Oldtimer Grand Prix 2012
Normally the weather in the eifel mountain range can drastically change within a few minutes, but last weekend the Nürburgring was treated to a bout of enduring sunshine. It turned out be the perfect weekend to go and look at some old cars. Well, old cars, rather classic cars and many of them hugely valuable classic race cars. The Oldtimer Grand Prix was the right event to enjoy these cars in their natural habitat. Arriving on Friday I catched some of the action on the Nordschleife (that's the proper 20.8 kilometre Nürburgring). I was pleasantly surprised with a combined field of three race series, albeit all with the same kind of cars; GTs and touring cars. The highlight was surely the 210 minute AvD Historic Marathon, which, traditionally opens the Oldtimer GP weekend. For some the race wasn't a highlight though, walking along the track through the woods I suddenly heard someone with an english accent uttering the words "You ....... idiot". The issue here was clear, the pretty TVR Grantura of the McInerney family had crashed and one of the McInerney's wasn't at all happy with how the car was towed away, he probably had a point as I heard a German marshall with a strong Rhinish accent bellowing more of the same from across the track: "Sag mal, bist du bescheuert oder wie?". The range of cars that didn't crash was eclectic though, read on and I'll guide you through some of the highlights.
The Historic Marathon included cars like the Ford GT40, a few Jaguar E-Types (including one of the rare lightweights), many Ford Mustangs, a lot of 911s and a variety of British classics like the Lotus Elan and the MG B. Photographing my way along corners like 'Brünnchen' and the 'Hohe Acht' I ended up at the legendary 'Karussell' hairpin, which always some great photo opportunities. One car that catched my eye was the super-quick no. 2 Porsche 911, flying past in a spectacular manner lap after lap, I wondered who the mad man was driving it. Looking in the entry list later on I realised it was a chap called 'Walter Röhrl'. Perhaps unsurprisingly he did rather well and finished second. Winner of the marathon was the mighty E-Type of Marcus von Oeynhausen and Frank Stippler.
Roll on to Saturday when all the races were held at the Nürburgring Grand Prix track (saves a lot of energy by not having to walk up and down hills!). I sadly missed the Formula Juniors in the morning as I was still driving through the beautiful Eifel on my way to the track. Dare I say it was almost worth missing the FJs, as I was staying in Altenahr some 20 kilometres away I was treated to some great roads leading through the Ahr valley and woods. There were some cool hairpins here and there but sadly my companion, a lowly VW Golf 1.4, wasn't the right piece of kit to take advantage of this and have some fun (if I had tried I would probably have ended up in a tree due to the terrible understeer). Anyhow, if you're visiting the Ring try making sure you do it in an appropriate car as you will also look very much out of place in anything that has 4 doors or can't go any faster than 160 km/h. Arriving at the track I was just in time for the Historic GP cars up to 1961. I immediately made good use of the press accreditation that was kindly granted to me by the organisation. The photos here are good evidence of that I think. While I was having a good time, the other spectators equally loved the sight and sound of these historic machines. Kids waving, daddies photographing, while granddad was thinking of the time when he was young and saw these cars whizz past, driven by legends like Fangio, Moss or Jack Brabham. It was that kind of atmosphere.
Atmosphere was also present in abundance in off-track activities, the beautifully preserved 'altes Fahrerlager' or old paddock supplied ample opportunities to hark back to the old days. It was filled with pre-war cars and the garages contained many of the priceless cars that attended the various races over the day. Maserati 'birdcages' and GP cars from the fifties, Riley, Delahaye and Alvis cars from the thirties. It was all there. The only thing that was missing was people in period clothing. But then again, this wasn't the Goodwood Revival so I shouldn't moan. I spotted one brave man in period attire, thankfully I was able to immortalise him photographing a Riley (see above).
A range of top race series filled the rest of the day, the GP Masters' Formula 1 cars had an outing as well as a host of 1970s sports racing cars (the thunderous noise of huge American V8s was certainly impressive). Spectators also saw a return to the track of the legendary Zakspeed Capri Turbo in the DRM Revival, which also featured other examples of the huge group 5 race cars from the 70s. Think mainly of Porsche 935s there, lots of them!
Highlight of the day was undoubtably the evening race for two-seater sports cars and grand tourers until 1960/61, lasting one hour it featured a Le Mans style start with the drivers having to run from one side of the start/finish straight to their cars on the other side. In a way this was more of a slapstick sketch than a slick procedure. One driver of a Mercedes SLS even forgot to close one of his gullwing doors. Once the rather copious and sometimes deft old men were in their cars the race went of to a flying start. Jaguar C-Types, Maserati T61s, Ferrari 250s (in all shapes and sizes) were flying past in a way that only cars from that era can; slithering through corners, oversteer here, understeer there, all accompanied by the best cacaphony of different car noises you could possibly imagine. Straight-4s, flat-4s, V12s, V8s and straight-6s, put all these engines together and you cannot do anything else than leave spectators in awe and wanting more. But, with dawn setting in, the cars did only a few more laps, showing off their gorgeous shapes from all angles under the weakening sunlight, battling gently for the best places, before disappearing altogether and into the paddock. The 'Ring was silent once again. The winner? A Maserati T61, driven by (once again) Frank Stippler and the owner (ironically a wind turbine manufacturer), Willi Balz. My winner of the day? It'll have to be the Maserati Tipo 63, if only for the great photos it offered, one of them here underneath caught up with a Frazer Nash..