Truck Grand Prix Takes A Break After Nürburgring
Following the climactic event of this year’s FIA European Truck Racing Championship, the Truck Grand Prix on the Nürburgring, the long-awaited holiday break is now upon us. In earlier years, till 2004 that is, the circus headed directly from the Eifel to Finland. And even if that journey was time-consuming, most of the participants actually found racing up north very relaxing after their wrestles on the Ring. In the six years till the 2010 season there was a good six-week gap. That year the race at Smolenskring was added to the calendar, scheduled two weeks after the TGP. The expedition to Russia through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia was somewhat of an adventure for everyone, with high levels of stress all round, not to mention the enormous amounts of time and money involved. Many teams had no chance at all to drop in at their workshops.
This year there’s no race in Russia, so the truck racers are using the time following the TGP to revive and refresh.
The grand show that the 170,000 spectators at the Ring so enjoyed was anything but fun and games for those responsible for making it the biggest European festival for trucking fans that it has come to be. But all the hard work and stress paid off handsomely — at the end the fans had absolutely no cause for complaint, certainly not about the marquee event on the Müllenbachschleife.
Among the TGP’s top highlights, and indeed emblematic of the entire weekend, are the acts by stars from the German pop and country scene, and of course the massive fireworks display. On Saturday evening, however, there was a bit of uncertainty about the programme because of a storm alert. On Sunday afternoon there was another one. But the heavens decided to play sporting and each time the storm front simply passed the Ring over.
It returned with a vengeance, though, on Monday morning and some of the teams that took guests and VIPs on rides in their trucks had to negotiate the Ring in sheeting rain. Those who were still busy taking down their tents were drenched to the bone.
As at the four earlier events this season, local hero Jochen Hahn very much helped set the tone. The MAN pilot surely hoped to have achieved greater distinction than he actually did in the races. In the run-up to the TGP Hahn was third overall with a 15-points deficit; after the TGP the defending champ lies in the same position, albeit having managed to reduce the gap by four points. His numerous fans, and not only they, had harboured hopes of his regaining the championship lead at his home races.
With his MAN colleagues Antonio Albacete (ESP) and Norbert Kiss (HUN) only 11 and 8 points ahead, there’s still some way to go. In any case, a driver can in an ideal situation take all 60 FIA points up for grabs at a weekend, like Hahn himself did at Misano in 2011 — and there are four more weekends to go.
While the media usually focus their attention on the top three pilots, let’s not forget that there are 20 more trucks in the fray. And the action in midfield is often much more exciting, with more overtaking and less tactical thrust-and-parry. None of this, of course, is lost on the fans at the racetrack — these drivers are as sought after for autographs as Hahn & Co, even if the general public might hold them in somewhat lower esteem.
Many years ago Lutz Bernau instituted the Sponsors Challenge for racers that don’t figure among the Top 10. On the Saturday evening of the season-ending weekend there would be a special ceremony apart from the regular race proceedings, which the fans usually knew nothing about. But now that it’s become the TRO Challenge, Truck Race Organisation president Fabien Calvet’s goal is to have a TRO podium ceremony at every race weekend, immediately following the final race. It was no wonder, then, that there were many more fans and team members here, and their jubilation was several notches (and decibels) higher, than at the respective FIA ceremonies.
This was in fact nothing but a rather exuberant expression of the kindred spirit that has long set the FIA European Truck Racing Championship apart from – and above – most other motor racing series. Portuguese Renault driver José Rodrigues in second was joined on the TRO podium by two Germans — race-by-race pilot Gerd Körber, who drove to top spot in his Schwabentruck Iveco, and André Kursim from tankpool24, the only Mercedes team in the FIA ETRC. Watching the ebullience with which his third place was celebrated, you could be forgiven for thinking the rookie had won the championship!
All the excitement somewhat shadowed another significant award, that of Truck Master Germany. This was won by England’s Chris Levett, who capitalised on his pole position in qualifying to finish first in both races for the Mittelrhein Cup.