November 12, 2012 12:32 PM |
Posted By: HenryCatchpole
Rated 4.2 out of 5.0 by 6 members
The engine just behind my shoulders barks with all the hard-edged fury of Hades’ very own guard dog as the small driver next to me blips the idling engine. There's a flurry of hands as a flustered mechanic leans in through the open door and does my six-point harness up. I could probably sue him for indecent assault given where some of the belts are being tugged from but with temperatures in the engine bay rising and brakes and tyres cooling this is not the time to worry about ‘excuse me’ and ‘would you mind if I just reached under there’. My lid bounced off the roll cage as I dropped into the tight Recaro and my feet are jostling a fat fire extinguisher in the footwell. It’s snug in here. The view out of the hugely raked ‘screen is also vertically restricted by a large sunstrip with (from my pov) TEUQIP printed across it. It’s not him driving today, however.
As the door slams shut I’m desperately fiddling with a GoPro but it’s refusing to work and Sam Riley outside with the main camera clearly can’t hear me through my radio mic. Seemingly we’re not going to get any video from this, so all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy what’s about to unfold over the next two laps, drink it in and then do things the old-fashioned way – try to relay it all to you with some barely adequate words in a blog.
The driver is a small, elderly man in an open face helmet, with spectacles. He’s wearing BMW overalls that were once white and could now be described as a dirty ivory, the colour of often played piano keys. If I’m honest, he doesn’t look capable of manhandling much more than a cup of cocoa up to bed at night let alone the brutish car we’re in. These, sadly, will probably be very much ‘demonstration laps’ of a BMW M1 Procar then. It looks unbelievably cool though with its flared arches, wedge nose, enormous wing and BMW Motorsport tricolour stripes splashed across the otherwise white bodywork. Just one bazooka of an exhaust is making all the noise at the back, and what a noise. It’s somehow more complex than the shriek of an F1 engine, but too raw to be related to a road car and the decibel count is stratospheric.
I notice the dog-leg first from the raod car remains but the clutch is clearly a bit of a brute as we judder the first couple of yards out into the pitlane of the modern Nurburgring GP circuit. The pit lane is swarming with people and cars yet as soon as the M1’s rolling and the clutch is in, the small gentleman next to me gives the throttle a big stab, lights up the rear slicks and we slew slightly sideways down the crowded stretch of tarmac at something well above the advertised speed limit. I imagine pitlanes didn’t have speed limits last time he raced.
‘He’ is Harald Grohs. Born 1944. Drove over 50 24hr races during his career. Crashed on the Nordschleife at Hohe Acht rolling seven times, yet escaped uninjured. Also raced in the original Procar championship. Procar, in case you’re not aware, was run for just two seasons in 1979 and 1980 at European rounds of the F1 Calendar, with a stellar line-up of drivers including Fittipaldi, Hunt, Jones, Stuck, Andretti and Lauda amongst others. The M1s that made up the grid were group 4 spec, weighed a smidgen over 1000kg and their Paul Rosche developed straight sixes kicked out 470bhp at 9000rpm. From videos like this it looks like it must have been incredible…
With hands at ten-to-two on the wheel for a bit more leverage Grohs manhandles the M1 into the tight hairpin at the end of the pit straight and then promptly spins up the tyres again on the vast exit holding the resultant slide all the way across to the red and white kerbing on the other side of the track. What then follows is a quite masterful display of driving. Every sonorously sublime down-change is quick and blip-perfect, even back into first for the chicane. And there is absolutely no holding back; from the passenger seat it feels like an incredibly intimidating brute of a thing but Grohs is most definitely in charge of the car, cajoling it into a decent lap time. He’s fast, but in a way you just don’t see these days - he’s overdriving it beautifully. Out of a corner the revs might flare wildly like a tiger provoked, but never more than he wants them to - just enough to let the chassis get up on tip toes and flow. Down the main straight, so addictive is the squeeze of positive g allied to the glorious soundtrack filling my head that I never want it to end. Then it’s down the gears back into that first hairpin, before a long left over a crest falling into a snaking switchback Grohs hustling the car all the way. Any snap of oversteer is instantly reacted to with a quarter or even half-turn of lock but it’s merely stabilised rather than quelled, ridden out into a beautiful slide which maintains progress down the track. What’s even more gratifying is that Grohs is quite clearly enjoying it all.
Interestingly I got another chance be a passenger in the same M1 later on in the afternoon (everyone else had left for the airport), this time sitting next to one of the current DTM drivers and his driving style couldn’t have been more different. He leaned on the nose of the car much more, working the front tyres harder, keeping it neat and snuffing out any slip with the super-quick hand movements of someone more used to flighty, aero-reliant cars. There was hardly any sliding and if there was it was those front tyres losing purchase. It felt more timid, almost like he was slightly scared of how much it would bite him if he didn’t keep it on a tight rein. I’m sure his lap times would have been quick, but it just didn’t feel like car and driver matched in quite the same wonderful way as when Grohs was behind the wheel.