Saloon meister

Tin-tops were a feature at the Oldtimer, where saloon champion and Le Mans winner Klaus Ludwig talked about his love of racing

Words: Paul Parker. Photography: Charlie Wooding

Sitting in the Derkum Racing transporter at the Nürburgring Oldtimer meeting Klaus Ludwig is speaking about his career.

A three-time Le Mans winner (1979, 1984, ’85), five times a German saloon champion (DRM 1979, 1981, DTM 1988, 1992, 1994) and FIA GT World Champion in 1998, he retired briefly before returning in 1999. He then won the 1999 Nürburgring 24 Hours in a Zakspeed Viper and a round of the DTM at the Sachsenring in 2000, aged 50, before retiring again.

“I never expected to be a race driver as we did not have the money,” Ludwig said. “My father helped me buy an NSU TTS in 1970 and I drove some slaloms but that was not my kind of racing. I got a BMW that was good enough to do the Nordschleife. Later I was spotted by [Ford Germany race chief] Mike Kranefuss and he offered me a test drive at Zandvoort. I was the fastest and got the drive.”

Ludwig compared the DRM saloon series favourably with the later DTM. “The DRM did a great job,” he said. The [Ford Motorsport/Eggenberger] Cosworth RS500 gave me a nice time, a lot of fun, and the car won a championship, but not the driver!”

I asked Klaus who he thought was the best driver at the time. “Me!” he replied. “I did so many races in the 962 in America and Europe; some said Stefan Bellof was quicker, but I know what tyres he was using, what he got from the factory and what we got. It’s better to ask Mr Reinhold Joest.

“I stopped sportscar racing for safety reasons. Mercedes asked me to come in 1989. Mr Jochen Neerpasch was in charge of Sauber and Mercedes, and asked me to do Le Mans but I said, my goodness, I stopped this GT racing. I was so lucky to escape and I don’t want to kill myself. Why should I, what can I prove? I said ‘forget it, I want to race saloons’. Mr Neerpasch was really pissed off! He would have liked to fire me.

“Today I do television commentary for the DTM and I race for fun. I don’t want to prove anything. I won’t do any more Nürburgring 24 Hours, they’re too dangerous, too many cars.

“I like to drive and keep myself in good shape; as soon as I stop I drink. I don’t want to end up like James Hunt. I think I can drive until I am 65, and I’m doing more now than I was 10 years ago.”

August 11-13, 2006

Lowering clouds, driving rain and the dark arboreal splendour of the Eifel hills invoked a brooding Wagnerian atmosphere at the AvD Oldtimer meet.

Those brave enough to compete in the two Marathon races diced all around the daunting Nordschleife in the wet and dry in a variety of cars from GT40 to MG Midget. Both races were won by Jaguars: the Minshaws’ familiar ‘low drag’ E-type won the shorter race and Marcus von Oeynhausen’s E the longer marathon. Over on the ‘modern’ track, racing offered a more catholic choice of machinery. What other gathering offers ISO Rivolta, TVR Griffith 200, Porsche 906, 908 and 3565, the Aston Martin DB3 coupe, Mistral Jaguar, two 300SLs (one gullwing, one roadster), Lynx 3 FJ, a  Lotus 24 running in the pre-61 GP races, Stuart Caroline’s 1957 Kurtis Indy roadster and much more.

The GP Masters events featured the unique T86C Cooper-Alfa Romeo, impressively driven by James Wood. Gareth Burnside amazed onlookers by shadowing Tony Smith’s winning GP Alfa Romeo P3 with his famous Talbot 105 BGH 23 in the pre-1940 race.

Elsewhere, the DRM 1972-1981 race featured Klaus Ludwig. FJs, pre-1961 sportscars and GTs, pre-1965 GTs, prototypes, Orwell SuperSports Cup, Mini Challenge and pre-1965 Touring cars completed the card