VLN – Münsterlandpokal 4 Hours
First some news on the Nürburgring 24 Hours: thanks to the FIA’s incessant tinkering with the Formula 1 calendar, the date for the 24 Hours is once again in doubt (how many times have we heard this over the last few years??) - if the date for the European Grand Prix is moved closer to the current date for the 24 Hours (May 26-29, 2005) then the organisers may well be forced to reschedule their own race. The good news is that under no circumstances (at least none that are currently known) will the 24 Stunden clash with the 24 Heures next year; an alternative date of May 6-8 is being looked at. Weatherwise, the Eifel tends to hold surprises in store for unsuspecting visitors this early in the year.

Back to 2004, and the last round of the German Endurance Championship, the four hour "Münsterlandpokal" on October 23.

Among the 178 entries submitted for this event was one from the Opel factory team. It was seen by many as a farewell performance: the German subsidiary of General Motors has run into rough water recently, and as many as 10,000 jobs are in jeopardy. In the light of this precarious situation, Opel has decided to wind down its motorsports program, and bail out of the DTM at the end of next year. The 'Ring 24 Hours endurance project has always been a “side effect” of the DTM effort, and observers regard the likelihood of Opel works cars chasing the BMWs and Porsches on the Nordschleife in 2005 as slim. All fans who were hoping for an opportunity to take a (last?) look at the V8-powered Astra coupè were disappointed as unfortunately, the team decided to stay away. The current works Astras may find their way into private hands, perhaps to other parts of Europe.

dailysportscar.comWhile the battle for the race win would provide entertainment for the onlookers trackside (all 24,000 of them), everyone’s attention was nevertheless on the battle for the overall title, which was between two teams from the smaller classes. A tricky coefficient system ensures that the more competitors you beat on your way to a class win, the more points you take home, and this almost inevitably locks out the Big Bangers from overall honours: there simply aren’t enough of them to ensure a sufficient points score per race. While this is a difficult system to communicate to casual observers, it is competitor-friendly – you do not need a 700bhp Porsche to become German Endurance Champion – and this is what the series is all about.

The Mühlner Motorsport team has had a very successful year in the 2500cc Specials class, where its Volvo S60s have become the cars to beat. Against six to eight entrants per race, Ullrich Andree has won eight races this year, mostly driving solo, with Denmark’s ex-Mercedes man Kurt Thiim providing assistance on occasion. Going into this race, Andree was second in the overall standings. In the lead were René Wolff and Arnd Meier.

dailysportscar.comTheir humble BMW 318ti (right) compact is prepared to “less-than-Gp.N” VLN stock production rules, and they have won “only” four races this season; but for obvious reasons, the “budget racer” classes are among the most popular in the whole series – 15 opponents per race mean there are plenty of points up for grabs in the 2000cc class. The last two years have seen stock production competitors win the title. Former F3 whiz kid Meier got as far as the ChampCar series before more or less voluntarily abandoning his professional racing career. His points tally in 2004 indicates he still takes his racing seriously. All he and his partner Wolff had to do now was get to the finish, while Andree needed to win his class and hope for them to fall by the wayside. They were not going to race each other directly: Andree qualified his Volvo in 16th position while Meier and Wolff started from 146th spot.

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Meanwhile on row 1, a time of 8:53.382 (take note of this time) was enough for the Vitaphone crew to once again put its Porsche 996 GTII on pole position. Works drivers Lucas Luhr and Timo Bernhard took up their place alongside them with Manthey Racing’s 996 GT3-MR, some 22 seconds back. Dirk Adorf was going it alone in the Raeder Motorsport V8STAR “Jaguar” this time out while Marc Basseng and Patrick Simon were once again joined by Frank Stippler, in the Land Motorsport 996 GT3-RS. Best of the BMW brigade were the M3 Specials of Scheid Motorsport (Johannes Scheid / Mario Merten / Oliver Kainz) in fifth (below), and the Getrag car of Michael Bäder and Tobias Hagenmeyer in tenth, both with V8 power.

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In this four hour race, the thirsty turbo Porsche would need one stop more than the other front-runners, so Uwe Alzen immediately set out to put as much daylight between himself and the rest of the field as possible. When things go well for this team, they go really well; with Jürgen Alzen at the controls as of lap 7, the black-and-turquoise “Alien” motored along swiftly and reliably, at a pace no one else even tried to match.

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The Manthey team chose the opposite strategy, getting as many laps as possible out of the first tank of fuel. This essentially won them the race.

For the championship leaders, the race was already over on lap 7: technical trouble forced Arnd Meier and René Wolff out of the race. Ulrich Andree’s chances were now looking better, but he still had to win his class. Four laps later, Wolff and Meier were champions: Andree tangled with another car on the Grand Prix track and ended his race in the Mühlner garage, now officially the 2004 vice-champion. His was one of 47 cars that would retire from this event.

The Land Porsche’s race ended on lap 15 when Frank Stippler at the wheel was unable to prevent an accident; also on lap 15, everything was still running as planned for the Vitaphonics as Michael Bartels took over the car.

dailysportscar.comOnly a lap later, there was an audible change in the Porsche’s exhaust note, and Bartels brought the car back to the pits. A broken exhaust was diagnosed, and the repair work took 15 whole minutes - victory was out of reach. As Uwe Alzen prepared to take over for the final stint, he was unhappy. Everyone was getting ready for a fireworks display as an unhappy Uwe usually makes for happy spectators. He did not let them down: you will remember that 8:53.382 was good enough for pole position; at the end pf the 24th lap, the clock stopped at 8:16.671, some 36.711 seconds faster than his qualifying lap, 0.9 seconds faster than the previous fastest lap of the year, and a new record for this track configuration. Then Uwe was a little happier again, and settled down to finish the race in eighth place.

The flawless execution of yet another clever strategy by Olaf Manthey won Timo Bernhard and Lucas Luhr their third race of the season, with a solid margin of almost six minutes over the Scheid and Getrag BMWs, the latter from tenth on the grid. And the 2004 German Endurance Championship goes to Arnd Meier, René Wolff and the Sax Racing team.

Result
1 . #80 – Timo Bernhard / Lucas Luhr, Porsche GT3-MR, 27 laps (4:02:11.866)
2 . #99 – Johannes Scheid / Mario Merten / Oliver Kainz, BMW M3 GTRS, -5:52.266
3 . #100 – Michael Bäder / Tobias Hagenmeyer, BMW M3, -6:09.771
4 . #678 – Andreas Schall / Ralf Schall, Opel Astra V8 Coupé, -1 lap
5 #698 – Karl Christian Lück / Dr. Bert Flossbach / Kurt Thiim, Porsche 996 GT3
6 . #693 – Nils Bartels / Harald Jacksties / Frank Lorenzo, Porsche GT3
7 . #620 – Michael Jacobs / Dieter Schornstein / Paul Hulverscheid, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
8 . #62 – Jürgen Alzen / Uwe Alzen / Michael Bartels, Porsche 996 GT II
9 . #635 – Peter Mamerow / Christian Mamerow, Porsche 911 GT 3 Cup
10 . #699 – Ralf H. Weiner, Porsche 996 GT3

2004 was a year of great sadness for the German motor racing community as four of its most distinguished members passed away - racer Edgar Dören, veteran announcers Karlheinz “Kalli” Hufstadt and Peter Theisen (both also part of the commentating team at the 24 Hours for many years), and the chief press officer of the German Endurance Championship, Luki Scheuer. But with regard to the sporting competition we have seen all year, it was once again a successful season of endurance racing on the Nürburgring, and we can only hope for more of the same in 2005. And as always at the end of a long season of racing, everyone is now sad it had to end, but happy it is over.

With thanks to our ‘Ringside informers, and the excellent www.vln.de, for their support throughout the year.
Johannes Gauglica

 

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