Incredibly, this was the 42nd annual running of the Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix… so many of the cars entered hadn’t even been born when the event started. In the UK, historic racing leans towards the earlier days of motor sport, when the British were building cars and winning races across the globe. At this event, the Germans had a more ‘recent past’ emphasis, so British visitors were able to relish cars that are rarely seen beyond Germany’s borders.
When it came to the crowd-pleasing Deutsche Rennsportmeisterschaft Revival race, how do you feel about the notion of eight BMW M1s charging hard into the first corner, popping and spitting foot-long flames? Mixed in with this bunch were a wide-arched, Jägermeister orange BMW 320i, a bright yellow Porsche 934/5 (which won two races), a fantastic Zakspeed Capri, raucous BMW Batmobiles and many other sensational German bygones. It was an aural and visual assault of the senses, and a reminder of how exciting – and excessive – motor racing could be in the ’70s.
The Oldtimer covers more than 60 years of motor racing, though, so various eras were well represented during two days of racing on the newer Nürburgring. On Friday, however, there was a two-hour race on the epic Nordschleife, for 1960s sports and GT cars. The Jaguar E-type of Frank Stippler and Marcus von Oeynhausen won by more than a minute.
Many people remarked on how great it would be to see more old cars on the longer circuit over the weekend, but there are practicalities to consider. In the hands of a gifted professional such as Stippler, it still took more than eight minutes for a fully sorted E-type to lap in the dry… and a damp two-hour race amounted to only 12 laps. Other than the obvious logistical headache of providing adequate safety cover around the 14 miles, you can understand that such numbers might not add up in an age when customer satisfaction is king.
The racing was extremely competitive throughout the weekend, never more so than in the FIA Masters Historic F1 Championship, which took centre stage. Michael Lyons (Hesketh 308E), Steve Hartley (Arrows A4) and Simon Fish (Ensign N180) were closely matched in Saturday’s 25-minute, 15-lap race. Watching them go wheel to wheel was terrific and kept 60,000 fans on the edge of their seats, until Lyons retired two laps from the end with fuel problems. Hartley went on to win from Fish, while Lyons recovered to take Sunday’s rain-affected race, after storming through the field in the wake of a pitlane start. He wasn’t alone in starting from the pits – the heavens opened during the formation lap and a stream of cars pulled in to switch to wet rubber. Silvio Kalb (Arrows A3) appeared to have the race in the bag, but spun two laps from home and opened the door to Lyons.
The Oldtimer doesn’t have the atmosphere of Goodwood, or the Silverstone Classic, but spend a few minutes in the paddock and you can’t help but be amazed at the extravagance of the cars on display. If, like me, you’re happy sticking your nose under the bonnet of a 1970s saloon car, getting a little bit too excited about a Novamotor engine in a classic F3 chassis, or drooling over Porsche 906s, then this should definitely be on your list of future European adventures. Damon Cogman