GRR

Brian Redman – Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks

11th May 2016
Goodwood Road and Racing

The Nürburgring is a colossus of a circuit in Germany’s Eifel Mountains and the home of motorsport writ large. In 1925, when the town of Nürburg’s pioneer racing enthusiasts decided to create a new track, they may have looked to the Targa Florio, Europe’s most important endurance event, as the model for a proper racing venue.

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Compared with the Targa’s (then) 67-mile ramble through the Sicilian countryside, the Nürburgers’ concept for a new 19-mile course looked downright temperate. Whatever inspired the original Nürburgring, it and its successor variants have hosted motorcycle and car racing events for the better part of 100 years, and the largest and most historic section of the track still offers long-distance racing today. The Nürburgring’s many days of champagne and podiums aside, the circuit may be best known for defying generations of safety crusaders by remaining scandalously original.

As conceived, the Nürburgring was composed of two loops capable of being used together or separately. The 14.2-mile Nordschleife (North Loop) was normally reserved for high-speed racing with the 4.8-mile Sudschleife (South Loop) relegated to small events. Rudolf Caracciola won the inaugural race for Mercedes-Benz in 1927
and this marque’s famous Silver Arrows cars went on to dominate Grand Prix racing during the period 1934–39.

When racing resumed post-war at the Nürburgring, the guns of the nearby Ardennes still resonated in local memory and the detritus from the Battle of the Bulge lay rusting in fallow fields. It says much about the character of Nürburg’s citizens that, just two years after Germany’s defeat, they convened an international motorcycle race meeting, and followed up with a non-championship Formula 2 event in 1950. Under the circumstances, they can be forgiven for awarding their Formula 2 race the honorary title ‘German Grand Prix’, but World Championship Formula 1 came quickly enough. For all but three of the years between 1951 and 1976, the Nürburgring was home to a legitimate Formula 1 German Grand Prix.

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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the seeds of racing safety had yet to germinate but even then drivers were beginning to shy away from the dicier venues. In response, the good Nürburgers began whittling away at the Nordschleife to lure back lost international events. By 1970 the Nordschleife was shortened to 12.9 miles, bumps were smoothed (a little), bushes removed (some), corners straightened (here and there), jumps modified (though not all), steel barriers added (often quite close to the track) and a chicane was introduced before the main straight. In 1971 these nods towards prudence did indeed seduce Formula 1 to return to the Nordschleife following a one-year sojourn at Hockenheim. The German Grand Prix remained at the Nürburgring for the next five years until the horror of the 1976 race ended that accord forever.

Today, for about €30 a lap, ‘Nürburgring taxis’, motorcycles and specialised machines fly around at racing speeds while lumbering tourist coaches and family rental cars circulate as languidly as on a Sunday drive. As a result as many as 12 enthusiasts succumb to mortal accidents every year. The argument goes that it isn’t the track that kills them, it’s their own hubris.

Learning the Nürburgring – 1967

In 1967 I went to the Nürburgring to share Peter Sutcliffe’s Ford GT40 in the 1,000km race. Learning the Nordschleife by oneself is not the task of a moment, and it was normal for my car owner and co-driver to want a full share of track time. Whilst standing in the pits during a pre-race open practice session, a BMW 2002 drew up, the driver obviously noticing a new face on the circuit and recognising the expression of a lost man. Kindly, he asked if I’d like to familiarise myself by taking a lap round the track with him. Thus Stirling Moss became my Nürburgring driving instructor, an acknowledged master conducting a master class.

I had to cancel my 1967 Nürburgring début when I learned that my father had suffered a seizure. I left immediately to be with him and am gratified that I did. He died a week later.

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Ford GT40 – 1968

The following month I was back at the Nürburgring with JW Automotive to drive a Gulf Ford GT40 in the 1,000km, paired with Jacky Ickx. On Sunday morning I felt that I still didn’t know the track well enough, as I had done only 10 laps in practice, so I decided to caution John Wyer that this might spoil Jacky’s chances of a win. He responded by putting Ickx with Paul Hawkins, David Hobbs’ regular co-driver, relegating David and me to the second car. The race was run in the Nürburgring’s usual wet/dry conditions, with Jacky and Paul finishing third overall (and winning their class) and David and me taking a respectable sixth.

Redman, that’s the last time I’m taking your advice,’ Wyer huffed. ‘If Ickx and you had driven together, we might have won.’

The Porsche 917 – 1969

In 1969 Porsche was spoiling for the new 917 to make its début and astonish the entire motorsport world. The company’s decision makers – led by the imposing motorsport director Ferdinand Piëch – felt that it might be a good idea to prove the 917 at the Nürburgring.

After each of the ten factory drivers had inexplicably turned down this ‘opportunity’, accusations of faint drivers’ hearts and even cowardice were bandied about the Stuttgart boardroom. If wisdom is cowardice, then it seemed to have infected Porsche’s entire platoon of professionals. The company then turned to privateers David Piper and Frank Gardner who, against their better judgement, were persuaded to take on the onerous task of racing a 917 at the Nürburgring.

Gardner and Piper qualified in 8 minutes 35.8 seconds, while Jo ‘Seppi’ Siffert in our car set a time of 8 minutes dead – a huge differential. Still, they did an incredible job to finish at all, and their eighth place (four laps or 57 miles behind Seppi and me) should be regarded as a driving triumph.

Redman, that’s the last time I’m taking your advice, if Ickx and you had driven together, we might have won.

John Wyer

The 1970 Nürburgring 1,000km

Porsche fielded a dominant juggernaut for the Nürburgring 1,000km of 1970, using the light and nimble eight-cylinder 908/03 as it was better suited to that complex circuit than the bigger and more powerful 12-cylinder 917K. Essentially, the race was a Porsche shoot-out between our two JW Automotive 908/03s and those of Porsche Salzburg. John Wyer’s team may have been the official factory operation but, as we ruefully learned, Porsche Salzburg was the ultimate family enterprise.

These 908/03s filled the four top spots on the grid. My teammate, Jo Siffert, snatched pole position with a very quick lap of 7 minute 43 seconds, a full 17 seconds faster than his previous year’s pole time in the earlier 908/02. Tragically, a 908/02 featured in a terrible accident during practice. Hans Laine, a young Finnish driver paired with the experienced Dutchman Gijs van Lennep, lost control on the fast and undulating main straight and the car flipped, crashed and burned. Drivers stopped to help but they had no fire extinguishers and those used by the marshals were no match for the conflagration. Laine was as fresh in his marriage as he was in his racing career, leaving a young wife and a daughter of five months.

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Seppi made a good start in the race until a slow pit-stop dropped us to third. Now it was my turn. I caught Kurt Ahrens for second place and closed on the leader, Leo Kinnunen in the team’s sister car, and sat immediately behind him as we approached the 10.5 Kilometre Jump in top gear. Anyone can attack a jump and make a racing car fly; landing safely is what tests a driver’s skills. When the front wheels first touch the track’s surface, they must do so together and be pointed perfectly straight or the car will lurch sideways uncontrollably. Leo, who may have been distracted by me in his mirrors or by the loss of his friend Hans Laine, took flight at a slight angle and I was an eyewitness to the developing crash. Like a shot, Kinnunen’s car went off to our left and up onto the trackside bank, which launched it airborne back across the circuit. I cringed as the Porsche and Leo sailed directly over my head, missing my helmet by inches. Miraculously and thankfully, neither Leo nor I were hurt. He was out of the race. I carried on.

At half distance I was in the lead, ahead of Ahrens, when I noticed the oil pressure start to fluctuate. I headed for the pits and handed the car over to Jo while the mechanics topped up the oil. Then there was a second bad omen: the engine took a long time to fire. Seppi returned to the track but only briefly before the engine seized. Our race was over and a seemingly certain win had evaporated.

Victory went to Kurt Ahrens and Vic Elford in one of the Porsche Salzburg 908/03s, which, miraculously, showed no sign of lubrication problems. Many years later, I learned the truth from Klaus Bischof, a Porsche Salzburg mechanic in 1971 and later the manager of the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Klaus revealed that Ferdinand Piëch had fitted the two Salzburg 908/03s with oversize oil tanks as a precaution against just such a problem. I still find it remarkable that Piëch chose to hide this insider advantage from John Wyer and his own ‘factory’ team. Blood, it seems, is thicker than oil.

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Back to Ferrari

In November 1971 Ferrari invited me to share a one-off drive in a Ferrari 312PB with Clay Regazzoni at the Kyalami Nine Hours. The team had run the 312PB in almost all the year’s races, setting fastest laps and frequently leading, but never winning. Team leaders Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx were issued with a new car whilst Clay and I drove an old one. As luck would have it, they suffered a minor problem early in the race and Clay and I won, with Mario and Jacky second.

Extract from: Brian Redman’s book, Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks A Racer’s Memoir of a Dangerous Decade: 1965-75 By Brian Redman with Jim Mullen (Evro Publishing) Hardback. RRP: £50.00.

Special Offer available for Goodwood readers: £10 off the RRP, plus free postage & Packing within the UK. Europe and worldwide postage applicable. Special offer closes 31 September 2016. Please quote reference code: GW16. Visit: www.evropublishing.com

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