The 2017 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix Puts Racing Royalty On The Nürburgring
Photography by Gaëtan Brunetti
For some time now, the second weekend of August has seen European petrolheads and classic car enthusiasts of the world converge in the Green Hell, and I counted myself among those crowds when I recently attended the 45th edition of the Oldtimer Grand Prix. Perhaps not only the most famed circuit in Europe but in the wider world as well, the Nürburgring is a hallowed place nestled in the mountains of northwestern Germany. It is a place that needs little introduction, if any. It was the battlefield for multiple series and for multiple decades, and the track’s presence is just as momentous as ever.
The event brought out an assortment of vintage race cars even during the rainy Saturday, and the exclusivity of the cars proved once again why the Automobilclub von Deutschland can proudly claim this event as one of the year’s premier vintage racing celebrations. The ingredients are certainly all there.
I mentioned the rain, right? Saturday saw quite a lot of water pooling up in between the red and white curbs and in the various dips and climbs of the tarmac, and the sky seemingly had no limit to the reservoir of wetness it was using to keep us soaked for the day’s entirety. This is not ideal weather for classic cars, and certainly not for bringing them to the track, and the Nürburgring of all places? Not the most relaxing drive, surely.
That said, the fickle weather and the inclement side of it is quite a normal sight here in the Eifel Mountains, and I heard many calling it “Nürburgring weather.” In keeping with this attitude, many categories of the historic competition vehicles still took to the starting grids to hunt for speed and its attendant pleasures while the wipers got down to their hurried work too.
Seeing these cars and the rooster tails of spray jetting out behind them was impressive, no doubt about it, but its real impact was in giving me a visceral sense of just how insane the racing here could be. Just imagine, for a second, driving something like Lauda’s 312 at the ‘Ring with no fancy driver aids and a damn stick shift! In the rain! I suppose some other people had the same notion of how dangerous this was too though, as there’s definitely a reason F1 doesn’t tackle the Nordschleife anymore (and as much fun as it’d be to watch, it’s probably best to leave the GP races to the GP track).
Sunday was the anti-Saturday, and the return of the sun brought out larger crowds and more cars to the course. Of all the groups that went out though, there were three that I found particularly exciting as a spectator. The Historic Grand Prix cars from the ‘60s and the FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 machines from the ‘80s both illustrated two different but decidedly insane periods of open-wheeled racing, and I can only imagine what it could have been like if the turbo era of F1 had kept competing on the North Loop. This year also saw an impressive turnout in the Tourenwagen Classics group (think DTM, STW, BTCC, etc.), and it was a treat to see some rarities like the Nissan Primera, Ford Mondeo, or the Volvo S40 in addition to the legends like the BMW E30 M3s and the Mercedes-Benz 190E EVOs that dominated here. Of course, who can forget about the Italian contingent though? I could certainly always here the Alfa 155 V6 screaming through to its 12,000 RPM top end. It sounded like an F1 engine! Just awesome. The kind of noise that produces goosebumps even in the bright warm sun.
However good those three groups were though, the best category of this incredible weekend was certainly the Revival Deutsche Rennsport-Meisterschaft. I’ve never seen so many special cars all at speed and burying their throttles on in the same place. No less than ten M1 Procars were fighting for position in one moment, while Zakspeed Escorts and Capris chased down BMW CSLs and Porsche 935s. The half hour that these cars were track went by feeling like 30 seconds instead, but after seeing meter-long flames and hearing the engines winding out when the rear tires lost traction, I had plenty of things to remember and replay in my head afterwards. Bumps, scrapes, slides, staccato revs preempting downshifts, there was really just no respite for these cars, and as a fan I couldn’t have been happier to witness the frantic action.