After visiting a rather frigid Spa-Francorchamps at the end of May, the Group C Racing contingent met up once more for the second one-hour race of the 2013 season; this time the field of battle being some 90km across the border into Germany at another historic venue, the Nürburgring.
Qualifying would take place over two 45-minute sessions, with the first taking place late on Friday afternoon. As expected, the Sauber Mercedes C11 of Gareth Evans and Bob Berridge topped the times, while Adrian Watt was second in the C1 #15 Spice SE89 and Richard Eyre third in the #3 Jaguar XJR16.
Mike Donovan topped the C2 times in seventh, but his efforts had been badly hampered by a misfire; a reoccurrence of which in the second session would leave the #111 Spice SE88 only seventh on the grid.
Local favourite Klaus Abbelen was fifth fastest in the #10 Havoline-liveried Porsche 962, with Eric Rickenbacher sixth in the Swiss #60 Cheetah. Paul Stubber was only seventh in the #21 Veskanda, after what turned out to be a dramatic session – a suspension bolt shearing at 240kmh and sending the Australian car deep into the gravel; “Why it is always the way that when something fails it must occur at the fastest part of the circuit?” said Paul.
The car was recovered by the marshals, but the gravel had been so deep that paint had been scraped from the lower edges of the car. !!” Damax Engineering had the situation under control very quickly and had the car cleaned up and new parts installed ready for Saturday’s session.
Henrik Lindberg returned to the series after being forced to skip Spa at late notice, and took the #33 Tic Tac Porsche 962 to eighth after the first session, just ahead of the #28 Nissan R90CK of Kent Abrahamsson; and these two were followed by the #22 C1 Spice SE89C of Claus Bjerglund and the #104 C2 Spice SE88C of Chris Catt.
The Group C field next took to the 4.6km Grand Prix circuit just after midday on Saturday, with all cars taking part in the second 45 minute qualifying session – officially known as “Zeittraining” for some reason.
The Mercedes was again the quickest car and improved its time to set pole at 1:35.843, but it wasn’t Bob Berridge who set the time on this occasion; Gareth Evans taking full advantage of a new set of slicks to outpace his teammate.
Adrian Watt also bettered his time to go second, while the repairs to the Veskanda clearly did their job as the #21 improved to third; Paul Stubber going for it late in the session after a couple of shake-down laps. Things weren’t so positive for Richard Eyre, however, with the Jaguar grinding to a halt after 13 laps with plumes of smoke emerging from the engine bay as the car exited the Mercedes Arena. An examination by the team revealed that the damage was not fixable at the circuit and the car was reluctantly withdrawn.
Klaus Abbelen was also in the wars, with clutch issues being capped off by a spin for the Porsche into the gravel at the Coca Cola Curves five minutes from the end. The session was red-flagged as a result and not restarted, but the car was not badly damaged.
It was somehow fitting that the C11 should start from pole, given that the Eifelrennen meeting was a Mercedes-sponsored event – Jochen Mass and David Coulthard being in attendance, among others – and that the Team Sauber-Mercedes C11s scored a 1-2 finish at the same circuit in the 1990 World Sports Prototype Championship race. Conditions were overcast, but dry and warm, as the grid assembled for the one-hour race on Sunday – a big improvement after a very chilly Spa – but the sight of a throng of Group C cars will immediately brighten any surroundings.
Gareth Evans was at the wheel of the pole car for the first stint and made sure he held on to P1 as the pace car peeled off into the pitlane and the lights changed to start the race; the silver car rounding the Yokohama-S and heading into the Mercedes Arena with clear air between himself and the second placed car. This wasn’t Adrian Watt’s Spice, however, after the Applebee’s car suffered a quick spin at the first turn. The SE89 quickly recovered and ended the first lap still in fifth place.
Mike Donovan took advantage of the Spice’s spin to nip through into third in the #111 Rexona SE88 in the Arena, but couldn’t hold back the more powerful Frikadelli Porsche 962 on the straight after the Michael-Schumacher-S and had to settle for fourth at the end of the lap.
For Henrik Lindberg, though, the first lap was also his last as the #33 Porsche 962 suffered a driveshaft failure. The popular Dane was understandably very upset by this turn of events, but he will be back with a vengeance at Silverstone; few can match his sheer enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of driving in, Group C.
As the Mercedes began to pull away, the fight for the other positions continued. Abbelen managed to get by into second place on the third lap, while Eric Rickenbacher was closing in on Kent Abrahamsson a bit further back in the field; the Cheetah claiming sixth from the Nissan on Lap 4.
But as Mike Donovan attempted to get to grips with the Veskanda in the fight for third, he was to suffer frustration as the misfire of the previous days returned. Fortunately it was an intermittent issue, but it temporarily cost him fourth as Adrian Watt went by in the recovering #15 Spice. Two laps later, however, the C1 was heading to the pits with what its driver thought was a puncture. A quick examination by the team could see no obvious explanation for the problem and the car returned to the race, but a lap down and in last place.
By the time Watt had completed his unscheduled stop, Chris Catt had moved the #104 Spice SE88C ahead of Claus Bjerglund’s SE89C for eighth. This wasn’t the end of it, however, as the Dane in the C1 retook the place on Lap 8, before the British-driven C2 went by once again a lap later.
Just before the pit window opened, Eric Rickenbacher headed down the pitlane; not a mistimed stop, but a steering problem unfortunately. The team got to work, but it would be another 20 minutes before the Cheetah took to the track again and it would finish a dozen laps adrift of the winner.
Kent Abrahamsson was first in after the window opened, followed by Mike Donovan, Klaus Abbelen, Chris Catt and Adrian Watt a couple of laps later. The German in the black and gold 962 had lost two places on his inlap, however, as first and second gears suddenly disappeared, and – to his great disappointment – it was soon established that he would be unable to return to the track.
Gareth Evans came in from a sizeable lead on Lap 18, having soon before bagged what would stand as the fastest race-lap, and handed the C11 over to Bob Berridge. The stop was delay-free and the new driver continued to build on the car’s lead.
The PCA team made a couple of tweaks to the engine of Mike Donovan’s #111 Spice and he soon found himself about five seconds adrift of Paul Stubber in the Veskanda. The #21 had led the race for two laps after the Mercedes’ stop, and a very rapid turnaround by Damax – within two seconds of the minimum-allowed time – had kept the car in a strong position. It was now a run to the line between these two and the gap varied between two and five seconds as the remaining time ran down.
But there was nothing either of them could do about the Mercedes and Berridge crossed the line after 33 laps to continue the C11’s perfect season; “The car ran brilliantly again,” said a very happy Gareth Evans. “It’s an incredible piece of machinery and it’s great that we’ve taken the win at one of its spiritual homes!”
The Veskanda/Rexona fight went all the way to the line, but the Spice couldn’t get into that two-second buffer zone and the Australian car crossed the line 3.8s ahead of the C1 winner.
“After seeing a certain podium result getting away at Spa, this result was thoroughly deserved by the Damax team and we’re all delighted!” said Paul Stubber.
“That was great fun,” said Mike Donovan. “In fact, the whole event was great. We’re going to get the car onto the dyno in the next few days to try to get to the bottom of the misfire and we hope to be in good shape for Silverstone – hopefully, a few more C2s will come out to play there.”
Chris Catt saw off the challenge from Claus Bjerglund in the final few laps and finished a very creditable fourth overall in the #104 Spice on his 2013 debut, while Adrian Watt finished fifth and third in C1 and Bjerglund sixth. Kent Abrahamsson was unable to profit from Eric Rickenbacher’s problems and the R90CK was forced out with turbo problems after 38 minutes.
The Group C Racing series now has a six-week break before reconvening for the season-highlight; two races at the Silverstone Classic at the end of July – the first of which takes place in the twilight of Saturday evening and which proved to be so evocative and popular last year.