They had to postpone their planned debut in the 24 Hours of Dubai earlier this year; with a new technical partner and a new car, Mission Possible Racing turned its premiere at the 12 hours of Zandvoort into a powerful statement: Anything is possible.
For the first time, a crew of paraplegic drivers has completed an endurance race, with a more than creditable result: 27th overall, 5th in class for Gustav Engljähriger, Marc Dilger, Mike Smit und Marek Wisniewski.
Along with wheelchair designer Rainer Küschall, Engljähringer is one of the driving forces behind the project. His plan was to do double duty on that weekend, and head back to Austria to drive his own car at the Salzburgring on Sunday:
“But the race was more exhausting than I had expected. The flight was booked but I simply couldn’t do it.”
So it wasn’t the post-race party at all!
Before the event, everyone’s focus was on getting on the grid of a race at all, as they had already announced for Dubai – a matter of pride, if nothing else:
“Our first objective was to get in the race, and get to the finish. That lasted till free practice, when we started paying closer attention to our times!”
Two days later, Engljähringer brought the BMW M235i across the finish line, to the accolades of spectators and competitors alike: “Many came over during the race to have a closer look at how we were getting on. There were a lot of smiles and thumbs up. They all seemed quite happy for us.”
The car and team proved to be a wise choice: “Our collaboration with Sorg Rennsport was a positive experience from beginning to end. They are a cool, uncomplicated group of people, always on top of any situation. The car ran without a hitch.” A new software for the automatic mode of the double clutch ‘box worked well, by-and-large, “with the occasional upshift under braking …” – How does the BMW M235i compare with Engljähringer’s usual vehicle, a thundering V8STAR silhouette racer? “Driving the BMW is much more relaxed. It is much less complicated to go on a flyer with the BMW than it is with the V8STAR that demands your attention all the time.”
Attention-getters during the race were the heavy traffic and the deteriorating driving standards: “Zandvoort is a tough track, quite narrow and with no actual straights. As early as lap 4, the leaders were upon us. They worked the traffic well until the closing stages when you could tell, people are less attentive, more aggressive, things are not as controlled as they used to be.” – Indeed, one competitor nudged Engljähringer into a spin late in the race.
‘Loons on wheels’
Rainer Küschall was unable to get behind the wheel for the team’s debut:
“Watching from the garage was very tough for him.” Local resident Mike Smit proved invaluable to the team in the paddock as well as on the track, with his knowledge of the track and the people at Zandvoort. Marek Wisniewski of Poland provided the Sorg crew with some extra work when he put the BMW in the barrier.
Germany’s Marc Dilger got his racing license only days before the event, but was no stranger to club racing: “He has a higher degree of paralysis than the others”, Engljähringer points out, “so his performance was particularly impressive.”
The team received one major privilege from the organisers: “In addition to our four man pit crew, we had an additional helper to get us our wheelchairs. Daniel Sorg, our team manager, dragged us out of the car by our ears and sat us in our chairs. We didn’t lose all that much time during our stops. And we are looking into ways of optimising that, some technical modification on the car could yield real improvement there.”
The officials were sceptical at first: “On Thursday they wanted proof that we could get out of the car by ourselves. You could tell they hadn’t ever had to deal with a bunch of loonies with wheels under their backsides! So everyone was all the more relieved after the race.”
Engljähringer was impressed with the Creventic group and their handling of the event: “they are a small, well organised team where everyone knows what they are doing. They get their job done without much fuss, and they make you feel at home. The endurance format is attractive, too; with a lot of track time for every driver.”
With this in mind, will the mission continue? “Now that we have launched this trial balloon, everyone is motivated to go further. We’ll allow the emotion to settle, but we are thinking about Dubai 2015. We’ll have to figure out the most prudent approach, though. After all, we don’t print our own money!”