Germans are reasonable and intelligent people. But whenever they get to design race tracks, they develop a chronic inclination for madness and insanity.
Even if many consider the Nordschleife the greatest race-track ever, it is actually not even a true race-track. It is too long for any human driver to be able to develop some kind of steady rhythm on it. It has no real signature bends like Blanchimont at Spa or the R130 at Suzuka. It is, in essence, just a fast drive through the countryside.
Those are obviously considered non arguments in Germany. Where they have their brilliant Ringmeisters. People who are just a little bit more than mere humans. Caracciola and Rosemeyer for instance, or more recently, that Töller guy. Wonder what ever became of him after he won one Can-Am race back in 71?
It however takes more than some Ringmeisters to lift the Nordschleife up to race-track status. It will, truth be said, probably always just remain the result of a bunch of track designers gone completely berserk; and an entire nation buying into the utter madness.
It’s hard to belief then that the Schleife was actually build to offer a safe alternative to even more insanity. Before the very existence of the Nürburgring, some German Grand Prix were indeed organized on a thing called the AVUS; in the suburbs of Berlin.
Now, people who mistakenly take the Nordschleife for a race track can largely be excused. But those who claim that AVUS is a race track, are just plain dumb.
AVUS is not a race track. It is two stretches of Autobahn stitched together by two hairpins. That’s it.
Off course, just as with the Nordschleife, the Germans stubbornly refuse to admit that much and thus drag the misconception AVUS on and on and on. To the point where, even in this blessed year of the lord 1980, modern times so to speak, they still succeeded in hoaxing the organizers of the Procar-series into running the season’s second race on a highway. And a dreary one at that.
Qualifying on such a farce is always more of a lottery than of putting in a decent lap. And it obviously was just my good luck that a decent tow failed to materialize. The best lap I managed therefore was a poor 2 minutes, 13 seconds and 356 thousands of a second. Which puts me 24th on the grid. Kind of a disappointment really, as in pre-race practice I had managed some low 2.11’s, a time that would have put me somewhere around 13th on the grid.
Still, the only bone life throws at the likes of me is a marked capacity to be insusceptible of disappointment. My kind at some point loses the ability to be disillusioned. And just makes sure to fail others at very regular intervals. In between, we seek cover from any possible regret behind a thick shield of corn that life grew around our hearts.
So, after qualifying, I just found my way to downtown Berlin and indulged in dinner at a fancy restaurant with two floozies whose exact names I have already forgotten. Can’t even remember whether I paid them to have dinner with me… And as I ponder on that, it hits me how awfully sad I really am. To the point I have to pay people to have dinner with me. That is how sad. Just raise that shield of corn a tiny bit, and we will also make it through this day.
Still, I had been intelligent enough to go easy on the booze. One Donington experience per season suffices.
And therefore actually feel pretty fresh as we line up for the warm-up lap. 24th on the grid is not that bad on a stretch of highway. I will just slip-stream my way to the front in no time.
Let’s just hope that the thick bandage around my left thumb will not bother me. What could only be described as a pimple, had been sitting straight on top of the little knob where both phalanxes of the thumb join. It had been there for months. I had even grown mildly affectionate of it. As a pimple could really only be seen as an omen of some last youth not yet vanished. Right?
But then the sucker got infected and grew into a full scale molehill right on top of my thumb. Preventing me from bending my thumb, and thus from getting decent grip on things like a steering wheel. Rather inconvenient with a race to tackle. And to top it off, I started developing a fever on it.
Luckily, I had only made it to the Hannover area, which is West Germany, when all this happened. And could thus still visit a physician who gave me a prescription for apt antibiotics. Something that is readily available, in West Germany.
The AVUS may be in West-Berlin, but West-Berlin and AVUS with it is entirely surrounded by East Germany. Driving to the AVUS thus means crossing through East Germany. And getting the material past the Grenztruppen, the East German border patrol; fully integrated into the Nationale Volksarmee. Fifty thousand border guards dressed and armed like soldiers. All of them subject to close scrutiny from above and intensive ideological indoctrination. Far from home by definition, as they are not allowed to serve in areas near to their homes. And with a bunch of direct lines to Mielke and Wolf’s men.
People who are trained to only have a very scant sympathy for us Western degenerates, toying around with cars worth more than they would ever earn.
Once past those border checkpoints, it is still several hours of driving through East Germany before reaching West-Berlin. Through districts with names like Magdeburg, Potsdam, Leipzig or Dresden. Where any West-European car, let alone an M1, is all but a daily appearance. And where antibiotics are not the commodity they are on the other side and Mielke and Wolf have eyes everywhere.
Some grey memories of bland Allees in Potsdam quickly recede as the cars roll towards the end of the warm-up lap. The start is imminent now. What was the second row at Donington is now the first row, Riddall on pole with Jaques in second. Johnson is only fourth and shares second row with the number 77 BMW Austria car. Which is driven by a young local driver. Even if the young Berliner looked very fast, it was somehow hard to understand why the Austrians ditched a household name like Acerclinth for a rookie.
But then, who understands Austrians anyway? Take Helmut Marko for instance, and try to figure out his mind. Marko has some excuses to spare off course. Who knows what it does to a man to have a dream? From his youngest age onwards. And share that dream with his best friend. Racing was that dream, as it happened. What becomes of boys who race the streets of their hometown on mopeds one against another, get expelled from school together? Then make it into the racing world together. How does witnessing your best friend becoming world champion, but only after an accident has killed him, affect a man? As he continues to race, because that really is the only thing that matters. How does that man carry on when racing becomes impossible because a volcanic rock, thrown up by another race-car, knocked all sight out of his left eye?
No one really understands what such things do to a man. Not even that man himself. Still, Helmut has handled the shit in his life better than I did. Rumor even has it that he just acquired his first hotel in Graz.
The red light jumps to green and of we go. The BMW Austria kid leaps by the entire front row and shoots into the lead. His start is so lightning that one would suspect his engine is producing more power then permitted.
At the back of the field, Plaçais does not seem to get any motion in his Beemer. Whited bumps into him and they both come to a standstill. I get blocked behind the pair of them as all the others rush past. Not even ten meters into this race, and I’m down to 27th. Well, just some more slipstreaming ahead of us I think, and get going.
I throw my car onto an entirely uninterrupted four kilometers of flat and straight as an arrow autobahn. Why not light a cigarette, I wonder.
The number 77’s start quickly turns out to have been a fluke, or a swindle. The young Berliner is sinking down the field rapidly as John Thim, David Jaques, Grant Riddall and all are towing and slipstreaming along the highway. They are three wide, four wide, nearly five wide it seems. They look like a garrison of Roman foot soldiers storming onto a battlefield; out to conquer Brandenburg.
It is utter madness. With the lead that changes hands about every two seconds. And it is no different for the other honorary places. Impossible to keep track of who is running what position amid all that frantic lunacy.
About half way on the straight, I start catching some tow. I move to the left of the track and slide past a couple of cars. This M1 is tuned to perfection, I think. As well as something along the lines of: “Maybe you are not entirely finished yet, old chap.”
Although talking to myself while driving may well be announcing a severe case of early dementia.
As the pack nears Südschleife for the first time, Dave Miller leads. But Dave brakes convincingly too late and spears of the track.
Then follow Riddall, Thim, Jaques and Johnson who seem to have their rides under control. Behind, it is four-wheeled Russian roulette.
Thim struggles a bit for grip and is forced on a wide line. Riddall and Jaques go through. Johnson starts passing Thim as the Swede is rejoining a racing line. Their cars tangle and spin. With a stampede of loose canons now rocketing out of Südschleife.
I’m still sufficiently sharp to notice the dust rising. So I keep as far left to the inside as possible. Brake early and progressively, and leave the nutters behind all the space they could humanly want.
I see cars end up running wide. Struggle for grip. Loose momentum.
As I slide past some more cars on a perfectly controlled inside line, it almost feels gracious.
Exiting the hairpin, on to the second of still many to go stretches of unabated highway, the mayhem is complete. I see cars sliding. I see cars spinning. Cars are up in the air, while others seek shelter down low.
Courtesy of some rather inexplicable reason, I manage to avoid all the mayhem. Me myself, I obviously put this solely down to my immeasurable faculty to anticipate. And some immense talent.
I have to slow hard to wiggle in between Chapman and Johnson without bumping them. I seem to be back into 19th and there are yellow flags everywhere.
Thim is out of the race. Johnson is out on the spot. As is Sabre.
As we all come crawling back on to the start-finish section, the pace car is out. Yellow flags or not, some have apparently raced on till behind the pace car. The order is thus somewhat mangled, with Frederiksson now leading Parker, Hlavac, Ryon, Riddall and Jaques.
The organizers have had the originality to opt for true American muscle as pace car. But why the heck have they chosen a metallic raspberry red Corvette paint, I wonder? It turns the car into the kind of thing that only that yellowish tanned midget from Minneapolis would drive.
The man may be a midget, I muse, but the album he released last October was the work of a giant. Someone had taped it for me and it had been on the Blazer’s Clarion-system almost the entire way from Donington to Berlin. The thing was, this album was not rock or pop, not soul or funk. It was all of these things at the same time. And yet something entirely different.
“I knew from the start
That I loved you with all my heart
But you were untrue.
You had another lover and she looked just like you
Bambi, can’t you understand?
Bambi, it’s better with a man,1” the big six in line thrums.
Mr. Testosterone Brazil is running just in front of me in his Schnitzer entered car. I have no intention whatever to make any closer acquaintance with the Brazilian’s behind. So I keep my distance.
Which seems to displease the car behind me. Which is none other than BMW Austria’s new kid on the block. He is pulling up to my bumper like a lunatic, almost hitting my car at times. Now, I do not feel like ending up with a Berliner doughnut up my back. So, as this is a highway after all, I start changing lanes to be in a different lane than the car behind.
But the prankster insists on being in the same lane as me and almost tears of my rear bumper once again. This is becoming annoying, if thou asks me.
Luckily, the pace car peels off towards the pit lane. Where it belongs. And all the boys and galls go racing again.
Frederiksson, Parker and Hlavac seem to make the most of the restart and immediately enjoy a small gap over the rest. The three of them slipstream indian file wise towards the Südschleife.
Behind, there is more of the three and four-wide action.
Everyone seems to have learned their lesson though, and the whole field flows through the hairpin and onto the return leg quiet fluidly. Except for Yves Plaçais who spins around on the outside of the left turn.
I plan my restart to perfection, waiting for the inside line to clear up entirely, then slam the accelerator down. Which does not seem to be what the Berlin kid behind had anticipated. He almost slams into my behind. Once again. “Watch and learn you fool,” I shout as I shoot past Chacon and another car, who are both slow off the starting blocks.
Almost half way onto the Autobahn, I catch a fabulous tow and slip by three, even four cars.
“Damned,” I think, “I’m already close to the top 10.”
Ibanez and I head for the right kink leading to the Südschleife side-by-side. We enter the kink together. We are both under heavy braking for the hairpin. All the weight of the car on the front wheels. The rear as light as a feather. I keep as far left as I possibly can, leaving Alberto all the room I can. But it is not enough. Our cars tangle. My featherlight rear steps out and I end up sliding, sliding, sliding… But hit nothing.
Still, as I get going again, everyone is blurring into the grant rush towards the Mercedes-tower. And I have flatspotted the tires to such an extent that the entire car tramps and buffets like an authentic tilt cart. This suddenly feels like a very long race.
Ibanez has not lost any place in our little scrimmage, it seems. Still, if you want to keep any friends at all old boy, better avoid these kinds of antics, I print into my mind.
The first lap incident has had the effect of a behavioural shock therapy on most drivers. Everything looks cleaner. Except for the three leaders, Frederiksson, Parker and Hlavac steaming towards the Südschleife, three wide again. Hlavac steps out just before the right kink and falls back. Only that allows Frederiksson and Parker to make the turn.
Behind, Riddall and Jaques have reached a cross Atlantic entente. They are working together in 4th and 5th towing each other along the straights to reduce the gap with the top three. A strategy that is working for them.
Recovering from my Südschleife spin, I manage to stay sufficiently in touch with the field to tow myself back into contention. Out of the Nordschleife, I slipstream past Chacon. I get a tow from Kowalski and fly by, leaving the Pole behind as we approach the Südschleife.
Exiting the Südschleife, Cook and Jereb are playing peekaboo with the outside fencing. I storm past the both of them but soon have Jereb on my tail. Together we go looking for Vydra.
Starting lap 6, Parker leads the great Waltz von der Autobahn, Frederiksson in his wake. Jaques is already slipstreaming himself back into 3rd, past Hlavac who also has Riddall on his bumper.
By the end of the southbound run, the leading trio is back to a leading quintet and Jaques takes the lead. Only slightly behind the five leaders, follows Swiss precision instrument Jundt.
Northwards again. And Parker, a head bursting with steam, shoots past Jaques. Frederiksson has a look at Jaques’ 2nd just before they enter the fast right kink called turn 2. Then thinks the better of it. Hlavac and Riddall follow straight behind them.
Hlavac falls back a bit and somewhat loses connection with the leading quatuor. Who are now fully honoring their reputation of fab four. They no longer look like cars but rather like a quartet of fighter jets scrambling for every single inch of airspace.
Parker’s car, leading the squadron into the Nordschleife-section, steps out at high speed in the kink. But Stevie saves it masterfully and it’s back onto the autobahn.
I’m enjoying my run from Nordschleife to Südschleife with Jereb pulling ahead of me. On the return stretch, I return the favor. Raul holds on to my slipstream and looks like moving ahead again. But I brake a tad later for the fast right kink and hold the advantage. These balls of mine still have some density in them, I murmur.
At the front, the squadron is still performing formation fly-bys at extremely low altitude.
Grant Riddall goes a bit wide in the Nordschleife and is struggling to keep Parker from snatching 3rd away from him. That allows Jaques and Frederiksson to edge out a tiny bit. Somewhat transforming the leading quartet into two leading duo’s.
As they reach the south end, a leading Frederiksson goes a bit wide and Jaques moves through the inside. Both lose some momentum though, and there are Riddall and Parker back to join the party.
Raul Jereb is back on my case on our run towards the south end. Together, we now close in on Vydra. Looks like the party of two may quickly become a party of three.
The Autosonik stickered Schnitzer car pulls past Vydra. I follow suit. Jereb then brakes late and slides wide over the grass on the outside, then rejoins the autobahn past the turn back point. He starts accelerating again onto the racing part of the highway. I struggle to keep my car on the inside and our cars lightly touch. Raul looses momentum. You are going to end up without a friend in the world fucker, I remind myself. But carry on nevertheless.
I’m now on to Vydra, who has passed both Raul and me again. On the south to north run, I catch him and slip past. He grabs my tow and looks like taking his position straight back. Then holds back as I again brake late for the fast right kink called turn two. Those balls keep on growing.
On the return run to the Südschleife, Lukas is pulling up and closing the gap between us at an agonizingly fast rate. Just as he seems to get me, I however enter the lighter air behind Ibanez’ car. And my M1 almost goes flying baby.
I pull ahead of Alberto before we approach the Südschleife and start bashing the accelerator onto the run back leading the black Unipart Schnitzer car. Alberto misses a gear and looses momentum. Vydra has spun in the Südschleife and I spear away a free man. Be it in a very lonely 17th spot.
Frederiksson looks like edging away in the lead and Parker seems to secure second. Jaques and Riddall back in 3rd and 4th now have to work together to pull back-up to the top spots.
Further back, BMW Austria’s boy is storming towards the Nordschleife-section with Ray Riddall by his side. The approach the part where the track narrows and slightly bends away to the right, just before the fast kink. Ray, the very definition of a gentleman on track, is on the outside left and actually has a slight advantage over Berliner. There seems to be plenty of room but then, on a race track, nothing is ever certain. Both cars touch and the Brit’s car launches in the air. It ends up on the wrong side of the track. Local race control is harsh and decides to disqualify Ray.
I move up into 16th but it all leaves a nasty taste on the back of my mouth.
Up front the fab four has regrouped, all of them caught in yet another massive southbound rush. Parker attempts a somewhat desperate move braking for the hairpin and pays the price. His car spears straight onto the outside grass. Riddall struggles to avoid hitting the sliding Parker but stays in touch with Jaques and Frederiksson who move up to 1st and 2nd. We are down to a leading trio.
Gardiner retires his damaged car. I move up to 15th.
The three leaders meanwhile seem out of reach of anyone else. It does not stop them swapping places back and forth. Out of the Nordscheife, Frederiksson seems to have better traction and pulls a little gap over Riddall and Jaques. But those two are smart enough to immediately rekindle their earlier entente. With Jaques now bumpdrafting Riddall, they are soon back onto Frederiksson.
A misunderstanding between the Berlin kid and Ryon launches Gerard high into the air. The Belgian does not manage a soft landing, his car disintegrating upon reentry into the Berlin atmosphere. I move up to 14th.
Steve Parker is way behind in 4th and has Jundt nearing in. Mr Steady has had a quiet race but as the end nears, there he is to collect a strong finish.
Czlapinski spins out of the Südschleife. Here comes 13th my way.
Parker and Jundt are head to head now. Entering the fast right kink towards the Nordschleife, DJ is on the inside line as Parker seems to bump into his rear left. That unsettles the Schnitzer car and they both end up hitting the outside barriers. But are luckily able to continue.
One half lap and thus one stretch of highway later, they enter the Südschleife-section. The Kannacher car now just cuts accros of the Schnitzer car and it requires all of Jundt’s ability, and that is a lot, to keep his car straight. The move of Parker looks quiet questionable.
Jundt however turns it to his advantage and grabs 4th back by means of a cut-back on the inside line.
The leading trio is meanwhile swapping places to such a degree that it’s impossible to keep track. By the time you realize one is in the lead, another is already steaming by and then the third man shoots past the two others.
They are now on the final stretch of highway, one last northbound rush. Already in Donington, Riddall seemed to have evolved into a more complete driver. Not constantly hanging his guts out to dry on the absolute ragged edge that had in the end handed him the 1971 Formula 1 title; but at what cost? And he now confirms a more clever approach to his racing.
As they spear towards the Nordschleife, Riddall is running third but clearly has a perfect slipstream shot at Jaques. Yet the Brit holds back and stays in the dead calm air behind the Cassiani entered car. Only when the Canadian moves out of Frederiksson’s slipstream, El Grande Grant follows suit and then slingshots past both the other cars. Into the lead and with a small cushion that hands him the right of way in the fast right kink. And then it’s Nordschleife and a certain victory for Grant.
Frederiksson has been played by his own eagerness. Taking the lead on that last stretch was, in essence, not the smart thing to do. And certainly not for a driver with Frederiksson’s experience driving Indycars on ovals.
Yet, it seems Jacob has a hard time swallowing his pride. As they close in on the right kink, he is running third but now launches into what looks very much like a suicide attempt to recover the lead at all cost. Jaques immediatelly sees the danger and backs off. Grant is already too committed to the kink and has, in truth, all right to be as he is entitled to pick his line. Jacob torpedos his car into Grant’s side and they both slither into the outside wall.
Jaques simply moves past the both of them on a suddenly wide open inside line and grabs victory. Frederiksson does what feels like stealing second from Grant. The Brit is understandably not amused.
There is nothing to say against Jaques’ victory. He was like the innocent bystander who just got handed the spoils. Can not blame him for anything. But handing back second to Riddall and relegating Frederiksson to third might feel like restauring some justice.
Jundt meanwhile takes 4th with Parker just behind in 5th.
I am on my ultimate spear ride along the south to north stretch. And there, within reach, is the new Berlin kid. Lap by lap, I have closed in on the BMW Austria car and am now close enough to get a tow. Either that car has damage or that kid is not all that fast.
Midway the stretch of highway, the aspiration from the BMW Austria car is massive. The driver has his car swerving from left to right and back to the left, trying to swing me out of his slipstream. To no avail. The Voigty pitbull is awake and will not let go.
As Berliner is slicing back to the right side for the one hundredth time, I move left and start moving ahead. Suddenly, the car snaps back to the left. Luckily I had more or less expected this being in the books and manage to avoid a collision. As I slip by the BMW Austria car, it hits me squarely: maybe the kid just tried to punt me off at close to 300 kilometers per hour. That equals attempted first degree homicide. Outside of racing tracks, people are jailed for that.
I am now nervous as hell with that BMW Austria just behind me and that fast kink to tackle one last time. So I move to the inside line, clearly indicating that desperate inside line antics are off the table. I turn in and start negotiating the kink when BANG… the 77 slams straight into me left rear fender.
My car spins and hits the barrier head on. The BMW Austria car scrapes the fencing on the other side of the track but carries on. There goes 12th. Not that it matters a lot, 13th or 12th, who cares?
But there is almost no doubt in my mind that the hoodlum did it deliberately. The line of thinking in my head now is: this guy intentionally tried to punt me of as I passed him on the straight. And when he proved inapt to make that stick, he just willfully and knowingly slammed his car into mine as I slowed for the kink. Someone should talk to him about that, because he might end up killing people that way.
Still, 13th is much better than Donington. And then, who cares about results. As long as there is one more race to live towards. That is all that matters. Just ask Helmut Marko.
Full broadcast of the race is HERE. The author particularly recommends to watch this broadcast. The combination of the racing action and the spot on commentary job by Jason White and Jonatan Acerclinth probably makes it of the best around on Youtube.
Standings after round 2 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.