Tag Archives: Klaus Ludwig

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Monterey Magic

Autumn or Fall as the locals would say is a very agreeable time to be in California’s Monterey Peninsula. This weekend the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge will reach its climax after a season of classic endurance GT races. SRO has history at the fantastic Laguna Seca track dating back to its earliest days. Some 20 years ago the final round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship, was held at Laguna Seca. In the top GT1 class it was scheduled to be a classic encounter between the veteran champion, Klaus Ludwig and the bright star emerging to ascendancy, Bernd Schneider. Yes of course they had co-drivers, Ricardo Zonta and Mark Webber, but despite the obvious talent and potential of that pair all eyes were on the two Germans of different generations. Schneider had taken the title in 1997 and had looked favourite to repeat this for most of the 1998 season.

What added spice to the contest was that they were both driving for the AMG Mercedes team, for the majority of the season in the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM. Approaching the decisive race, the score sheet showed Ludwig and Zonta ahead of their rivals by four points, the margin between first and second place on track. However, Schneider and Webber had racked up five wins to four, so if the points tally was equal after Laguna Seca they would be champions on the basis of more race wins. It was a case of the winner takes it all and second place would be nowhere.

The GT2 class was a complete contrast to this close contest in GT1.  The Oreca Chrysler Viper team dominated proceedings, winning eight out of the nine rounds already run. Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy had grabbed the Drivers’ Title with seven victories, Monterey was expected to be more of the same. Could either the Roock Racing Porsches or Cor Euser’s Marcos challenge the Viper’s hegemony?

1998 was an almost perfect season for the AMG Mercedes squad. The only hiccup had come during the Le Mans 24 Hours when both cars went out early after suffering engine failure. A seal in the power-steering hydraulic pump failed and that trivial fault fatally damaged the engine. It was a most un-Mercedes moment as otherwise they were in a different league to their closest and only serious competitor, Porsche AG’s 911 GT1 98.

In reality the Porsche was only a threat at certain kinds of circuits where the disadvantage of their turbocharged engines as regulated under the FIA GT1 rules package was not a factor. And even then, it was almost always Allan McNish who was able to challenge the Mercedes duo, we would grow accustomed to the electric pace of the Scot in the following decade, but it was something of an eye opener in 1998.

Adding even more spice to the contest was the announcement by Ludwig that he would retire from motor sport after the race in Monterey. His career had included three victories at Le Mans and five DTM titles, could he add the FIA GT Championship to the list? Klaus certainly was motivated, and said before the race, “Laguna Seca is one of the tracks I love the best. It’s a demanding track and an exciting track – the Corkscrew, in Europe, impossible! To win there would be very special for me.”

Ludwig was not the only one departing the GT scene, Ricardo Zonta was bound for Formula One, another Brazilian on the conveyor-belt of talent that started with Emmerson Fittipaldi and continued through Piquet, Senna, Barrichello and Massa amongst many others.

However, there was still a Championship to be decided. Most Europeans like myself imagine that California is a place of sunshine and beaches, blondes and brunettes of either sex, all tanned, forever young. So, it was something of a shock arriving at the track in anticipation of Saturday Morning’s Qualifying session to conditions usually found at the Nürburgring or Spa, torrential rain. The first session was stopped after 15 minutes as a river of mud was blocking the Corkscrew, not quite how I imagined the weather would be on the West Coast.

The afternoon’s conditions were much better and the advantage swung Ludwig’s way courtesy of Zonta. The Brazilian’s pole position lap of 1m16.154s was 0.434 seconds faster than Schneider’s best.  Afterwards Ricardo explained. “My qualifying lap was really good but not without a problem. Because I experienced a little brake balance problem, I got off-line in the last corner where it was a little wet. That might have cost me some time.”

In GT2 the Viper effort was reduced to one car after David Donohue crashed out on Friday. He hit the wall hard as a result of brake failure, the car caught fire and was too badly damaged for any immediate repair.

Class Pole was grabbed by a very determined Stéphane Ortelli in his Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2 with a 1:24.851 lap, less than a tenth of second advantage over Cor Euser’s Marcos LM 600 who was fractions faster than Beretta’s Viper. This could be a race to match the GT1 battle, or so we hoped.

After the traditional end-of-term drivers’ photo Klaus was presented with a lump of the track as a memento of his final race, it seemed a very Californian thing to do.

AMG Mercedes had the front row to themselves, who would emerge from Turn One in the lead, Schneider or Ludwig? Everyone held their breath but in the end the veteran got the best start and quickly pulled away from his rival.

In any case Bernd had his mirrors full of a Porsche with McNish making a nuisance of himself, even passing the Mercedes after a few laps.

GT2 also saw a fierce tussle for the lead in opening laps before the natural order of things asserted itself with Beretta grabbing the lead. Two of the major challengers to the all-conquering Viper both retired with gearbox failure after just seven laps, that was the end of Jan Lammers in the Konrad Porsche and also Claudia Hürtgen in the 911 she shared with Ortelli. A few laps later and the Marcos was out. Also with transmission woes.

Ludwig had his own dramas to contend with while negotiating his way through the traffic. William Langhorne in the Stadler GT2 Porsche was having a spirited contest with Michel Neugarten in his Elf Haberthur example, swapping positions round the sweeping track. The American was fully concentrating on the car in front so did not see Ludwig dive underneath him at Turn Three. The result was a heavy side impact that nearly put Klaus off the tarmac but somehow, he gathered himself together and raced on at full speed. Langhorne crashed out the following lap at the Corkscrew, something broke he maintained.

Schneider also got rid of the McNish problem around this point, the clutch failed on the Porsche stranding the Scot out on the far side of the circuit. It would be a straight fight for victory for the #1 and #2 Mercedes. Schneider then dived into the pits, fuel only, no fresh Bridgestones.

A lap later Ludwig was in, then out of the car, Zonta taking new rubber. He managed to stall the CLK-LM as he left the pits, all of which gave a handy advantage back to Schneider.

Bernd was looking certain to take the title but then lost a load of time stuck behind Jörg Müller in the other factory Porsche 911 GT1 98. Müller was determined to not go a lap down on the leader, hoping that the deployment of a Safety Car would give him the chance to catch up to the front. Eventually Müller ran wide at the first turn, allowing Schneider to pass, though he was furious at his fellow German. The gap was around the 12 second mark but this might not be enough to guarantee victory.

The second stints ended and into the pits came Schneider to hand over to his Aussie co-driver who also received a new set of tyres. This would put Webber behind Zonta on the road as it was expected that his stop would be a fuel only affair and so it proved. The AMG Mercedes management had anxious moments after both of their cars left the pits for the final time. Both fell off the track at Turn Three where oil had been deposited by a back marker, both cars just missed hitting the wall by a fraction, it could have been a disaster.

Zonta had a lead of 16 seconds but Webber got his head down and chipped away taking a second here, a second there. The #8 Porsche intervened again, this time it was Uwe Alzen’s turn to hold up the #1 Mercedes for a lap or two. Eventually Weber dived down the inside at the first turn and once again the was contact as the Porsche was muscled out of the way but he was through and the chase was back on.

Webber posted a time of 1:19.094, setting a new GT record, would it be enough? The gap came down to ten seconds but the time ran out for the chasing Mercedes and Zonta crossed the line 10.8 seconds ahead – Ludwig and Zonta were Champions, the fairy tale had come true.

There was no fairy tale in GT2, in fact the whole affair was something of a damp squib. The race was a walk over for Beretta and Lamy, who scored their eight class win of the season, ending up over a lap in front of the second Roock Racing 911 GT2, driven by Bruno Eichmann and Mike Hezemans. The final spot on the podium want to another 911 GT2, driven by Michael Trunk and Bernhard Müller.

Schneider showed grace in defeat, he is, and always was, a class act. “Failing to win the title after 10 races by just 10 seconds shows how tough we raced for the Drivers’ Championship this season. Although Mark and I didn’t manage to win the Championship, I’m glad for the team. Congratulations to my old friend Klaus, who deserves to end his career as Champion.”

Mark later reflected on the result in his excellent autobiography ‘Aussie Grit’. “So, the end result was second place in the FIA GT Championship by a margin of eight points. My disappointment was tempered by happiness for Klaus, since that was his last year in racing, but I also felt it had been a little unfair on Bernd. His partner came from Formula Ford and F3, whereas Ricardo arrived as the new F3000 champion to partner Klaus and was already getting test drives in Formula 1. I could go toe-to-toe with them most times but sometimes I struggled, partly because it was Bernd’s car, basically, and he had it set up as he wanted it, and partly through sheer lack of experience.” Zonta had this to say after the race.   “This was a real tough title fight. I had to give it my all to keep the gap to Mark Webber wide enough to make it. The fact that we both went off because of oil on the track shows how close to the limit we were. I’m really happy about the title and that I could win it together with Klaus.”

The retiring Champion had the last word. “I’m extremely happy about the Championship. This was a sensational achievement by the team, and my co-driver Ricardo is the best I could have asked for. I want to thank especially Norbert Haug and Hans Werner Aufrecht, who brought me back to AMG Mercedes.”

Of course, the old stager did not ride off into the sunset, the lure of motor racing proved too strong. In June 1999 Klaus scored a third win in the Nürburgring 24 Hours driving a Zakspeed Viper. In 2000 Ludwig raced a full season in the revived DTM, scoring a pair of wins at Sachsenring in his Mercedes. Now at the age of 50 he decided to retire as a professional driver. Then, being Klaus, he raced on for a few more years just for fun, notably finishing second overall in the 2006 Nürburgring 24 Hours. It was a helluva career………….

John Brooks, October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty Year Itch

The Daytona 24 Hours in 1987 was an almost exclusively Porsche affair in the leading GTP class, no less than nine 962s chased victory. Five of these were powered by a 2.8 litre flat six and the other four a 3.0 litre version of the classic Porsche unit, power was traded off for less fuel stops, a bit of a leap of faith at Daytona.

Leading the charge was Jochen Mass in Bruce Leven’s 962 posting a pole lap of 1:41.005. The German star shared the car with the owner and Klaus Ludwig. They led the first four hours or so of the race but contact while passing a back marker on the banking led to a big shunt and retirement.

Also in the wars early in the race was the other front row Porsche of Jim Busby sharing with Bob Wollek and Darin Brassfield. Valve failure after 89 laps put the BFGoodrich 962 out.

Three 962s were left at the top contesting victory. The American road-racing royalty of Rob Dyson, A.J. Foyt and Al Holbert each had a car capable of winning. Dyson shared with his regular co-driver Price Cobb and they were supported by Vern Schuppan.

Holbert, running the same #103 chassis that had been the winner in the 1986 race, was on a roll, chasing a third consecutive 24 hour win with co-driver Derek Bell, having triumphed at Le Mans the previous June. Initially Holbert did not plan to drive leaving that to Al Unser Jr., Chip Robinson and Mr Bell. The demands of the race would change that strategy

The legendary A. J. Foyt, twice a winner at the Daytona 24 Hours was looking for his third win, running with Danny Sullivan and Al Unser Sr. The race would come down a dog fight between the #1 and #14.

Best of the non-Porsches was the Chevrolet Corvette GTP-T710 of Sarel van der Merwe and Doc Bundy but they went out in the night with engine failure after running in the leading pack.

Another car that succumbed in the darkness to engine problems following a fire was the Jaguar XJR-7 of Bob Tullius, Hurley Haywood and John Morton after running as high as second.

Less impressive in the GTP ranks was the Zakspeed Ford Probe GTP of David Hobbs, Whitney Ganz and Momo Moretti. Not really competitive, they also disappeared in the night with engine maladies.

IMSA GTP Lights were the property of the factory entered Spice-Pontiac Fiero.

Bob Earl, Don Bell and Jeff Kline overcame electrical issues in the night to run out winners.

IMSA GTO class was hotly contested. The Roush Ford Mustang was chasing a hat trick of wins at Daytona. NASCAR star Bill Elliott ran with Scott Pruett, Lyn St. James and Tom Gloy.

More NASCAR talent was on show in the Protofab Chevrolet Camaro of Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte and Greg Pickett. They led the class at the halfway point but lost a wheel out on track and that was that.

Another strong Camaro was the Rick Hendrick-entered Peerless version for Jack Baldwin and Eppie Wietzes but they were another victim of engine issues.

Dan Gurney had a pair of Toyota Celicas, #98 for Chris Cord and Steve Millen, #99 had Ricky Rudd, Jerrill Rice and Juan Manuel Fangio ll on driving duties.

Problems late in the race struck both All American Racing cars with #99 retiring  and #98 clinging on to second spot despite rear suspension issues.

All of which propelled #11 to the top step of the podium. A sweet victory for the Roush Ford outfit.

Back at the head of the field things appeared to be going the way of Foyt’s 962 but there was not much margin in it. The Unsers engaged in an early morning Father and Son duel after which they had breakfast together. There were epic battles between the two teams and any advantage gained was soon pulled back.

Al Holbert had to change his strategy as both Al Unser Jr. and Chip Robinson were exhausted and Derek Bell needed time to recover for the final stint. Al jumped into the Porsche to take the fight to rival 962.

The race was decided in the final hour when the normally bullet-proof Porsche motor in the #1 car let go with 50 minutes left to run. Victory for the Holbert car, huge disappointment for Foyt’s outfit.

Second place fell to the Brun Motorsport 962 that had lost 14 laps in the first hour with a faulty weld on a pipe. Once that was fixed they began the long climb back from 54th place. They were the quickest car on track during the night, sometimes as much as five seconds a lap! Once the Foyt car stopped they were elevated to the podium just ahead of the Dyson 962 with the unfortunate Texan effort classified as fourth. It was a just reward for Walter’s team of Oscar Larrauri, Massimo Sigala and Gianfranco Brancatelli.

Messrs Holbert, Bell, Robinson and Unser Jr. celebrated a famous victory, a really tough race for them. The race was flat out from the start and the winning crew covered 753 laps breaking the previous record set in 1986 by 41 laps or 146 miles. The race average speed was 111.6mph, a champion performance by any standards.

 

 

Thirty Years Gone

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The 1986 SunBank 24 at Daytona was forecast to be the race where the old order in IMSA would be toppled. The old order was in the form of Porsche who had won eight out of the previous nine editions of the Floridian endurance classic. Even the March chassis that took honours in 1984 was Porsche-powered, quite a record.

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Leading the charge of Weissach’s finest were no less than nine Porsche 962s. IMSA’s regulars dominated this pack with Jim Busby bringing two BF Goodrich sponsored examples, this was supported by singleton efforts entered by Al Holbert, Preston Henn, Bruce Leven, Rob Dyson and Bob Akin. Europe’s honour was to be upheld by further 962s from Walter Brun and Reinhold Joest, a truly top quality selection of Porsche teams.

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The pretenders to the endurance crown were factory-backed efforts from BMW and Chevrolet, with the Group 44 Jaguars also in contention, so a serious bunch to combat Stuttgart.  However the threat to Porsche’s hegemony had melted away even before the cars lined up on their way to the Green Flag and the start of the race.

BMW tested at Road Atlanta the week before the race and one of their GTP prototypes was consumed by fire while on track and, as the cause was not clear, it was considered prudent to withdraw the second car. One down.

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The other significant threat to Porsche’s supremacy was in the shape of the Corvette GTP of NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick. The potential of the turbocharged V-6 powered car was evident as Sarel van der Merwe stuck it on pole position. However after an engine change a vibration was noticed in the morning warm-up. When this was investigated the cause was found to be a cracked engine block and there was insufficient time to change the unit. Scratch two!

So it was Bob Wollek who led the pack on the formation lap in Bruce Leven’s Bayside Disposal Racing 962 with Price Cobb and Paolo Barilla itching to pass the veteran French racer.

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The Group 44 Jaguars were the new XJR-7 cars, a complete update of the XJR-5 and probably lacking sufficient mileage to seriously threaten the 962 gang for the top step of the podium. Team owner Bob Tullius would be partnered by Chip Robinson and Claude Ballot-Léna in #44, while in #04 there was an all-star line up of Brian Redman, Vern Schuppan and Hurley Haywood.

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New rules for 1986 also impacted the Porsches and would play a significant part in the race itself. The biggest change was the addition of 160lb of ballast, this would tax the already stretched components. The Daytona 24 Hours has a reputation as a car-killer and even the 962s would suffer.

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First of the leading contenders to exit the race, after only 6 laps, was the Joest car suffering a broken distributor rotor. A few laps later Hans Stuck hit the wall in the Coke-sponsored 962, the drink that is, this was after all IMSA. Then Bob Wollek collided with a suddenly slowing car on the banking and that was the end of his race and that of the Leven 962. Also out before sunset was the Brun 962 with some form of electrical malady.

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Down in the GTO class NASCAR fans had something to cheer with the #50 Jack Roush Ford Mustang having a crew comprising Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader, Kyle Petty and Ricky Rudd, all Winston Cup regulars. This car ran in the leading group of their class in this Ford-supported effort till Rudd hit the barriers coming out of the back stretch chicane sometime during the night.

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As forecast before the race the Group 44 Jaguars struggled on track with various suspension and transmission issues, then the engine failed in the #04 car. There was some measure of satisfaction for the team as the #44 Jag cruised home to sixth and fourth in class despite spending over an hour behind the wall during the race.

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The only real challenge to the 962 armada, aside from self inflicted injuries, came from the March 85G Buick driven by John Paul Jr., Chip Ganassi, Whitney Ganz and ex-Ferrari Grand Prix star, Ivan Capelli. JP posted the fastest lap of the race and the car ran in the top three till the engine cried enough, just past the halfway point.

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Further carnage in the 962 field saw the Dyson car go out with engine failure. Jan Lammers had one of the biggest crashes of his career when the brakes failed on the second BF Goodrich 962, he had to be extracted through the windscreen as the car had folded up around him. By some miracle he survived without a scratch, only a few minor sprains.

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Delays to the Holbert Porsche for brake line failure and broken throttle cable meant that the lead during the darkness was disputed by the Swap Shop 962 of the owner, Preston Henn, and his trio of Indianapolis 500 winners, A.J. Foyt, Arie Luyendyk and Danny Sullivan. Opposition came from the surviving BF Goodrich Porsche of Derek Warwick, Jochen Mass, Darin Brassfield and Jim Busby, these two cars swapped the lead during the night, apparently in a race of their own. In common with the Holbert car, some distance back, these Porsches were being wrung by the neck, each lap treated like a qualifying effort.

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Then, as the sun appeared from the East, things started to go wrong for the leading pair. #67 suffered a broken CV joint and then a driveshaft failure, time was being lost in the pits, any chance of victory also seemed to have evaporated.

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#8 was also in the wars, an oil line had to be replaced as did a turbo wastegate. The biggest issue was a sticking throttle and the team elected to fix it costing some eight laps, however the problem persisted and their once substantial lead was disappearing fast.

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At one point the Holbert 962 had been 22 laps off first place but as their rivals struck misfortune they closed in on the top spot. Holbert, Bell and Unser Jr. knew all about the cruelty that the Daytona 24 Hours could inflict on those seemingly destined for glory. A year previously they had seen a 13 lap advantage while leading on Sunday morning turn into a 17 lap deficit that would result in second place.

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If further proof were necessary about the capricious nature of racing round the clock at Daytona Beach consider the fate of the #07 Ford Mustang. The driver trio of Klaus Ludwig, Scott Pruett and Bruce Jenner (Yes, THAT Bruce Jenner) built up a lead of 90 laps over their nearest class rivals. Late on Sunday morning they had to witness this apparently impregnable advantage unravel as they were stuck in the pits trying to repair an oil leak, they still managed a second in class and fifth overall, a good indication of the attrition suffered by the whole field.

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The closing laps were tense as the lead of the #14 car was just over a minute from the #8 962, with #67 a further lap adrift. The final result saw the Holbert car record 712 laps, just 1:49.150 ahead of their rival after 24 hours, it was the closest finish of the race to that point and also a distance record of 2,534.72 miles.

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There would be no repeat of the crushing disappointment of 1985, Holbert, Bell and Unser Jr. would get to spray the Champagne and hoist the trophies. They would repeat this triumph a year later but Holbert’s time was running out, he was killed in a plane crash in September 1988, an endurance champion was lost.

John Brooks, January 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zakspeedy

Today’s trawl into the past features a race I had forgotten that I had even attended. Back in July 1980 the organisers of the recently revived Donington Park came up with the cunning plan of getting the fabulous DRM series to cross the North Sea and entertain the masses. Like many cunning plans this did not take into account that the preceding round of the DRM was at Norisring, and even by that track’s standards it was something of a crash-fest.

Still Zakspeed brought over three examples of their Ford Capri Turbo and we were all mightily impressed. The winner that day was a man I still bump into at the races, Klaus Ludwig.  A three time winner of both the Le Mans and Nürburgring 24 races and a multiple Touring Car Champion, he was one of the top drivers in the latter part of the last century.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo, some things never change, I believe it was the wrong kind of beer.

John Brooks, December 2012

Mustang Sally

Muscle Car

August in Wisconsin, must be Road America at Elkhart Lake. A majestic race track, one of the finest in the world.

Back in 1983 Ford were winning in what was, more or less, their back yard. Klaus Ludwig and Tim Coconis taking the Mustang GTP to victory in the Budweiser 500. It was the high point for the project as persistent engine problems torpedoed any further success.

John Brooks, December 2011

When We Were Kings

A step too far……..

The expression legendary has been thoroughly debased by application to people and things that are nothing of the sort. However amongst the Pyrite are to be found nuggets of the Real Stuff.

Porsche 956/117 is such a car, taking back to back victories at the 1984-85 Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans as well as 12 other wins in its three season career. A third win at La Sarthe in 1986 seemed on the cards till the engine expired during the night. Following the fatal accident of Jo Gartner, the race had been run under a safety car for several hours  and this was believed at the time to have caused the problem.

Legend can be appropriately and deservedly applied to this Champion.

John Brooks, January 2011