Greetings from Oberhosen……….…….
You remember my first visit to the track back in 1998 coincided with the opening
round of that terrible campaign of Porsche defeats and humiliations at the hands
of the Stuttgart steamroller, AMG Mercedes………..a grey and unpleasant way to
spend Easter with the certain knowledge that this was as good as it was going to
get for the year. FIA GT in 1998 still leaves visible scars to this day.
A trip back in July this year for the FIASCC extravaganza did not alter my opinion of
the place…………….this vision was shared by German colleagues in the
pressroom who referred to the whole region as ”The Darkside”…….there certainly
seemed to be a state of flux in the Earth’s magnetic field around the area
accounting for strange happenings and even stranger visions.
As for the accommodation the normal state of affairs prevailed……..a remote
circuit with nothing much hotel-wise close by that did not require floating
debenture stock to fund. As a consequence there was the customary 40-minute
journey and the evenings passed by with that nicely balanced state of hysteria
driven by booze and tiredness, nevertheless some small amusement was there
to be had.
Toine and Mike
After another lashing of Schwien-something or other at the dining table, Cotton,
Lister and I drifted past the bar stumbling upon Mike and Toine Hezemans. Mike
is one of the ballsiest drivers in the FIAGT championship, brave to the point of
lunacy, commitment being his middle name and bloody quick.
None of that should come as a surprise to anyone lucky enough to find
themselves enjoying a convivial beer with his father, Toine. That particular strain of
DNA is rare indeed, probably just as well, too much of this concentrated brew
would be dangerous………but what the hell you only live once.
Brands Hatch 950KMS
Toine is a larger than life figure in every respect…….as a driver he competed at
the highest levels, a multiple champion in sportscars and touring cars, now as a
team owner and manager, he has a reputation for an uncompromising approach.
I recalled the first time we had met several years back, oddly enough in a hotel bar
in Germany. My first attendance at a sportscar race was the 1971 1000Kms of
Brands Hatch…….I reminded him of this big moment in my life and his reaction
was the same that night as it was at this weekend………
”F##king race, 2 laps up in the lead and 50kms to go the f**king engine let go”.
Nice to get a consistent view of history.
Toine was a driver with the Alfa factory in the late 60’s and early 70’s, a time he
recalls with great affection. Although Alfa had a reputation for being a touch
chaotic, their approach to testing the touring car programme was more akin to F1
in the 90’s than those freewheeling times.
”We spent a month at Balocco with ten cars, when one broke it would be taken
away and another sent out……that way we discovered all the problems and fixed
them before the racing began. The title was easy then.”
Alfa’s competitions department was run then by the imposing figure of Carlo
Chitti…….a man of constant invention and tinkering.
”Chitti was always coming up with something new……sometimes copying
shamelessly from others………I was at the factory with Masten Gregory and the
boss was very keen to show his new design for a tyre jack…………..very similar to
Jim Hall’s Chaparral jack……….but this of course was made of titanium as Alfa
had a special forge that had been put in at great expense, it had to be used at
”So Chitti was showing off in front of us drivers and put the jack under one of the
racecars for a demonstration…….gave a mighty pull and promptly broke the
lightweight handle in two and ended up flat on his back. He did not see the funny
side, so us roaring our heads off and crying with tears of laughter did not go down
”It was sometimes fantastic to be a works Alfa driver. I was leading the Targa
Florio in 1971 (with local hero Nino Vaccarella) and somehow fell off the road on
the last lap, within a minute two hundred locals had carried the car back to the
tarmac and off I went again.”
”Vic Elford in the leading Porsche had a puncture during the race and while he
was round the front of the car some of our fans stole the jack and wheel nuts from
the back of the vehicle. They really wanted us to win.”
Nonsense I commented that just shows the native cunning and good sense of the
Sicilians, Porsche spares are always worth more then Alfa bits.
The discussion continued with the usual range of speculation and gossip and
one topic that received a thorough airing was the vexed issue of restrictor sizes
and success ballast.
The more I thought of it the more anti racing the whole idea is of penalising
someone for performing well. We were in a former communist country and the
effects of forty years of socialism were still evident despite the huge improvements
in the time since the wall was torn down.
In fact if the true principles of competition were implemented the successful
teams would be left alone and those who had performed badly would be hit by a
dose of failure ballast.
The idea that a team rocking up with a ”bag of bolts, a bunch of tossers working
on it and a couple of tuggers at the wheel” as Dave Price once so eloquently
expressed the scenario to me, should benefit by penalties being imposed on the
better organised and run cars is absurd….or so it seemed at that point/pint of the
Far more in line with Darwinist philosophy that motor racing in the International
arena is based on, is to stick the back markers with 50 kilos for bad driving, poor
pitwork and shoddy presentation……..that’d learn ‘em……….and 50 kilos more
next week if you don’t pull your socks up.
100 kilos would be like strapping a fully laden photographer to the car……….now
that’s something that most teams would work hard to avoid……..mind you, the
shots might be better.
The failure ballast line of thought is obviously in some other manufacturers’ plans
as well……..in 1968 Porsche had the brains and balls to build 25 Porsche 917s to
get round the rules scrapping the big banger Fords and Ferraris…….safety mon
ami and nothing to with 3 litre Matras declared the ACO/CSI.
In an apparently spooky repeat of history Porsche once again has their collective
crystal balls out…………for the really bad teams at the back of the field running the
GT3 with a couple of thousand kilos extra lead and photographers there is now an
alternative………the Cayenne RSR………the market possibilities are endless….it
might help shift some more stock.
The Cayenne RSR, another triumph of Porsche motorsport ingenuity.