Friday, July 11, 2008

The Three Rings of Germany

While I suppose there have been other venues to host major races in Der Fatherland, I’ll focus upon what are known to be truly the Big Three, a.k.a. AVUS, The Hockenheimring and the Nordschleife…

AVUS was the popularly used acronym for the Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungs-Straße, a racing circuit located on the southwestern outskirts of Berlin, which called for construction to hopefully begin in 1907.

Yet, this racing circuit and automotive test track was primarily nothing more then two extremely long straights connected by ninety degree flat radius turns, with automobiles circulating counter clockwise, while groundbreaking was delayed by six years due to lack of finances… And construction was further halted in 1913 due to further lack of funding, while during World War I, Russian prisoners were conscripted into the completion of the racing venue, which still remained unfinished in 1918.

Additional funding was made by a businessman and in 1921, upon the circuit’s grand opening, measured 19 kilometers, (12 miles) with the two long parallel straights being approximately half that length.

The circuit hosted the first German Grand Prix in 1926, a race for Sports Cars won by the German Ace Rudolf Caracciola, driving a Mercedes. Yet AVUS would face competition For Germany’s top racing events from the newly completed Nurburgring. *1927)

In an attempt to boost its image as the worlds fastest racing venue, the North Curve was rebuilt in 1937, steeply banked at 43 degrees, made out of brick and quickly gaining the moniker; Wall of Death, as there was NO retaining wall to prevent competitors from flying off, if they missed the corner…

The all conquering Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes ran their speed record streamliners only once on this layout, also in 1937, with eventual winner Herman Lang completing the race at an average of 260+ kp/h (160mph) of which speeds wouldn’t be reached at the Brickyard for nearly a further three decades.

Interestingly, AVUS is wrongly credited as being the circuit in which the extremely popular racing driver Bernd Rosemeyer lost his life in 1938 during his quest for the top speed record, which actually occurred upon a similar portion of the Autobahn Frankfurt, which caused the AVUS to be deemed unsafe for competition… And with further expansion of the Reichsautobahn network being planned to connect to the track, the South Curve was demolished to make way for a new roadway junction.

After World War II, the Soviet Quarter and Berlin Wall’s checkpoint Bravo came NO further than one mile to the existing track, which various reports erroneously note that the Berlin Wall cut the track in half, yet a new South Curve was introduced, cutting the track’s lengthy straights in half and shortening the circuit to 8.3 kilometers (5+ miles) and a non championship Grand Prix was held in 1954, basically a Mercedes show of farce. In 1959, AVUS played host to the German Grand Prix, which was won by Tony Brooks in a Ferrari, yet sadly Brooks victory was overshadowed by the death of Jean Marie Behra in a supporting Sports Car race during the same weekend, as his Porsche went flying off the North Curve, which still lacked a retaining wall. The North Curve would stand this way until being demolished in 1967 to make way for further roadway additions.

From 1967 onwards, the AVUS played host to only Formula 3 and German Touring Car (DTM) races and the straights were reduced in length a further two times in the late 1980’s – early ‘90’s and with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the circuits time was destined to pass, with a farewell event being held in 1999. From 2000 onwards, the newly constructed EuroSpeedway (Lausitzring) Lausitz in Brandenberg has been considered the former circuit’s replacement.

The Hockenheimring was the last of these three major venues to be completed, with construction finishing in 1932, as

The nearly eight-kilometer circuit was viewed as an alternative to the Wildpark circuit and were primarily two long straights running thru the forest. After its completion, officials banned competition on the Wildpark circuit with Motorcycle racing taking place at Hockenheim instead. The track was then extended to be utilized as a testing facility for the Mercedes Benz’s and Auto Unions in 1936 and the venue was renamed Kurpfalzring from 1938-47.

After World War II Grand Prix Motorcycle racing resumed at the venue and with the newly finished Autobahn A6 section completed in 1965, the original track layout was revamped, with the new Motordrome stadium section.

Yet Germany and German drivers were banned from International competition from 1945-1950 and hence Germany did not take part in the inaugural season of the modern Formula 1 championship in 1950. Thus, the German Grand Prix first resumed its place upon the F1 calendar in 1951, yet the Hockenheimring wasn’t pressed into Grand Prix service until 1970, when the Nurburgring was deemed unsafe by the Formula 1 drivers on short notice. Although the German Grand Prix returned to an updated Nurburgring circuit in 1971, Niki Lauda’s horrific crash there in 1976 sealed the tracks fate towards hosting any further Formula 1 events, with the German Grand Prix moving to Hockenheim from 1977 onwards, with the exception of 1985.

Unfortunately the Hockenheimring first garnered International media exposure when sadly in April 1968, Double World Champion Jimmy Clark perished in an F2 event, crashing somewhere out in the forest portion of the circuit. In 1980 Patrick Depailler lost his life during a testing accident aboard his Alfa Romeo at the very fast Ostkurve, while lesser known Bert Hawthorne was also killed during an F2 race at the circuit in 1972.

Facing pressure from Bernard Ecclestone, the track was severely shortened and chopped up by Herman Tilke’s circuit redesign in 2002 and in 2006, Emperor Bernardo announced that Germany would no longer be home of two Grand Prix’s, as the Nurburgring and Hockenheimring would take turns hosting the German Grand Prix from 2007-2010, with the Nurburgring hosting the event in 2007 and 2009.

Y’all may know, I’ve previously scribbled a few yarns about one of the world’s best racing tracks, the Nordschleife, a.k.a. The Nurburgring… Which actually originally consisted of four separate circuits; “With the main course being the Gesamtstrecke ("Whole Course") being 28.265 kilometers (17.563 miles) total length. This course comprised of The Nordschleife ("Northern Loop;" 22.810k) and The Sudschleife ("Southern Loop;" 7.747k) and a Warm-up loop in the pit area, The Zielschleife ("Finish Loop;" 2.281k) which was known as Betonschleife.

With early races taking part on public roads, this was deemed unsafe and in an attempt to create work and lure visitors to the region the purpose built racing venue began construction in 1925 under the design tutelage of Gustav Eifel…

The track hosted its first Motorcycle race in June, 1927 and the first German Grand Prix for racing cars was held one month later, with the circuit being open to the public during evenings and weekends as a one way toll road. The Ring’s whole loop was used for the last time in competition in 1939, prior to the outbreak of WWII.

After the war, the German Grand Prix took place at the Nurburgring, on The Nordschleife (14.2 miles) and in practice for the 1961 event, American Phil Hill became the first driver to crack the nine minute mark, with a staggering lap of 8:55.2…

Yet drivers ever demanding safety concerns eventually doomed the track’s F1 existence, as two three year contracts were granted after the 1970 Boycott and ironically 1976 was to be the final race prior to Niki Lauda’s incident, as Lauda had become the only driver to lap the Nordschleife in under seven minutes… 6:58.6! Ironically, Lauda had urged the Grand Prix drivers to boycott the 1976 race due to his concerns over the tracks deteriorating safety standards…

With the German GP now shifted to the Hockenheimring, work began in 1981 on an ultra modern, safety conscious track next to the old Nordschleife, which itself was shortened to 12.9 miles in order to host 1000 kilometer and 24hrs endurance racing events for Sports and Touring Cars. The new, stale, clinical “Ring” was opened in 1984 with an All Star race with various Formula 1 drivers competing in identical Mercedes Benz’s 190E’s, with Ayrton Senna winning. In 1985 the new 4.5k circuit hosted its only German Grand Prix, before hosting either the European or Luxemburg Grand Prix’s from 1995 to 2006 during the Michael Schumacher reign…

And as I previously noted after watching a Grand Am race in 2007…

Y’all know what they say ‘bout Co-eansy-dences… As I sat down to take a break last night. I watched my first entire Grand Am race of the season, which was being contested at Watkins Glen. And the action was fairly entertaining… Although the Grand Am and the ALMS seem to suffer a similar fait as did Champ Car and the IRL. (Pre Unification)

Immediately afterwards, there was the Nurburgring staring’ back at me via the telescreen. As SPEED was showing an entertaining half hour snippet of the World’s LONGEST race track, with The Nordschleife taking four years to build, between the years of 1923 to 1927. And although I’ve written it has over 175 corners, these numbers vary depending upon how they’re counted. As the announcer claimed there’s only 72 corners. (Actually there were 174 “Bends” prior to 1971 track modifications, with further corners being removed during later Formula 1/FIA safety improvements)

Having seen the latter half of the show previously, I’d missed the beginning and mumbled to myself how Interestingly, while there’s been a big fuss made over Audi’s winning of Le Mans (with a diesel, (2007-08) along with the Peugeot’s 908 turbo diesel contender’s... A BMW 320D won the Nurburgring 24 Hours race in 1998. Becoming the very first diesel powered vehicle to win a 24hr event…

And while the “Wee Scot” was never a fan of the track. Due to his relentless safety demands. Jackie Stewart won a Formula 1 race in the rain, beating the second place car by over 4 minutes! But the track was withdrawn from the F1 calendar after Niki Lauda’s fiery crash in 1976.

Also I was unaware that it was Stewart who nicknamed it the Green Hell. And prices have gone up slightly, as it will now cost you 16 Euros per lap to reconnoiter this truly epic circuit…