Subscribers to Track and Driver will have seen a piece by Mono's own Peter Venn describing this year's race in an Aston Martin. Peter now gives a historical perspective on his participation in the race:
Writing my story on my early years in Mono, I mentioned the fact that in the intervening years I had mainly been racing on the Nürburgring but that was a story for another day. Now is another day…
My starting racing at the Nürburgring came about because of a career move to Germany in 1996. Having first driven around the Nordschleife in 1981 in my Mk2 Cortina estate which served as my towcar when I started in Mono with the March, I had learned a bit more by doing a BMW driving course (with my company 320i!) in 1988 but by 1996 that was my entire experience – a few road car laps but no race car experience.
In 1996 whilst helping out as a mechanic a few times for a team in Formula Renault and Formula König (a sort of German forerunner to Formula BMW), I had mentioned to the other mechanics that I wanted to race on the Nordschleife and one of them told me of the existence of the VLN series. This is a series of 10 endurance races throughout the season – a mix then of 3 1⁄/2, 4 and 6 hr races, now there are 10 rounds comprising eight 4hr races and two 6hr races. The series runs to the same rules as the 24hr race so nearly everyone does that as well though it is not a points scoring round of the championship. As most of you would know, the number of starters allowed on a race circuit is licensed by the FIA and based on the track length and width – hence more starters allowed on the Silverstone GP circuit than Mallory Park. The Nürburgring in the guise we use it is 24.33km long (15mls in old money) and the track licence allows for 230 starters in qualifying and 210 starters for the race (no, that’s not a typo…). So there are classes for just about everything – I have been 3 abreast overtaking a 1968 Mini Cooper doing about 90mph whilst I pass at about 130mph in a Civic Type R at the same time as we are both being passed at about 170mph by a Manthey Porsche.
In 1997 I debuted in the series in a Clio Mk1 cup car, sharing with a self employed roofer from Koblenz called Wolfgang Mayr. At the pre-season test I drove the car for the first time and was mortified to be 20 seconds a lap slower than Wolfgang – but the team seemed delighted. Wolfgang asked how many laps I had driven there – my answer was about 25 in total spread over 15 years. He then explained that he did 250(!) per year so I would learn the circuit soon but definitely needed more laps. The first race was wet and we qualified 3rd in class and I was to start. Halfway round the first lap I caught the leaders going I thought quite slowly, followed them at first then just drove past and pulled away. I screwed it all up by coming into the pits to change drivers a lap early as the fuel warning light was on – the team wasn’t ready and sent me out again. We had been leading by 2 minutes but we dropped to 2nd and stayed there. Returning the next week in the 205 GTi road car for some practice as I’d been quicker in the wet in some corners than previously in the dry paid off - after that I was quicker than Wolfgang but we only got one win..
This year was my 15th Nürburgring 24hrs in succession and this time in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. My first was in a Vauxhall Cavalier GSi, affectionately known by the team as Fireball as it caught fire during my stint. I stopped & put out the fire, they came out and repaired it and we continued to finish the race. Realisation that we were on fire came when I saw the white paint on the bonnet turning dark and crinkly… Not my only fire in the 24hrs. I drove a Donkervoort for a couple of years (effectively a professional drive – I was told I didn’t need to pay, just turn up and drive. Hotel and food were also paid. That felt good!) The Donkervoort was effectively a Dutch copy of a Caterham but a bit more substantially built (650kg instead of under 500kg) and using an Audi 4cyl turbo with about 300ps. It was fun at night because you could see the turbo glowing cherry red through the slats in the bonnet. Except for the night stint when I realised I could see red through the slats on both sides – one side was the turbo, the other was a petrol fire! So I stopped and hit the kill switch. Not a good idea – the night was pitch black and I could not see a bloody thing! Calling for a marshall with a fire-ex brought none. No-one came for ages until a spectator threw me one over the fence and I sprayed extinguisher through the slats. Stopping the engine and thus the flow of fuel had already minimised the problem so the fire was soon out. And again a pit crew had to struggle through the woods with bits to repair a burnt car. We finished. The next year we had my best result to date in the same car – 11th overall and class winners by about 20 laps.
During this time I got to drive various cars in the VLN – an ex team Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier Supertouring stands out as the best. I was sharing the car with Mike Newton, the car owner, and put the car on class pole, my first there, rattling the cage of the locals who were contesting the championship in their quick Grp A Astra but who were outgunned by a full BTCC spec Cavalier. That car had an Xtrac sequential box which had a column shift which was back to front – pull back to change down, push forward to change up. Mike always brought interesting cars – we also got a class win in his ex-Dick Johnson Ford Falcon Australian V8 Supercar (very quick but not as good as the Cavalier) but his Marcos 500 was more of a handful.
More recently I have mainly driven Hondas – Honda Germany sponsored a championship within a championship for Civic Type Rs running in the VLN. In the first year, 2002, we won €30,000 prize money and in the next a further €25.000 which amounted to about half of the seasons’ running costs. With sponsors covering the rest and selling the 2003 car for a profit at the end of the season it was most definitely my most successful season ever financially as I actually made a profit out of motor racing and that after about 3000 competitive miles of the Nürburgring! We then built a full-out race car Civic Type R– 285ps on throttle bodies for a normally aspirated 2ltr. Over 300 is possible but this was built to do a 24hr race. The car weighed only 955kg – unpainted carbon doors, tailgate and bonnet on an otherwise black car. People still remember me for that car even though we debuted it 7 years ago with a class win in the 6hrs first time out. If we’d had the money for an Xtrac sequential box as well it would have been unbeatable. My most recent own car was a WTCC spec Honda Accord with which we also got a class win on our debut. That was also a proper race car like the RML Cavalier – if you can call any FWD saloon car a proper race car. After the Anson none of them are really…
I don’t think you can ever get bored of the Nürburging but I was missing the cut and thrust of sprint races and missed driving a single seater so I’m pleased to have come back to Mono. But I won’t walk away from the Nürburgring. I’ve got over 20 class wins there now in ten different cars (I think I’m probably the most successful Brit there but mainly because I’ve been doing it longer than most) and it means I’m reasonably well known amongst the teams there so I get opportunities for subsidised drives which not everyone gets to hear about. But I cannot afford either the time or money to do 2 complete race series in different countries in the same season so Mono gets priority at the moment. Unless a fully funded drive comes my way.….
WTCC JAS-built Accord
Awesome Audi - 550ps Götz RS4
The famous lightweight Civic airborne in 2005
Team sponsor H&R even made our car into a wallpaper download from their website....