32nd ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours - Preview
Factory Interest

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.

Opel
dailysportscar.comLast year's 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.

drivers:
Peter Dumbreck, Great Britain
Marcel Fässler, Switzerland
Christian Menzel, Germany
Manuel Reuter, Germany
Timo Scheider, Germany
Volker Strycek, Germany
Marcel Tiemann, Germany

Audi
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.

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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 Frank Stippler.

drivers:
Christian Abt, Germany
Fredrik Ekblom, Sweden
Mattias Ekström, Sweden
Patrick Huisman, Netherlands
Frank Stippler, Germany
Karl Wendlinger, Austria

Porsche
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.

dailysportscar.comThe 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.

drivers:
Marc Duez, Belgium
Arno Klasen, Germany
Lucas Luhr, Germany
Olaf Manthey, Germany

dailysportscar.comBoth 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.

drivers:
Uwe Alzen, Germany
Jürgen Alzen, Germany
Michael Bartels, Germany
Klaus Ludwig, Germany

Nissan
dailysportscar.comOh all 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.

drivers:
Roland Asch, Germany
Takayuki Kinoshita, Japan
Dirk Schoysman, Belgium
Tetsuya Tanaka, Japan

Honda
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.

dailysportscar.comThe 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.

drivers:
Uwe Nittel, Germany
Peter Paul Pietsch, Germany
Jochen Übler, Germany
Horst von Saurma-Jeltsch, Germany

dailysportscar.comFinally, 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?

drivers:
Armin Hahne, Germany
Robin Liddell, Great Britain
Robert Lechner, Austria
Markus Oestreich, Germany

BMW
dailysportscar.comNo, 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

dailysportscar.comAlso 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.

drivers:
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.

drivers:
Philipp Peter, Austria
Dieter Quester, Austria
Vincent Vosse, Belgium
Christian "Toto" Wolff, Austria

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Chrysler
dailysportscar.comZakspeed 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

V8STAR
Not a 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.

dailysportscar.comRaeder 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 Championship races.

drivers:
Dirk Adorf, Germany
Ulrich Galladé, Germany
Hermann Tilke, Germany

dailysportscar.comSince 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.

drivers:
Harald Becker, Germany
Christian Hohenadel, Germany
Thomas Mutsch, Germany
Klaus Panchyrz, Germany

dailysportscar.comThe 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.

drivers:
Siegfried Ryll, Germany
Meinhard Rittmeier, Germany
TBA

 

 

dailysportscar.comFinally, 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).

drivers:
Sascha Bert, Germany
Donny Crevels, Netherlands
Altfrid Heger, Germany

Johannes Gauglica

 

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