why would BMW go to the trouble of homologating
the M3 GTR now? The 24 hour races of Spa and the Nürburgring
will be its only major outings this year. Based on the conclusions
drawn from last year's race, and countless miles of testing all
over Europe, the Schnitzer team has come up with a revised 2004
version; one car is a completely new chassis.
In terms of outright
speed, the M3 GTR was easily on the pace of the leaders last year;
the technical k.o. on lap 1 can be put down to human error, and
the eventual DNF was the result of seven of the best drivers in
the business trying to make up time at all cost (and making one
or two costly mistakes along the way). Would any car have withstood
such treatment? Had they had a less eventful first hour, they would
have settled into a sensible race pace and followed master strategist
Charly Lamm's game plan, and played a leading role in the race.
And given half a chance, they will feature strongly this year.
The two German Championship
rounds contested by Team Schnitzer in preparation for the 24 Hours
have made it crystal-clear that BMW is ready: pole position, fastest
lap and victory in both events.
Four of last year's Unlucky
Seven will return and try to reconcile the BMW fans; European Touringcar
Championship driver Duncan Huisman and double 'Ring 24 winner Pedro
Lamy are new additions to the squad.
Hans-Joachim Stuck, Germany
Jörg Müller, Germany
Dirk Müller, Germany
Duncan Huisman, Netherlands
Pedro Lamy, Portugal
Boris Said, USA
powered by a V8 engine, the Scheid Motorsport M3 "GTR-S"
is ready to save the day for the marque in the event the Schnitzer
cars should fall by the wayside. The team's regular German Championship
line-up is joined by lady racer extraordinaire, Claudia Hürtgen.
Claudia Hürtgen, Germany
Oliver Kainz, Germany
Mario Marten, Germany
Johannes Scheid, Germany
Among the myriad of privateer
BMWs also in the race, the three car Duller Motorsport entry stands
out not only because of its livery - it sports the already-famous
radiant blue colour scheme of a popular energy drink - but also
because it boasts a lineup of class drivers: FIA GT regulars Philipp
Peter and Toto Wolff are joined in #16 by experienced Belgian Vincent
Vosse who has already won the 24hr races at Spa and Zolder, as well
as the 24 Hours of Sicily (twice), and the irrepressible Dieter
Quester who now goes into his fifth decade in motor racing, as competitive
as ever. Immaculately prepared by a team that last year raced on
four continents, the 6cyl.-engined M3 lacks the power of the front-running
cars but with reliability, a good strategy, and a little luck, a
place well within the top 10 is not impossible for this experienced
crew. This very car, with Peter / Quester / Wolff / Engelhorn, came
third overall in the 1000 mile race at Interlagos earlier this year.
Philipp Peter, Austria
Dieter Quester, Austria
Vincent Vosse, Belgium
Christian "Toto" Wolff, Austria
has not given up on its Viper GTS-R yet. Five years of successful
Nordschleife competition have left the team with a car that is perfectly
dialled in to the special demands of this track - something not
many initially believed would be possible. In 2003, the venerable
American V10 coupé was again right on the money in terms
of speed and reliability, but an unfortunate controversy over its
compliance with the regulations saw the team's progress hampered
by what adds up to about 90 minutes of time penalties, and the post-race
protest kept the race result provisional for many weeks. All is
not well in the relationship between the Zakspeed team and the German
motor racing authority DMSB; after the demise of the privately run
V8STAR series, and the loss of its main sponsors, the team attempted
to moved on to the FIA GT series where it wanted to campaign two
Ferrari 360 Modenas; this project ultimately fell through. In the
German Championship, and therefore on DMSB turf, Zakspeed is not
sticking out its neck too much this year, but the Viper once again
differs substantially from its many siblings. Not counting the silhouette
cars that used to run in Trans-Am a few years ago, Peter Zakowski
can claim to have the only V8-powered competition Viper anywhere.
For the 24 Hours however, the 8l V10 is still legal. The regular
Championship team of gentlemen drivers Werner Mohr and Hans-Peter
Huppert-Nieder, and Zakspeed racing school chief instructor Markus
Grossmann, will be joined by Grossmann's colleague Andreas Gülden
for the 24 Hours.
Markus Grossmann, Germany
Andreas Gülden, Germany
Hans-Peter Huppert-Nieder, Germany
Werner Mohr, Germany
marque as such, these unique silhouette cars deserve to be mentioned
because they are among the outside favourites for a podium finish.
Remnants of the now abandoned German spec. racing series called
V8STAR, they are by concept similar to Trans-Am or NASCAR machines,
if somewhat more "hi tech" than their American counterparts.
Four of them will be in the race, one of them already a multiple
race winner on the Nordschleife.
Motorsport took over the 2003 Sagarage car at the end of the last
season, and with continued development, the Recaro-liveried "Jaguar
S-Type" is among the frontrunners in the German Championship.
Some 39 laps was all the car managed in last year's 24 Hours, but
it has proved its reliability in the shorter (3.5 to 6hr) German
Dirk Adorf, Germany
Ulrich Galladé, Germany
Hermann Tilke, Germany
other fields of operation are now scarce for these special machines,
three more V8STAR teams have followed the Sagarage / Raeder example,
and found their way to the Nürburgring. Former front-running
V8STAR equipe MIS Sport Promotion has joined forces with the Sagarage
operation and hopes to benefit from their expertise in developing
such cars into endurance racers. The body shape used on this car
is that of an "Audi A6", with alterations, following Audi's
unwillingness to agree to be associated with the series, and they
have brought along Thomas Mutsch, who was one of the star drivers
(no pun intended) of the V8STAR series.
Harald Becker, Germany
Christian Hohenadel, Germany
Thomas Mutsch, Germany
Klaus Panchyrz, Germany
team of industrialist Siegfried Ryll was among the most faithful
supporters of the V8STAR series; with their entry of a "Lexus
GS" in the 24 Hours, without previous experience on the Nordschleife,
they are jumping in at the deep end.
Siegfried Ryll, Germany
Meinhard Rittmeier, Germany
Zakspeed Racing has won this race several times, and their "Jaguar
S-Type" was the last V8STAR championship winner ever; driver
Pedro Lamy has since parted company with the team. Sascha Bert and
Donny Crevels both had their single seater careers cut short by
budgetary constraints; Bert made it to Formula 3000 but has no previous
endurance racing experience, while Crevels was a part of the Racing
for Holland effort at Le Mans in 2001. Two German Championship outings
in preparation for this race have shown them to be very competitive.
They are joined by former V8STAR series manager Altfrid Heger who
has three 24 hour race wins to his credit (2x Spa, 1x 'Ring).
Sascha Bert, Germany
Donny Crevels, Netherlands
Altfrid Heger, Germany