Porsche Cup Awards
Springtime for Marc Lieb and Porsche………
And the winner of the Porsche Cup is…Marc Lieb. The 23-year-old German, co-
winner of the FIA GT Championship, winner of the Spa 24-Hours (both honours
shared with Stephane Ortelli, in the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche) and part-time
member of the Orbit Porsche team in the American Le Mans Series, also at Le
Mans, is no doubt a worthy winner, but questions were asked about his eligibility
for the trophy, and 37,000 Euro cheque, reserved for privateers.
"Porsche doesn't have any contracted drivers" says Juergen Pippig, head of
motorsports PR, and who am I to argue across a noisy dinner table? If that were
strictly true, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr would have been at or near the
head of the points league after winning the ALMS GT championship for the second
time, and winning the Sebring 12-Hours for the umpteenth time in their Alex Job
Racing Porsche GT3RS.
Had Lieb not claimed the Porsche Cup, it would have gone for the second time to
Kevin Buckler, who drove to a famous victory in the Rolex 24. Buckler reckoned he
was privileged to be sandwiched, "a middle aged guy" between Lieb and
Stephane Ortelli, but will take himself out of the reckoning in 2004 as he runs the
Racer's Group ALMS Porsche from the pit-wall.
Buckler will have the services of Supercup driver Patrick Long in his lead car,
sharing with Cort Wagner, "my American superteam" as he calls it. Wagner, sixth
in the Porsche Cup standings, will do the full ALMS with the Racers Group and the
full Grand-Am in a BMW powered Doran DP, with Brent Martini.
So Buckler, making a "really big effort" to win the Rolex 24 again, or at least to win
the GT class, will share his lead car with Long, Timo Bernhard and Joerg
Bergmeister. Buckler will continue to drive in the Grand-Am GT class, with RJ
Valentine, while Michael Schrom takes a year out to develop his business.
The Odd Couple
The big rumour, confirmed by Sascha Maassen, is that he and Lucas Luhr will
return to Europe. "It's time to move on" said Maassen after another supremely
successful season, his third with AJR. Job hopes to keep Joerg Bergmeister and
Timo Bernhard, and might find Lucas Luhr drafted into his team, along with a
choice of Mike Rockenfeller or Romain Dumas.
Maassen and Luhr ("people think of us like a married couple" says Sascha) are
likely to drive for a top Porsche team in the FIA GT Championship. Not Manfred
Freisinger's, so take your choice from Olaf Manthey or Uwe Alzen, with plenty of
factory support and a guaranteed supply of Michelin tyres.
Freisinger will run a two-car team fully sponsored by Yukos, and with Russians
Nicolaj Fomenko and Alexei Vasiliev in one Porsche, Stephane Ortelli and a tbn in
the other. "One seat is open" said Freddy at the Weissach Casino on Saturday
night (for Porsche employees, Casino is simply the place they eat!). Despite all
his successes Freisinger will be treated as a private team owner in 2004, and
factory support will go elsewhere.
Alwin Springer and his wife Yolande were feted and given a standing ovation by
600 guests, accompanied by their grown-up children Marc and Vanessa. Harald
Grohs made a long tribute to Alwin, followed by Porsche sales director Hans
Riedel, then Alwin rather touchingly said that "Yolande had to share her marriage
with motor racing, and she didn't always come first", vowing to make up for lost
Springer retires from his job as director of Porsche motorsports in North America
at the age of 60, with not a grey hair on his head. I asked him one last question
about the Brumos Fabcar Porsche team, which seemed to be struggling for
engine power when the Doran Chevrolet DP got into its stride.
Would the Porsche 3.6 litre flat-six be enlarged to 3.8 litres, or made more
powerful? "No way" Springer replied forcefully, saying that the Grand-Am
organisers had departed from the agreed 4-litre top limit. "They went to 5-litres,
now five and a half but that is their problem, not mine. There is little to be gained
from increasing the capacity to 3.8 litres, and perhaps you lose something at the
Ricky Chiba, owner of the Advan Porsche team, attended the dinner with a tall,
elegant and gorgeous young lady on his arm, Japanese of course and quite
charming. "Lucky Ricky" we all thought, until he went up on the stage
accompanied by the lady who was announced as his daughter, just crowned
"Miss Universe". "Well done, Ricky" we decided.
The Great Man
I caught up with Norbert Singer and his wife at around one o'clock in the morning,
when the party was in full swing. The race car engineer reaches his 65th, and
certain retirement, next November, and deserves to be honoured as highly as
Alwin Springer at next year's awards.
In the course of conversation he disclosed that officials of the Automobile Club de
l'Ouest had made several long calls to him in recent weeks, and he had advised
on the technical rules for 2004 and 2005. Ha, poacher turned gamekeeper,
perhaps? "My colleagues tell me that if I helped the ACO with their regulations, it
would be the worst thing that could happen to Porsche" he replied with a wry
I repeated Andy Wallace's complaint that by trimming 20 cm off the width of the
rear wings, the rear downforce would be destroyed. "It's the outer 10 cm at each
end that gives us downforce, the centre part of the wing is in spoiled air" he
Singer gave me a totally unexpected reply: "I told the ACO that they had not done
enough to slow the cars down. They should have done more. How will it look if
new cars appear on the grid at Sebring next March and they are five or six seconds
slower than the old ones? It will look terrible, it will be so bad for the new
Will there be new cars on the grids next year? Singer believed that there will be
'interim' cars, new bodywork (more draggy) on existing chassis from Pescarolo
and Courage and they should be at the forefront at the first race, and at Le Mans.
Allan McNish attended the Porsche Cup awards for the first time since 1998,
joining Alwin Springer's guests, Johnny Mowlem was seventh in the awards, and
8,000 Euro better off, before leaving the Porsche family to drive a Saleen in the
ALMS, and Robin Liddell attended on behalf of Mike Pickup, who was on business
The highlight of Mowlem's season was dominating the GT category at Road
America in the Petersen Motorsport White Lighting Porsche, starting from pole
position and trouncing the Alex Job Porsches.
"The car was terrible in practice" Mowlem said. "It understeered badly and nothing
seemed to work. Then, I remembered a similar situation at Sebring a couple of
years ago. Bob Wollek persuaded them to use a particular differential which, for
some reason no-one could understand, transformed the car.
"I remembered that, and I asked them to use this diff again. They were very
unsure, but I persuaded them and again, the car was transformed. We found a
second and a half for qualifying and ran off in the race, so I dedicate that win to
Bob. He was looking down on us that weekend."
Introducing the bar
The sky was drizzling when we went into the Weissach Casino at five o'clock in the
afternoon, and 10 hours later (yes, it was a terrific party) sheet ice covered the
display cars in front of the building.
The roads were still icy next morning, when I rode in Robin Liddell's rental car to
pick up McNish and Mowlem from their hotel, a Schloss set back from the main
road, and convey them in style to the airport. As much style as can be mustered in
an Opel Corsa diesel with five-up, that is.
Being a racing driver, Liddell made full use of the low grip conditions on the
service road from the hotel, gunning the throttle, yanking the handbrake and doing
all the things red-haired youngsters do.
McNish, losing none of his sharp tongue, piped up from the back seat: "It's a good
job one of us has enough car control to stay on the road!" That should have been a
cue for the Opel to fall into a ditch, but Liddell's talent held out until we reached the
safety of the autobahn.
On Top of the Pond
McNish hopes to remain in Formula One, but not with a back-marker team such
as Minardi which wouldn't be good for his career. Failing that, the Scot would like
to return to endurance racing with a top sportscar team, but the reality is that even
Audi has more drivers than seats, and there is no other team that is really "top" at
His best bet might be to hang on until 2005 when Audi could make a fresh start
with the R10, while GTS will be packed with works cars from Ferrari, Maserati,
Chevrolet, Lamborghini and Aston Martin. There's nothing quite like a factory
contract in our business, and who knows if GTS might even be the top category in