Another Nurburgring Klassic
The new Nurburgring has never inspired any particular passion within me but
thankfully the quality of racing in the second round of the LMES more than made
up for any dullness of the track. The German circuit thrives on the legend of the
Nordschleife and is linked in with Monza, Silverstone and Spa, all of which retain a
semblance of their halcyon days. OK, Spa was altered but was done with some
style, unlike the Nurburgring, which was stuck onto the southwest corner of the
great track and now sits there like a go-kart circuit in proportion to that which is
Nevertheless, the name is enough to warrant its place on the LMES calendar,
and the racing was as wonderful as any ever seen. Nicolas Minassian started the
ball rolling when he plonked the little Zytek on pole position, ahead of the Audis.
We all knew that this track would suit the car, and it only took a superstar driver to
get in and do the job. We thought Magnussen would be the man, but Zytek
withdrew last week and up to the plate stepped Minassian in his Creation entry.
Just an Excitable Boy
He was good fun in his Formula Three days and his altercation with Michael
Bentwood in the 1990s is the stuff of legend, when his burning spirit got the better
of him. Basically, he got baulked by Bentwood while lapping him on the final tour.
Jonny Kane, his championship rival, slipped through to win, Minassian was livid,
drove Bentwood off the circuit on the slowing down lap, and threw stones picked
out of the gravel trap at him. Unfortunately, he did this right in front of the
grandstand and was banned for three races.
His wife, I found out at Donington a couple of weeks ago, was in the middle of her
own altercation when she was prevented from running across the track to her
then boyfriend by an unfortunate marshal who put a hand out to stop her. His
accidental grope was not well received and a right hook was the reward.
‘Ave a go Hero
Having calmed his Gallic temper out of the car, Minassian’s performance at the
weekend went a long way to showing what he can do in a racing car. Creation
gave him the chance, and he rewarded them not only with pole position but, with
Jamie Campbell-Walter, third overall after a difficult race. I spoke to him in the
second half, after McNish had beaten his fastest lap. “1m45.8? Oh, it would be
nice to ‘ave fastest lap,” said Nicolas. “I really want to have a go, now.” I enquired
whether or not I should tell his team manager this was his plan. The reply was
blunt, he never got the chance to go for it, but his eyes lit up at the prospect.
Pierre Kaffer is the complete opposite of the Frenchman. He has been taken
under his wing by McNish in the same way as Capello in 2000 when they
contested the ALMS together. In the car, however, at the Nurburgring, Kaffer was
mighty, his confidence at an all-time high having driven for so long with Biela at Le
Mans. With McNish out of the car for 22 hours, the pair drove stoically and got their
car to the finish and that experience told at the Nurburgring.
Kaffer challenged Minassian in the opening laps, the Frenchman ahead and
shadowed by the two Audis. As he got held up in traffic, the two silver cars
pounced, Johnny Herbert taking the inside line, and the lead, while Kaffer stormed
around the outside to take second. It was a heart-stopping moment for the young
German, and for the Frenchman in the middle of the Audi sandwich, but they were
both willing to have a go.
The Audi team had brought in their own weather forecasters for the race, and the
teams seemed to make the same choice as Henri Pescarolo in the early stages.
“I think they were getting their information from the same place as me,” said
Henri, quite unaware of the forecaster’s appointment. “I got mine from the Internet,
but it was quite wrong. In the end I walked to the other side of the paddock, and I
could see for 30km and knew exactly what was coming. From then on, we didn’t
make any more mistakes!”
The shower on the stroke of the fifth hour caught me making my way back to the
pressroom to start writing. Having spoken with Kaffer, I was at the wrong end of
the paddock but during my walk I was enormously entertained to see swarms of
team personnel, who obviously got the same idea as Henri, legging it across the
paddock and radioing to the pit lane what they could see.
Alias Schirle and Jones
At the finish, I went to see Rob Schirle, whose drivers had won the GT class. A
couple of years ago in Sweden he told me that he wanted to clone Adam Jones,
and at the Nurburgring he repeated the idea. Sascha Maassen had already sung
the praises of the British driver, who had driven almost without fault alongside one
of Porsche’s finest throughout the race. Schirle was delighted to have beaten
Freisinger, the German team which sets the benchmark, and with Jones.
The Birmingham driver had one spin in the final hour, which cost five seconds
and caused those watching in the press room to wonder if Collard would catch
and pass the Cirtek Porsche with ease, but the next lap saw them with equal lap
times, and the result was secured even without the exclusion for the Freisinger
squad for taking the flag in the pit lane. It seemed desperately unfair to me, that
after six hours in difficult conditions, a podium should be taken away on a
The talking point of the weekend, of course, was the Maserati MC12 decision by
the FIA. Described by one eminent motor racing member as a “one of the biggest
fuck ups in motor racing history,” the car was not accepted for homologation. The
door is open for negotiation, and the car could still race this year, but the
message from the FIA is clear: I don’t care who you are, don’t screw this up.
The basic idea is that Maserati, or Ferrari, should have taken an Enzo, stuck
some slick tyres and a big rear wing on it, developed the brakes and engine along
the lines of N-GT rules, and placed it on the track. What Maserati has done is take
an Enzo, develop it enormously, and then re-homologated it as a road car and
present that for racing. The FIA said ‘no’. This is not the spirit, and crucially this
has been built into the racing homologation process.
Blow the Bloody Doors Off
From Maserati’s point of view, the car was built to FIA regulations (with Ferrari
doing quite well in F1, you couldn’t expect them to go with the ACO, now, could
you?) on the understanding that the regulations would fall into line in 2006. The
car is too wide, and the overhangs too long to be accepted into the GTS class by
the ACO, but when it is squashed into the dimensions, will be a GTS class car.
When the proposal to amalgamate the rules was brought forward to 2005,
Maserati was the only one to vote against it, as it would need to homologate one
car for 2004, and another for 2005. The Ferrari 575 would also need an ACO kit
over the winter, which would cost 150,000 Euro. On the grounds of cost, argued
Maserati, 2005 is not on. On the grounds of competition, now that the MC12 has
been refused homologation, 2005 is its only hope.
There is no Sanity Claus
Actually, it isn’t at all. Maserati has opened negotiation with other teams in the
championship and, if it secures unanimous approval, it can go for a fax vote from
the World Council and could still be on the track at Imola, no doubt heavily
The FIA has taken a tough stance against the Maserati and needed to. It is a
high-profile manufacturer, partner company with Ferrari. If they can’t get a car like
the MC12 through, the others don’t stand a chance. The result is that suddenly the
Ferrari 575, the 550, the Aston Martin, the Corvette C6, the Lamborghini
Murcielago and the Saleen S7R all retain their value next year. No longer will
teams be looking at the Maserati and waiting for something cheaper to come
along and beat it, which was unlikely ever to happen.
Other manufacturers thinking of taking on the Maserati with equally exotic cars
will now think again. There is no point in spending such sums of money, because
the car will race against those that cost far less, and may get beaten by them.
And in the End………………….
And finally, the GTS class is safely anchored where it should be – behind the
prototypes. There are those who always maintained that the GTS cars could never
beat an out-and-out prototype, but the point is that if manufacturers wanted to race
what they sold, and win with them, and the pressure to get rid of open top sports
cars would be huge. My preference has always been the closed prototypes, such
as the Audi R8C and the Bentley, and I would love to see the MC12 as a GTP car,
bored out, up-rated, and taking on Audi.
Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Sadly, I believe, this dream will stay in my head. Back to reality, Silverstone, the
next round, in little more than a month, more great racing, more great drives. Six
hours on Saturday night, it was widely agreed in the pressroom, is the way to go.
Cracking racing, and home in time for Sunday lunch. Spot on.