Lore has it that, in October 1920, a man named Heinrich felt particularly depressed at the prospect of yet another grey, cold, wet German winter. So depressed in fact, that he took his young family to Palermo for a short holiday. Where Heinrich hoped to get a last glimpse of sun and sea, before inevitably facing months of dreariness up North.
After some days spent on Palermo’s beaches, old Heinrich needed a break from building yet another sand castle. And he sped off into the hills of Sicily. Where an amazing sight was branded in his brain. Alfa Romeos, Fiats and Italas sped along the hilly country-roads at regular intervals. Behind the wheel were men named Enzo Ferrari or Giuseppe Campari, as Heinrich would learn in the evening.
As he returned home, his mind was clear. Similar races should be organized on the roads of Heinrich’s beloved Eifel-mountains. And so, the ADAC Eifelrennen came to be.
Soon, the local authorities felt that these Eifelrennen were impractical and dangerous. And it was therefore decided to build a dedicated racetrack. The Nürburgring was born.
All that sounds utterly responsible and like the result of common sense; exactly as one would expect from the Germans. Till you set foot on the Nürburgring for the first time. And suddenly face the result of the commonly very sensible, slightly dull Germans gone berserk.
One thing is clear: the Nürburgring is not your average racetrack. According to Marcelo, it is not even a racetrack. A racetrack should never be longer than 14 kilometers and 120 meters. Beyond that, it becomes impossible for the limited brain capacity of the average racecar driver to contain the track. And rather than driving extensively practiced lines through turns, every lap becomes something of a lucky shot. It is at best rally driving with inappropriate cars. But no way is it road racing. Marcelo says.
The Nürburgring, in Nordschleife configuration, comes in at 22 kilometers and 810 meters. Not a race track thus, but a very refined death trap for drivers. Or torture room for cars.
Still, the Germans insist on organizing the annual German Grand Prix at exactly this poor contraption of a racetrack. They idolize Ringmeisters and glorify turns with names like Flugplatz, Fuchsrörhe, Bergwerk or Brünnchen.
Names at which Marcelo shrugged, mumbling something along the lines of: “None even reach to the ankle of Blanchimont or Eau Rouge.”
Deluded Spanish muttering that did not bother the Germans, who had turned up in large numbers for this year’s race. The reason was one man. One being. One promise for the future. Who had captured the fascination and admiration of the entire nation. This year, the new German wunderkind would finally start at the Ring and rightfully claim the moniker Ringmeister. The Germans hailed him as Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer and Wolfgang Von Tripps, all in one.
Every German mother-in-law saw in him the perfect sun-in-law. The dreams of every of those mothers-in-law’s daughters filled with visions of his perfection. While their fathers nodded approvingly as the read about his exploits in the papers. One zeitung had even filled its entire front page with a picture of the prodigal son and headed: “Der Toller Superheld kommt nach hause.”
Since that day, the young driver was revered by the whole of Germany as Der Toller Superheld. And the whole nation helped in preparing the homecoming of their superhero.
The once thriving Karl Deutsch Gmbh had transformed a Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 into a landaulet to allow the young prince to arrive at the track in style. As the Merc slowly rolled onto the strip of tarmac in front of the grandstands, the young star was standing up in the car and shone so bright that it seemed pure fire. The entire track went numb. And not a single voice or sound could be heard; only the solemn silence of respect. God had arrived.
After just missing the podium at Zandvoort and Mosley, driven by patriotic pride, sabotaging his car and trying to kill him at Paul Ricard, the race at the Ring would finally allow Der Toller to display his utter dominance. A Brit crazy enough to turn Australian had provided a car. And even if the car was the most developed nor the most powerful, such minor shortcomings would not stop a man of his stature.
The Wunderkind only managed a qualification position just outside of the top 10. Which was clearly just sandbagging and would not stop him from crushing all opposition in the race. And then, there were good reasons for the qualification result. Between being forced by the Australian Brit to be slower than Janik and Wilks having designed the bloody cars, what could one expect? Superheld’s entourage was also adamant that Austin Johnson was using some kind of 83 Charlotte Petty engine and that Canola had been raised in the same country as those Fittipaldi brothers. Which was blatantly unfair.
But the worse was that, while Der Toller was on his fastest laps, a lap that would have ridiculed every other time, Voigt decided to make a complete shambles of it. Patsy disgraced our entire team by getting in the way of the local deity. Superheld had caught Voigt with an almost inhuman ease. But then Voigt was so bloody slow that the great German champion fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and bumped into Voigt’s rear.
I immediately ordered someone to send over a case of Collin-Bourisset Beaujolais to Der Toller. In the vain hope of somewhat absolving Voigt’s clumsiness. It was a case of wine that was left over from a delivery we made to the German Schwarz-family, who sell them in their convenience stores. We hoped that the young star would not take offense at our choice of chateau, but it was al we had available on short notice. And then, one who regularly discusses matters with the gods themselves could be expected to be accustomed to altar wine anyway.
Voigt still managed to salvage an unexpected 24th out of 29. Which obviously was not entirely his own doing. Fast men Acerclinth and Craggs preferred to start from behind and had not clocked timed laps. Gabriel Sterr, in a similar March 701, lapped the Ring about 17 seconds faster than Voigt but then non-understandably got disqualified.
Still, Voigt was about 5 seconds a lap faster than Bruno Chacon, also in a March 701. And even over a minute faster than rookie Paulo Rodrigues who entered a comparable McLaren M7A. His 24th was thus not entirely meritless.
Johnson took the pole in an old CMG Racing March 711. It was clear that for all its flaws, the Ring at least allowed a driver to overcome the inequalities between cars. Thiago Canola, who had stepped in at BRM for Steve Parker, took second.
Then followed the usual names: Grant Riddall in the Surtees, Coxon in the Tyrrell and Janik and Jundt completing the top 6.
As the starting flag dropped, a typical Nordschleife start unfolded. As if the entire track was not sufficiently mad, the Germans had insisted on having a very wide start-finish section. Which was a wise thing to do. Except that the Germans had narrowed the track sensibly some yards down the road, well before the cars started braking for the Südkehre. Every start thus was like a heap of marbles being pushed all at once through a narrow bottleneck.
Coxon had one hell of start on the left side of the track. The Tyrrell shot towards and then by Canola’s BRM. Richard was actually in the lead for a split second as Johnson started moving left to enter the Südkehre. Canola’s BRM shrouded the Tyrrell from Johnson’s view and the American had the scare of his life as he found the dark blue car at the apex of the first turn.
Both cars touched. Johnson continued in the lead. But Coxon slid off, pirouetting onto the grass.
There was much more mayhem behind. Canola was struggling to make turn one. Then got somewhat torpedoed from behind by Jundt. The usually cool and methodical Swiss now showed the eager of a Great Dane while starting and was reeling in Riddall for 4th on the run to the Südkehre.
At the same time, Plaçais had shot past Janik and was equally pulling ahead of Grant on the other side of the track.
As the tracks started narrowing, the three cars were almost abreast with Riddall somewhat boxed in between Jundt’s March and Plaçais’ Matra. Grant had not much choice but to move slightly left and there found Jundt.
Their cars touched and DJ seemed to lose control, flying into Canola’s BRM, the both of them sliding onto the grass. Grant Riddall and Yves Plaçais followed suit. Which now had 4 of the top 5 cars off the track, before turn 1 had even been dealt with.
Wilks went slightly wide but kept it together. There was some more ruckus as the charging field was now wriggling itself through the first turn mayhem. Almost like an army of ants on a bad acid-trip.
As the dust settled, the German crowd was however jubilant.
Johnson lead the pack through the Nordkehre, onto the twisty country roads around the Eiffel mountains. Jaques had enjoyed a good start and then avoided all the debris, to find himself in an excellent second.
And then, to the crowd’s great pleasure, followed the enlightened Ringmeister to be. He had managed a brilliant start and had then made his way through the fray with seldom seen ability. And was now in third. It was only a matter of time before he would dispense with Johnson and Jaques and claim the lead and the victory that were rightfully his.
Grant Riddall had actually more or less kept his Surtees straight on his run over the Südkehre lawn, even grabbing the lead for a second or two. He rejoined the track on the exit of Südkehre without much loss of speed and was now in forth.
Petr Hlavac and Ray Riddall completed the top 6.
Jundt was down to 17th, Coxon to 21st and Canola to 22nd. Circumstances were ideal for some brilliant come-back races.
Gabriel Sterr had been somewhat overly optimistic in an attempt to pass some cars on the outside under braking for the first lefthander. His March 701 ended up hitting the fencing. The car lost both its front and rear wing and Gabriel retired the car.
Paulo Rodrigues blew his Cosworth under braking for turn one and his race was equally over.
As to Voigt, the entire Südkehre carnage seemed to pass by him without ever reaching his consciousness. He escaped the wreckage without a scratch on the car, looking like that man from Nazareth walking on water. And was still running 24th.
Jundt was on his way up. He pulled ahead of Whited on the run to Nordkehre, then used the two lefthanders to go around the outside of Chapman’s Surtees and Janak’s Ferrari. As if the Czech driver had not already endured sufficient hardship this season, the Firestones on his car now refused to heat up; resulting in a constantly skidding car.
Exiting Nordkehre, Jundt was already back in 15th. And there he just stopped. All electricity in his car had died. Another race over.
Hlavac was running 5th and enjoyed quiet the spectacle in front of him. Grant Riddall, in 4th, had an eye out for the 3rd spot occupied by Der Toller Superheld. In a vain attempt to dissimulate the unearthly proportions of his talent, the young Ringmeister decided to let Riddall have a run in the left handers of Metzgesfeld. The German wunderkind even let Grant make his move on the outside, adding to the drama.
Grant went by, but Der Toller Superheld and everyone else understood that it was just a matter of time. In the end, only One would ascend to the podium’s top spot.
The young Ringmeister than added some and even allowed Hlavac to close in on him. Rumor had it that the German star had ordered his mechanics to crank down the displacement of his engine with about a quarter. Just to leave the other participants the illusion that they had a chance.
With the German’s car supposedly running less power, Hlavac closed in on the fast bit from Bergwerk to the Karussell. Then, as the track became more twisty, the German superstar could not help but be more agile, and edged away.
Hlavac stayed in 5th for the remainder of the entire first lap and prepared for his second lap. Just then, his electrical systems also called it a day and Petr had no choice but to park his car on the side of the track. With barely one lap dispensed, the field had already thinned.
In pitlane, queries started surfacing about the effect on the cars’ electrics of the moist and chill mountain forest air looming over the track.
Grant had meanwhile caught up with David Jaques. David, always keen on realism, moved to the right somewhere around one of the Pflanzgartens and let Grant go. The Canadian obviously failed to conceal his intentions as well as Der Toller Superheld had.
Johnson now enjoyed a massive lead, but every German girl around knew in her heart that it was not to last. Riddall was being himself in second: always charging. Jaques followed in a wise third spot. Followed Der Toller Superheld, abiding His time. Ray Riddall inherited 5th from Hlavac. And Yves Plaçais had the Matra back in 6th.
Voigt had a rather uneventful first lap. As he launched onto the run towards Flugplatz, Acerclinth used the extra 15 horses in his March 711 to speed by. Voigt wisely left room to leave the fast Swede through.
He then gained some places through the bad luck of others and was now running 23rd with Craggs and Chacon behind him. Mark’s McLaren had slightly more power than Voigt’s car, but Voigt nevertheless managed to stay ahead of the orange car. At some points of the track, even pulling away slightly.
Peter Blom skidded off the track at Kallenhard, losing his rear wing. He retired the Surtees. Seconds later, Jason White followed Blom’s example at the same spot, disintegrating the Tyrrell beyond repair. Voigt moved up to 21st.
Time for the electrical system in Jereb’s McLaren to call it a day. Race over. And he would not be the last.
Coxon was making up for lost time fast and was already back in tenth, with Sabre’s Matra within eyesight. The Matra and the Tyrrell were spanking along Antoniusbuche as the Cosworth suddenly stopped sparking. Another one fell victim of electric problems.
Johnson, preparing for his third lap, was by now about 30,000 miles ahead of Grant Riddall, who soldiered on in second. Jaques was still third and Der Toller Superheld was in 4th, planning his soon to follow crushing assault.
Ray Riddall held a lonely 5th.
Plaçais was in 6th but had Janik hot on his behinds. The Detroiter had been pushing Sabre hard for 7th for almost an entire lap. Till David went of somewhere around Pflanzgarten II, letting both Brian and Richard Wilks through. And Janik was now doing his best to get by the second Matra.
Chapman broke way later than Bos for the Nordkehre and moved one up.
Voigt was verily running 19th, in the top 20 and still about 4/5th of the race left to improve. The idiot then missed third gear on the run to Hoheneichen, which left him struggling for speed on the run down towards Quiddelbacherhöhe. Smart Craggs did not hesitate and went passed. And Voigt even had to watch out for Chacon who was suddenly mightily close.
Patsy stayed ahead of the Brazilian and, initially, even looked as if he would regain the position lost to Cragg’s McLaren. But soon Mark started pulling away. It was the beginning of our downfall.
Bos was giving it his everything to get back to Chapman. Maybe slightly overdoing it. He ran wide a first time on the run down to Breidscheid, scraping the Armco for several meters. That may have damaged his Lotus some, as the car was now performing all kinds of monkey tricks. Even if entertaining, it slowed the Lotus sufficiently down to let Janak’s Ferrari past. And come under direct threat from Dana Schurer’s Ferrari.
Bos finally spun the Lotus backwards into the barriers at Eiskurve, ending his race. With not even 3 laps completed, the field was down to 20 cars.
Plaçais had meanwhile succumbed to the pressure of Janik in Kallenhard. He avoided damaging the Matra and continued the race, be it down in 11th.
Voigt now had to watch out for Chacon, who was nearing. In the twisty parts, Voigt was running away, but then on the long straight along Döttinger Höhe, the Jo Siffert March, almost out of nowhere, pulled ahead of our Williams-car. Was Bruno running lower wings than Voigt?
We were nevertheless confident that Voigt would be able to recover and pass Chacon very soon. But Voigt was already past his prime.
Entering lap 5, Ray Riddall’s fifth spot had evolved into much less of a lonely place. Der Toller Superheld’s sandbagging now had Ray closing in on him, while as Detroit boy Janik was unchaining some of his fiercest skills just behind him. Was he planning to take a midnight train going anywhere?
The distance between the three cars was still sufficient to keep things civilized.
Plaçais was back to 10th and was turning up the pace.
Craggs had by now long dispensed with any threat Voigt or Chacon might ever have represented. He was far ahead and out of reach.
In the twisty bits following the Nordkehre, Voigt was meanwhile pulling back up to Bruno quiet easily. But then where do you pass on this track? The Germans succeeded in creating 23 kilometers of track without one decent overtaking opportunity.
Voigt had a halfhearted look braking for Aremberg but wisely though the better of it. He ended losing more time than gaining.
He shadowed the Siffert car all the way to Bergwerk. Than looked like maybe having an opportunity in the fast sweeps following Bergwerk. Till disaster struck.
Bruno got a tad wide in one of the fast sweepers. Just enough to lose the car to a slow spin, somewhat obstructing the track. Voigt had nowhere to go and the old March in turn also went spinning. At high speed. It looked like two red cars opening one of them grand Wiener dances.
Voigt was the first to be on his way again and went passed Bruno. But the car had incurred damage. Right bends were hard to negotiate. Voigt did have no time to adapt to the changed behavior of the car and spun again somewhere between Brünnchen and Pflanzgarten. The car ended facing the track in the opposite direction. Chacon went by. And quickly evaporated into a distant memory.
Janik had made it by Riddall the Wiser just as Thiago Canola, recovering from the turn 1 mayhem, had done. The fast Brazilian did not take long to also pull ahead of Janik and grab fifth spot.
Starting lap 5, Johnson was somewhere in another Galaxy. Grant Riddall held up some appearances in second. Jaques was patiently building his race in third. Der Toller Superheld was slowly starting to unleash some of his true potential. Every local knew that he would now soon be up in first spot. Be it that he had Brazilian fury looming in his mirrors.
The entire field of cars was now relatively spread out, the race not producing any action. The Germans had spend a fortune building a 23 kilometers showcase for their grundlichkeit, and it failed to produce any thrills. Except maybe for Acerclinth having some shy looks at Shurer’s 15th spot. Which almost looked like a boy shadowing a girl on an elementary school’s recreation ground.
Der Toller Superheld now decided that it was time to set the order straight and started closing in on Jaques. He was not alone in his efforts however, as Thiago Canola was on his heels. The Brazilian even seemed faster, be it in lack of a decent opportunity to pass. It was however understood by all around that that could only be down to optical illusion.
The newly found Ringmeister being a good sport, he decided to raise the stacks even further. And faked a spin in the fast Sprunghügel, letting both Canola and Detroit Brian trough. The crowd cheered him on as, having rejoined in sixth place, he would now certainly deal his final blows, capturing a certain victory.
There was some action brewing as Canola had caught up with Jaques and the two BRM-boys did not look like just putting it to rest. Jaques however seemed to understand that Canola was faster. And that, even if this misconception of a track could help him make it very hard for his Brazilian teammate, chances were high that it would end in tears. Out of Bergwerk, Jaques showed the world what true maturity in a driver is, and let Thiago go.
Sabre, who had been running eighth for a while, had another spin in the fast sweeps between Kallenhard and Wehrseifen. Both Wilks and Plaçais sailed by.
Voigt had bravely set out to reel Brazilian ace Chacon in, but was destined to falter. Still, the determination he showed in battling his wounded car, earned him some recognition. He could however not prevent losing control in the ultrafast Schwedenkreuz. The car hit the barriers and lost its rear wing as well as a front wheel. Voigt then excelled in idiocy and blew the engine trying to get out of the sand-trap. Our race was over after only 5 laps.
Some around the track started to wonder whether Der Toller Superheld was not slightly overplaying his hand. Janik was still miles ahead and Riddall the Wiser was looming larger and larger in Young Ringmeister’s mirrors.
Ending lap 6, Der Toller spun his car out of the Hohenrain chicane. Riddall the Wiser went by.
The Junger Gott decided to enter the pit. Some local spectators held their breath. And then the unimaginable happened. Gott jumped out of his car and abandoned.
Disbelief muted every single man around the track. And far beyond. It seemed like the whole of Germany came to a standstill. An eerie silence descended over the track. And attentive bystanders later pretended to have heard numb voices rising from castle Nürnburg:
die Sonne scheint
kein Vogel singt mehr
die Sonne scheint.”
More people entered the pits. Ryon and Schurer came in for repairs. Both lost many places. The Commendatore despaired as even Craggs went by. Dana Schurer was even left behind by Bruno Chacon.
Plaçais was slightly too eager to get ahead of Riddall the Wiser and spun out of Breidscheid. The Frenchman had to allow Wilks and Sabre through.
As Johnson entered lap eight, he was about 2000 light years ahead of anyone else. Grant Riddall was still trying hard in second, but it seemed not even his Grantal Greatness would be able to hold California Austin from his first victory.
Grant even had to start paying attention to his mirrors as Thiago Canola was closing in.
Jaques was minding his own business in fourth and seemed happy doing so. Janik was not far behind in fifth. Then followed the other Riddall.
Dana Schurer had finally rejoined the race but was on the verge of being lapped by Californian speed of light.
By the time Jaques had made it to Aremberg, his mirrors filled with Janik. The Brabham-driver was giving it all he had to find a way passed the BRM. Buth then, this is the track with by far the least overtaking opportunities per kilometer. Brian overcooked it at Wehrseifen. The Brabh spun into the Armco, loosing a wheel in the ordeal. Detroit Brian’s race was over.
Ryon spun the Ferrari at Hatzenbach, loosing the entire front section of the Ferrari, nosecone and wing and all. The car looked like a putana to drive after that. And a second pitstop seemed inevitable.
Grant Riddall was meanwhile still struggling with a Surtees heavily affected by the turn 1 mayhem. By the time he reached Breidscheid, Canola was heaving and puffing just behind. The Brazilian was working up an appetite and quick Grant wisely decided that 3rd would be much more beneficial than ending up in the guardrail.
By the time Gerard Ryon made it back to the start-finish line to start lap 9, Johnson had already covered about 3/4th of his 9th lap. Remarkable thing was that Gerard decided to continue without pitting.
Canola was preparing to lap Janak in one of the other Ferraris.
Grant “The Faster As Light” Riddall and David “The More Planning Than Marshall” Jaques were more or less minding their own respective businesses.
Ray “The Greater Wisdom” Riddall had been minding his own race for quiet a while, but now faced a growing interest for his behinds from both Wilks and Plaçais.
On the run to Bergwerk, Wilks carried more momentum than the BRM. The Lotus aimed for a pass on the outside. But went on the loose sand bordering the track. Things went a bit clumsy from there. Wilks could not slow the car down and hit Riddall’ right side as the BRM negotiated Bergwerk. The BRM spun while the Lotus driver kept his crate straight, be it somewhat blocked by the BRM.
Plaçais benefitted the most and went straight into 5th.
Wilks was the first to be on his way again and continued in sixth. Possibly, waiting for Riddall might have been the gentleman thing to do, but who shall say for certain. Ray took the worse of it, Sabre slipping by as the BRM was gaining speed, and fell back to 8th.
Ray then struggled with a badly hurt stallion and failed to build a rhythm. Chapman sailed by and Ray hit another Armco before retiring. It was a kismet of such harshness that it seemed undeserved for Ray.
There were now only 16 cars left in the race. With a track that is about 23 kilometers long, that equals about one car every one and half kilometers. Boredom…
Then Dana retired her Ferrari, resulting in even more bleakness…
Plaçais looked like closing on Jaques, but was still respectfully behind.
Gerard Ryon decided that running without a nose was really to exhausting… Lack of airflow and stuff like that. And retired the Ferrari.
Plaçais had caught up with Jaques. On the long run from Döttinger Höhe to Hohenrain, he used a combination of V12 rocket power, slipstream and dare to simply pull ahead. The Matra was in 4th.
Whited, Acerclinth and Hackman, holding positions 10 to 12 and all running in more or less similar Dumbo eared Marchs, were trying to keep the race somewhat entertaining all by themselves.
Acerclinth had a wee look at Whited’s 10th spot along Antoniusbuche; Hackman falling back some. Jonatan then went slightly off the track at Hohenrain, but kept it together. The number 17 March saw Whited slip slightly away and now had Hackman’s number 22 on his tail.
The Swede fended off an attack from the American in Südkehre. And things settled back to normal again.
Now on his penultimate lap, Johnson lapped Chacon. And it seemed nothing was going to stop him from taking the victor’s spoils. As the California dude crossed the start-finish line to start the last lap, Canola was still making it through the Kleines Karussell.
Acerclinth hit the inside curb of Mutkurve hard and spun. Hackman went passed.
Craggs and Chacon were the two last men running in 13th and 14th. All the others had succumbed to the unpredictability of the Ring.
But this German misconception of a track is not just unpredictable, it is just plain cruel. With less than a lap to go, David Sabre hit the guardrails in the twisty part following Nordkëhre. He lost a front wheel and his wing. All the effort of 11 long laps of Nürnburg misery went down the drain. His race was over.
But the Ring’s thirst for calamities had not been stilled yet. It is a voracious monster, the Ring. Cruelty drips from its nose like saliva from a bulldog’s mouth.
And so, with merely half a lap to go, the Ring dripped some additional moist on the number 22 Williams entered March’s plugs. The Cosworth soon started misfiring and poor Adam Hackman was forced to retire.
Johnson went on to claim a formidable victory. The Californian managed to get the better of world’s best drivers at the wheel of world’s most advanced cars in a jalopy underpowered old March. It was a fabulous achievement.
Just as fabulous was Canola’s second place. Stepping into the delicate BRM in a place as peculiar as the Nürburgring and coming home second straight out of the box… It was a mammoth task to achieve.
Yet both Austin and Thiago remained very modest about their feat. Not the slightest hint of ostentation could be discerned in their post-race comments. Maybe they had learned more from Clark Kent and Peter Parker than Der Toller. And were maybe the true superheroes of this year’s Ring-race.
Grant Riddall took third, which was an excellent recovery championship wise. Yves Plaçais came home in fourth, followed by David Jaques. Richard Wilks in the Lotus captured the last point of the race.
In the championship standings, Coxon sees Riddall extending his lead again. The Steelmekker is certain to be keen on retorting at Zeltweg. The heat will be on in the mountains of sedated Austria.