Wednesday, July 9, 2008

German Jalopies

While arguably the most vaunted German racecars were the all conquering Auto Unions and Mercedes during the build-up to World War II, I thought I’d scribble something about a few of the lesser known attempts by other German racing enthusiasts… As there were a trio of less then stellar German Formula 1 teams in the mid-1980’s; ATS, Zakspeed and Rial.

Not to be confused with the original ATS, (Automobili Turismo e Sport) the breakaway Formula 1 team comprising of several key Ferrari personnel including Chief Designer Carlo Chiti and Team Manager Romolo Tavoni who left Enzo Ferrari’s employment at the end of 1961… With Enzo constantly bashing his teams lack of performance on his drivers in 1962, America’s first World Champion Phil Hill and Italian Giancarlo Baghetti left to join ATS for the 1963 season…

Instead, this second coming of ATS (Auto Technisches Zubehor) was the brainchild of German businessman Hans Gunther Schmid, who amassed a small fortune thru his ATS Wheels concern, with its light alloy wheels being sold to various Auto manufacturers including Porsche.

Schmid having been a former racer himself, saw F1 as the perfect business platform to further promote his burgeoning wheel concern and when Roger Penske shocked the Formula 1 community with his announcement to withdraw from the sport at the end of 1976, having won that year’s Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, Schmid subsequently purchased Penske’s racing equipment and duly re-branded it ATS with Jean-Pierre Jarier finishing sixth at Long Beach in 1977, the team’s debut race.

At the end of 1977 Schmid bought the assets of March and Robin Heard and John Gentry reworked the old Penske chassis into the ATS HS1, with Jarier being joined by new teammate Jochen Mass, although Jarier left the team after the German Grand Prix. A string of drivers including future F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg than took stints as Mass’s teammate. At the end of the season a new D1 chassis was produced and driven by Rosberg…

For 1979 a new D2 chassis was designed and driven by Hans Stuck without success and a new D3 chassis arrived mid-season with Stuck managing to finish fifth at Watkins Glen at the end of the year. ATS retained the D3 for the start of 1980 with drivers Marc Surer and Jan Lammers before an upgraded D4 chassis designed by Gustav Brunner and Tim “Doctor Who” Wardrop appeared in South Africa, where Surer broke both ankles upon demolishing the new chassis…

1981 saw an air of uncertainty hanging over the team as Schmid had had a falling out with his ATS Wheels partner over the F1 program at the end of 1980 and the team started to decline, with team manager Jo Ramirez walking out after Schmid decided to replace Lammers with paying driver Tommy “Slim” Borgudd, who was sponsored by ABBA. Although the “Swede” who had once been the groups drummer failed to qualify for his first four races, he managed to finish sixth at Silverstone before moving onto Tyrrell and was replaced by Manfred Winkelhock and Eliseo Salazar, who drove upgraded D5 chassis designed by Don Halliday (who later was responsible for the Truesports Champ Car chassis) in 1982, with both drivers scoring a fifth place finish early on before lack of development saw the teams performance drop.

Schmid announced the securing of BMW turbocharged four cylinder engines for the 1983 campaign and Winkelhock returned to the team, which was contractually allowed to only run a single car, with Gustav Brunner returning to design the new composite D6 racecar, which was produced in Switzerland. Brunner stayed on to design the D7, but left for Euroracing prior to its completion.

In mid-1984, Formula 1 rookie Gerhard Berger drove a second chassis and finished sixth at Monza but was ineligible for points, yet this performance led to Winkelhock being let go and Berger finished out the remainder of the season, prior to BMW announcing it wouldn’t supply ATS engines for 1985 and thus Schmid was forced to shut down the team…

Erich Zakowski set up his own tuning company in 1968 to prepare Ford Escorts and renamed the organization Zakspeed in 1970, which gained notoriety from its all mighty Capri racing cars, before moving into Sports Cars with Ford and in 1984 Zakspeed decided to enter Formula 1 as a Constructor with its own four cylinder turbocharged engine.

The West sponsored 841 chassis driven by Dr. Jonathan Palmer made its debut at the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix. When Palmer was injured in a Sorts Car accident, Christian Danner took over for two races, with Palmer returning for the 1986 season.

After running the 861, an upgraded version of the original car with mixed results, a new 871 was produced for 1987, which saw drivers Martin “Billy Bob” Brundle and Danner as teammates after Palmer had departed for Tyrrell. The new car proved to be fast and Brundle scored the teams first points with a fifth place finish at the San Marino Grand Prix.

The turbo rules for their swan song season in 1988 were quite restrictive and Zakspeed found its engines down on power and lacking reliability for new drivers Piercarlo Ghinzani and F1 rookie Bernd Schneider.

For 1989, Zakowski thought he’d gotten ahead in the new normally aspirated era with the securing of Yamaha V-8 “lumps” for his 891 chassis designed by Gustav Brunner, but with the increased number of entrants, the team was forced into the position of having to pre-qualify for each Grand Prix and Schneider only managed this feat twice, at the first and last races of the season, while newcomer Aguri Suzuki failed in all 16 attempts. At mid-season, West who’d sponsored the team for five seasons announced withdrawing its support for the team in 1990 and Zakspeed switched to Touring Cars for 1990, having great success with the team being run by Erich’s son Peter…

Having been forced to sit out the majority of the turbo era after BMW refused to supply his team engines in 1985, former ATS owner Gunther Schmid sold out his portion of ATS Wheels and purchased rival wheel producer Rial. With the return of Formula 1 to normally aspirated engines for the 1989 season, Schmid co-erced former ATS designer Gustav Brunner to depart Ferrari and design his new Rial ARC1/Cosworth, which was fondly known as the “little blue Ferrari,” since it closely resembled Brunner’s 1987 Ferrari design. The team hired perennial chassis chucker “DECRASHERIS” (Andrea de Cesaris) as its driver, who ran as high as sixth in Brazil due largely to the car’s undersized fuel tank… De Cesaris scored a fourth place finish at Detroit, which garnered the team ninth in that season’s championship.

With Brunner having left early in the 1989 season to join Zakspeed, Bob Bell, who’s now Renault’s Chief Designer reworked Brunner’s chassis for the 1990 season, while the team became a two car effort for new drivers Christian Danner and Volker Weidler. Although Danner scored a fourth place finish at Phoenix, albeit one lap behind, he was later fired, with Gregor Foitek and Bertrand Gachot replacing him, while Weidler had previously been let go and was replaced by PiAerre-Henri Raphanel, with the latter three drivers having no success. Schmid then shut down the team at the end of the 1990 season…