Reflections in the Eifel
WHEN the Formula One drivers boycotted the Niirburgring with its challenging 14 miles of winding, twisting, diving, climbing road, because it was too dangerous or too difficult, depending on your outlook, the German Grand Prix went away to the flat and fast Hockenheimring, which was awful by comparison, but time proved that you could get used to anything, and we did. Now the NUrburgring GmbH have built a new stadium-like track joined onto the old Narburgring on the area where the disused South Circuit used to be. It is called the Neue Nurburgring and is described as “Gertnany’s new Grand Prix track”. Little Prix it may be, Grand Prix it is net Rather than quote from biased drivers, tired old journalis’ts who live in the past, or hack writers who try to be “with it” let me
quote from a club magazine. This is the journal of a small but select group of spectators from most European countries, who travel around on their holidays to watch motor racing in all forms. They come from Great Britain, Holland, France, Belgium, Germany and meet up at circuits to enjoy each other’s company, the company of true racing enthusiasts rather than the casual onlooker with nothing else better to do. Two of these people went to the New Niirburgring to watch the 1000 kilometre sports car race back in the summer, and wrote about it in their club magazine. They flew out from England and hired a car to drive from Cologne to the Eifel mountains. “Imagine yourself driving the road to your home, parking the car in the usual place, walking to the front door. You open the same door that you have paned through many times, step inside and. . . everything is different. The carpets are replaced by stone floors, the rooms are in different places, the flowers are gone, in their place plastic plants. It’s like a confused dream. Imagine this if you can and you will know how we felt on Friday 13th before the 1000 kilometre race.
We drove through Adenau, up the hill to the junction by the Dottinger Hobo Hotel, along the straight and parked the earns the pavement. We walked past the Sport Hotel, almost as familiar as our own house, through the gate and . . . a new world, a modern world where concrete has replaced pine forests, and where, this weekend at least, the sun does not shine. We were at the Nose Nurburgring. Although it was a confused dream it did not turn out to be a nightmare. The biggest problem with the Near Niirburgring is just that, its name, and maybe its location. A circuit 15 kms away at Kelberg for example, and called the Eifelring and the shock would not have been so great. Therein only one may to approach the new circuit, that is to totally clear one’s mind of the old. The new circuit has no protection from the forests, and from the South end you can see halfway across Luxembourg. The howling gale which blew all weekend brought constant showers and, two hours into the race, torrential rain and it was COLD. At least the weather Gods were trying to make us feel at home. (This was July — DSJ). After a tour of the paddock (you won’t see much unless you can obtain a pit pass) we net off on a tour of the circuit. It was empty save for the odd Formula Ford car, and as we progressed surprise, surprise, it looked like being an interesting place for the spectator. Almost 11/2 Itms of circuit can be seen from many places and every 100 metres there are stone buildings housing toilets at ascend and food and drink at the other (! — DSJ). The public address system was excellent — but the conunentary was still only in German, I think commentaries should be at least in IWO languages. (They are at Formula One races, thanks to
Anthony Marsh who really keeps the English speaking people well informed throughout practice and the race — DS J). If the empty circuit looked interesting, once the Group C cars started to practise it looked very exciting — all we had been led to expect was soon forgotten as the Porsches and Lancias powered out of the tight downhill right-hander, tails well out of line and off to the bottom `1.1′ turn, uphill again, sliding through the ess-bend and finally out of sight. We were left in no doubt that this is a good circuit. At one point, if you look across the distant trees you can see an Armco-lined road that looks familiar. You look again and realise it’s the Flugplatz. For a moment your mind moves back in time, but look to the front again and them is Harald Grohs, the 956 tyres smoking, flames from the turbos, controlling a long slide as he sets second fastest lap, just 0.13 seconds behind Bellof.
Once the race started there was no time to look across to Flugplatz. There was non-stop entertainment right in front of us. When the rain came we got soaked to the skin. Almost two hours later it stopped but the wind did not, at this point I was shaking from head to foot with cold — we survived the Niirburgring 1984 and what is more we enjoyed every minute of the six hours it took for the 207 laps completed by Bell and Bellof, and Hobbs and Boutsen. As we said — a dream yes — a nightmare — no way!” These are just two of the people who spend their hard-earned money to travel to motor races as spectators, and they are the people who keep motor racing solvent for the organisers. You may hear stories of vast sums of money being poured into motor racing from rich companies who have to get rid of excess profits, or from television, but without the spectators there would not be any big-time motor racing. It is the money at the turn-stiles that keeps a circuit solvent. Television money, sponsorship money and so on merely gild the lily, the basic spectator provides the lily. You who are sitting comfortably at home watching the Formula One races on television and complaining about poor old Murray Walker and the surly and embittered James Hunt, arrant putting any money into motor racing. If these two people enjoyed the 1000 kms race, in spite of the weather, then presumably most of the 60,000 in the sunshine of the European Grand Prix enjoyed themselves. For those of us close to the scene it was really a case of “it’s better than Hockenheimring, but that is not saying much”. Somehow it wasn’t very fascinating to hear that someone had spun off at the Veedol-Schikane, when tilt), used toga off at Pflanzgarten or Schwalbenswanz, and if you went and looked at the Veedol-Schikane you wondered what sort of clot had managed to go off there. At Pflanzgarten you sucked your breath and admired the drivers who did not go off at that point. There was not a lot to admire as the drivers piloted their cars round the Near Narburgring, but that was
only be you had area better things. For those who know no better, 1984 is probably all right.
In order not tube too jaundiced and to try and keep a sense of 1984 proportion I returned from the Eifel race by way of Malmedy and Stavelot and the Old Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Down the Masta straight and through the ess-bend at all of 80 mph in my white van my mind boggled at the thought of Formula One cars on that road, and back up from Stavelot it was the same, and the countryside is superb. At the top end of the circuit all was well, for the rebuilt Francorchamps circuit has embraced part of the original one and an entirely new section that is as fine as anything on the old one. Shorter it may be, but it is just as spectacular and challenging and it has retained all the character of the original circuit. I would have thought that Nirburgring GmbH could have done the same, but no, they have built a concrete stadium in the heart of the Eifel mountains, retaining none of grandeur or charm of the natural countryside. In my book the Belgians know how to do things, and the Austrians also, with their splendid Osterreichring, but the Germans have brought us up to 1984 with a nasty jolt. Rosberg, with his remarkable grasp of the English language, said after practice, that he had had more excitement playing snooker. In the race his excitement was brief and to the point on the first corner as Senna ran over him. Lauda said he thought the whole place was excellent and should not need altering before the year 2000.
Of the European Grand Prix itself there were one or two interesting points, one being on lap 62 both Piquet and Alboreto recorded a time of 1 min 23.146 sec, the fastest in the race. The time-keepers gave the fastest lap to Piquet, pointing out that he was leading Alboreto as they finished the lap, so therefore Piquet was the first to record it. All Alboreto did was to equal it, as he crossed the line a short while later, so therefore he had not beaten Piquet’s time, so Piquet was the lap record holder.
The win by Frost was the llth this season by a McLaren-Porsche, a magnificent tribute to the whole McLaren International organisation, for the reliability of the Porsche built V6 engine, the design of the whole car and the way it is built and put together by the McLaren workforce. A look through the garage window at Press’s car an hour before the start of the race would have caused despair to most people. The whole car seemed to be spread all over the floor with an army of red and white clad mechanics beavering away. Suddenly it was all finished, lifted down off its stands and sent on its way, and it ran the whole race without a moment’s trouble, and even the dour Mr Frost could find nothing to criticise. It had performed perfectly.
D. S.J .