Germans have a reputation of being very thorough about all things technical and mechanical. It is a skill of critical importance to keep tracks like Hockenheim viable and able to cope with the speeds of today’s race-cars.
Hockenheim is, in essence, a stretch of unabated flat-out speed through impervious woods. Forests that are Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm turf, and thus rife with legend and jinxes of all kind. Keeping trace of the cars as they speed into and back out of that forest is thus paramount.
In a company home to such brand names as Grundig, Siemens or Blaupunkt, one would not expect that to be an issue. Still, the system installed by the track owners allowing the teams to maintain contact with their cars on the successive runs through the woods failed. The flaw soon fueled wild stories of fiends and wraiths glooming and dooming through crowns of eldritch green. The awe of it all made a lasting impression on a sinology drop-out from Leeds, who had tagged along with one of the UK-based teams. The impression this place made on the young man was so massive that, back home, he decided to form a band and play Gothic sounding music.
The Germans were confident that the issue would be resolved in no time though. But just to be on the safe side, the race was postponed with a couple of hours. Allowing me to get some lunch.
My Zandvoort experience had not been lightly forgotten however. So I decided to have only water with my food. But then, this is Germany. Where meals tend to not be insubstantial. Lots of pork and swine, straight out of the surrounding forests; and mainly starchy vegetables. Not the kind of food that digests swiftly and effortlessly.
With the race not to start for at least another hour, I thus went for a quick nappy in the back of the Suburban… Only to wake-up with only 5 minutes to the start of the race left. No opportunity to qualify and starting dead last once again; without any warm-up worth mentioning. Still, things could get worse… no longer being able to race at all for instance.
So I rush to get strapped into the car and make it in time for the grid.
Freshly crowned king of the pack Grant Riddall the Fastest has secured pole with a blinding 2.05.5 lap. Only Canola in second spot seems to be on par with El Grantus. The rest look like stuck in the kindergarten, even if the race yet has to start.
The lights go green and once again Riddall shows all the rest who is king, storming away into the lead. Canola is right on his case however. They slipstream along the interminable straight leading to the Clark Schikane. The gap they already seem to build on the rest of the field is staggering.
Into the first Schikane, Canola shoots out of the slipstream on the outside. Both cars enter the Schikane side-by-side. Canola is on the inside for the middle part of the chicane and in theory has an advantage. But Grant is not budging and both are already exiting the Schikane again. Where the better line shifts back to Grant. Or did Thiago back-off ever so slightly? Who will ever know? Fact is that, as Grant spears out of the Schikane towards the Ostkurve, he is still in the lead.
My getaway is potent. I have purchase and reel in Acerclinth. Even move to the inside as I seem to have an opportunity at passing the Swede before even turn 1. Acerclinth closes the gap however. And the both of us shoot past Bos who sounds like he is missing all of his gearshifts.
I am stuck behind the RSM Marko number 77 entry as Acerclinth takes the inside line of turn 1 very cautiously. Bos as a result flies back past the both of us on the outside line.
I carry more speed than Acerclinth onto the long straight into the forest and swerve left to make a pass. Remmen, as ever completely lacking any spatial awareness, is rejoining the track through clouds of dust on the left side. That forces me back to the inside, where I am again slowed by Helmut Marko’s Swede.
Jonatan gives me a perfect tow however. I pull alongside and slightly ahead as we approach the Clark Schikane. If there ever was a clean first lap move, than this is it. Nearly two turns raced, and I am already three places up. My mood is improving quickly. But trouble is brewing up ahead…
Jundt has a rather clean run on Parker on the run down to Clark. The Swiss has the beneficial inside line into the turn, but the Brit is barely yielding. He leaves some room on the inside, but really not a lot.
That has both their cars wiggling and sliding a bit. On the corner exit, Jundt seems to come away best. He has more momentum than Parker and is now pulling ahead on the outside.
Just at that moment, some cars are slowed in front of them by Jaques spinning on the right side of the track. Parker moves left to avoid losing speed and pushes Jundt into a wild spin.
My luck is still good and the spinning Jundt slides by without a scratch on my car. Another place gained… And Griffiths is now just in front of me, begging to be dispensed with.
Parker, who gets away from the Jundt incident without damage, now runs wide on the outside of Ostkurve. He loses massive amounts of speed. As he rejoins the track and speeds up towards the second Schikane, Jaques, recovered from his spin, is pulling up to him, carrying way more speed. Jaques goes to the inside to make a pass on Parker. But Parker decides to defend an inside line that really no longer is his to defend. The red Kannacher GT car bumps into the Cassiani Racing entry at high speed. It sends both cars flying out of control.
I am storming towards the second Schikane in full assault mode on Griffiths. I have already more or less decided to not make a move under braking for the Schikane. But rather hope that Griffiths will be slower out of the Schikane, allowing me to make a move on the run to Agip.
Griffiths then suddenly slows to avoid the Parker-Jaques muck. Yanking the car left is all I can do to avoid crashing into Griffiths. And suddenly, I find myself alongside and then ahead of the Brit on the inside line. Desperate evasive action has turned into an unexpected pass… My luck seems infinite on this shiny day.
Canola is still looking for a way past Grant and somewhat overcooks it in Agip. His car slides wide on the outside of the track and Thiago looses massive amounts of time. As well as second place, as Thim shoots past. And both Janik and Lacina are threateningly close.
Parker, who has been ploughing through the grass on the inside of the second Schikane, is slow to accelerate onto the straight towards the Stadium-section. Chacon has avoided all the mishap so far and has much better purchase out of the Schikane than Parker. The left side of the track lies wide open ahead, beckoning the Brazilian to go for it. And so Bruno does. Who wouldn’t?
At that very instant, Parker catches up with Chapman who is still low on speed following a spin. Steve has two options: slow down and stay put behind Chapman or move left… where Chacon is. Having already sent Jundt and Jaques swirling with verve, Parker now decides to go for a full blown strike.
First, he hits Chapman’s right rear bender, launching the Schnitzer car spinning across the track while a demented field of rage storms up to them. Then, Steve slams into the side of Chacon adding his and Chacon’s car to the collection of sliding cars. Which leaves the track completely jammed.
Cars are flying off left and centre stage. Cars are fighting for traction both on and off the track. Cars are braking and taking avoiding action. But the mayhem is unavoidable. And soon cars are spinning, flying, crashing and screaming.
My luck may have seemed interminable just a few seconds ago, but everything has an ending. I hit a car. Do not know which one. And do not care either. Before I am more or less aware of what is going on, my car is slowly revolving around its middle.
I end up on the grass on the left side. Then manage to rejoin the track and get on with it.
Riddall has already amassed a nice advantage over all the rest, while Canola is working at getting ahead of Thim. Approaching the Clark Schikane, the Brazilian pulls a copycat move of his move on Grant one lap earlier. And this time makes it stick. Thim is back to third. Canola pulls away, desperately seeking Grant.
I have rejoined the track after the Second Schikane ruckus and head for the Stadium. My car is all dent and bulge. The chassis produces a strange rattling sound. So I fear the worse. But it behaves balanced throughout the twisty Stadium. This looks good. Raging through Nordkurve for the second time, the car still feels fine; despite all the dints and clefts.
Storming towards the Clark-schikane, I see a red dot in the distance. Sure enough, that must be Ryon. Should be able to catch him. Even if the car lacks around 4 to 5 kilos an hour in top speed with all the bodywork amendments.
I put my head down and start chewing at the gap between Ryon and me all the same.
Thim, Janik and Lacina are running together in 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. They rather look like a bunch of bovver-boys attending a Molodoy gig than like sportscar drivers.
Janik goes for the Canola approach and takes over 3rd from Thim under braking for Clark. But the trio stays agonizingly close one to another.
Thim is all but resigning to the new running order. He pulls alongside Janik out of the Ostkurve, then shuts of way before Janik in the braking zone for the second Schikane. Or did Brian simply brake manically late? As he is now struggling to keep his car on the track as it slides and bucks through the Schikane.
The Detroiter is slow on the exit and there comes Thim again. The Swede moves straight back ahead and Janik is now under full assault from Lacina. The Czech even pulls ahead in the Sachs Kurve, but Janik redresses that situation before they even reach Südkurve. The bickering amongst these fools then quietens a tad. But for how long?
Starting lap 5, Grant Riddall does something very out of character: he spins out of the Nordkurve and ends up on the grass. Canola flashes by. So do Thim, Janik and Lacina. Grant finds himself in 5th and suddenly faces a very unfamiliar perspective: cars in front of him.
El Maximus seems to have cooled off a bit, staying safely behind Lacina and witnessing how Thim, Janik and Lacina dice for positions. The patience of great champions however always runs out soon, and Grant is no exception to that rule. Barely back in the Stadium, the Brit is already charging to get back into 4th.
He however discovers that Lacina’s reputation of braking very late is not a hoax. Riddall seems to have an excellent run from Süd- to Nordkurve, but Lacina just brakes way later and stays ahead.
On the run to the Clark Schikane, Grant however pulls alongside and then grabs 4th back through the Schikane. Thim is dispensed with at Ostkurve. And Grant then sets out to get ahead of Janik through the second Schikane. Which he succeeds in doing… but Panic Janik fights back with a vengeance.
The Detroiter has much better purchase out of the second chicane and simply blasts by on the straight leading back to the Stadium. Thim is being the smart Swede on the block and grabs Janik’s tow. Both the BMW Motorsport and the BMW Italia car slip by Grant, almost like charming thieves in the night.
Into the Stadium, Detroit, Eskilstuna and the Engländer go head-to-head, all caution thrown to the wind. Grant has a look on the outside of Thim into Sachs. While Thim is on the far inside sniffing at Janik’s second place.
The order remains unchanged though and Riddall is now putting on his alter-ego Grant the Menace. All through the right-left sweeper leading to and through the first part of Südkurve, he is breathing blazing hot steam down Thim’s neck.
The Swede is to quick on the accelerator out of Südkurve and has to redress the rear of his car. It’s all the cold killer instinct in Grant needs to pull alongside and ahead on the main straight. That is how they storm out of Nordkurve, into the doomed forest: Lacina carefully observing in 5th, Thim licking his wounds in 4th, Grant charging out of 3rd and Janik now enjoying a bit of gap in 2nd.
As they charge towards Clark, the gap between Janik and Riddall disappears like snow under a Sahara sun. Grant does not even have to employ any of the late braking stuff approaching the Schikane. He enjoys such a good tow that he is well past Janik before they reach the braking zone. He even moves back in front of Janik, leaving the inside line entirely uncovered for Brian from Hitsville, USA. Is it even possible to have more self-confidence, I wonder? It almost looks like a slight case of overacting.
We are well into the race now and I am still closing in on Ryon. Griffiths, an escapee from Parker’s attempt at blazing onslaught on lap 1, misses the entry to the Stadium. He ends up in the dirt. Then manages to rejoin the track. But only at the cost of massive time loss.
The English driver’s car is now in between Ryon and me. I will thus have to dispense with him prior to having a go at Ryon. That should not be a problem as such. Already, the distance to Griffiths seems to be decreasing quickly.
Griffiths has a shaky passage through Ostkurve, scraping the inside kerbstone. That somewhat unsettles the rear of his car and rubs a lot of his speed off. I am alert as ever and jump straight into his shadow. Where I stay till and past the second Bremsschikane; as well as all the way to the Stadium. Out of Sachskurve, I am nipping at Griffith’s heels. It is pretty obvious that he is going down, either on the run between Süd- and Nordkurve or on the long run to the Clark Schikane.
But then the back of my car goes very sideways through Südkurve. I hang on to it but slide sideways through pretty much the entire Südkurve. This feels great. Laying all this rubber on Hockenheim, diese alte Hure. Still, as great as it may feel, it substantially slows my car. And there goes Griffiths disappearing into the distance again.
Well, I will just have to get him back. Still enough laps left in the race to do just that. Certainly as Griffiths seems set on making it easy for me. He again cocks up Ostkurve and this time is unable to avoid spinning his car. I have to slow down to dodge underneath him on the inside line. But am past. With now a wide open road to Ryon in front of me.
Grant is pulling away from Janik, slowly but steadily. While the Detroiter enjoys a renewed interest for his well-being from Thim. Lacina, the sly fox in the equation, is still observing, waiting for the right opportunity.
Canola has by now disappeared into the forest far far ahead of all the others.
Janik slides sideways through the second Schikane. He stays on top of his rig but the slide throttles him back and there goes Thim into 3rd.
The tracking system, that has been repaired with haste by the track-owners, is still not working properly and things now become impossible to grasp. Such as Lacina suddenly appearing in the distance between the second chicane and Agip in 3rd spot, with both Thim and Janik behind him.
The Detroiter, down to 5th, is charging hard to recover a position from Thim. Their cars slightly touch entering the Sachs bend and Thim spears off, into the sand. The Swede is thrown further back and Janik goes looking for Lacina.
Reeling in Ryon turns out to be easier than expected. Approaching the Ostkurve, huge clouds of dust waft over the circuit. Seldom such clouds are the bearer of good tidings at Ostkurve. And indeed, as I start turning in, I notice Ryon struggling on the escape road that hugs the vast sandpit in between the fences and the track. The BASF sticker adorned car rejoins the track in front of me. But I have him sharply painted on my radar now. Ready to deal the final blow and move up one more place.
I really seem to have fallen in Ostkurve’s favour. Next time round, Ryon again ends up in the sandpit on the outside of the curve. And this time he looses enough time to let me sweep by.
With still about half the race to go, Hockenheim suddenly turns into a very lonely place. Griffiths and Ryon are over ten seconds behind. None of them looks able to get back to me. Vydra is about 30 seconds ahead, and even some fast laps do not reduce that gap.
It is just me, the thumping of the six cylinders behind and a crowd of dead still silent green witnesses, flanking the track like a forest. This is when Hockenheim starts to gently cast its worse spell over car and driver; the monotony of those long straights sucking you into the slightest loss of concentration. Have you brake just a tad late for Ostkurve or the Stadium-entry. To then mercilessly throw one into the sandpits, spinning and bouncing.
Into the trees
Suddenly I stop
But I know it’s too late
I’m lost in a forest
Losing heaps of time at best. Or ending the car’s life against a wall at worse.
Janik and Lacina are indulging in frantic crazed out madness. Jumping kerbstones. Sliding their asses. Throwing up big clouds of sand. They seem unable to get enough of it. Janik is slipstreaming alongside Lacina on almost every straight now. But then meets the man who brakes absolutely latest of them all.
They are preparing themselves for the nuthouse. Janik goes ahead under braking for Clark. But it is now Lacina who has the advantage of being towed around the track. And barely two turns later, in Agip, Martin comes flying past. Janik wants to tuck in behind the RSM Marko car but is a tad impatient. Both cars touch. Luckily without much harm done.
Janik hangs on and recovers his position about three quarters of lap further. On the approach for the second chicane, the Detroiter brakes later than the king of extreme braking. Lacina is back to 4th, Janik grabs 3rd.
I manage to avoid getting distracted by focusing everything on getting that gap to Vydra down. Thirty seconds is not a wee task but, when all is said and done, Lukas is probably facing that same darn Hockenheim spell. So who will tell what might happen?
The gap to Vydra suddenly drops to around 20 seconds. Seems Lukas has gotten under the curse. I start pushing even harder. But the gap to Lukas stays put from here on.
Gabriel Sterr and John Thim are giving an entirely new dimension to the notion psychopathic behavior. They pass and re-pass each other in almost every turn. Outside lines, inside lines. Slipstreaming, braking later than ever before. All bets are off on these two.
Setting up a race car is always a bit of a gamble. But at Hockenheim that gamble turns into a bit of a Russian roulette. The thing is that those long straights favor a car with a good aerodynamic coefficient. The M1’s offer a pretty neat solution to improve that coefficient: taping of the radiator inlet. But that comes at a price. Overdo it and the engine is likely to overheat and explode.
In the closing stages of the race, those who betted heavily on the tape, start suffering the consequences. Maximus Grantus’ engine buys the farm. The champ retires.
It is all to no avail for me. I remain stuck in 11th. One place shy of championship points. Another close but no cigar finish. Just one race left to score some points and save a dismal season.
At the other side of the spectrum, Thiago Canola takes a crushing victory, securing him the runner-up position in the championship. About a full working week later, Janik turns up to take second, with Lacina not far behind taking third. An excellent Gabriel Sterr and John Thim round out the top 5.
Full broadcast of the race is HERE. Still worthwhile watching.
Standings after round 8 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.