The 2002 Tuner Grand Prix at Hockenheim was plagued with rain for the first time in the event's 10-year history, but this year the weather returned to its normal form for early June and gave us two blazing hot days for practice and the Grand Prix.
The good weather brought out the crowd, and the grandstands were packed with thousands of car enthusiasts who vocalized their approval whenever a competitor pulled off a fast lap, a good powerslide or even a great save from a near departure into the gravel trap. It also meant the track was very hot and grippy; a lot of rubber was burned in a good cause.
There was a big issue with scrutineering this year. The rules-bending in previous years had grown to the point where some entrants' cars were thinly disguised racers. Complaints from entrants who had complied with the spirit and letter of the competition by using only parts type-approved for the public to buy and use on the road meant that something had to be done if the event were to remain fair and relevant.
So when they signed up back in March, entrants to this year's Tuner Grand Prix were presented with three pages of rules governing permissible modifications. All modifications had to have TV approval for legal road use, with an exhaust no louder than 95dB, 5dB more than EU factory production standards. In addition, tricky track-day rubber, like the Michelin Sport Pilot Cup, Dunlop Super Sport Race, Pirelli P Zero Corsa and Yokohama A048, was banned from the road-legal classes. The scrutineers provided by Dekra enforced the new rules to the letter.
Of course, every tuner likes to show what it can do in the way of ultimate spec, especially as some customers want cars specifically for track days. Thus, a new Open Class was introduced for such cars, which could use super-sticky track-day tires. Also new was the SUV class for tuned off-roaders. The sole entrant and therefore winner of this class was Gemballa's Cayenne Turbo.
While there was the usual proliferation of Porsches in the Coupe & Cabrio, GT and Open Classes, the big surprise was the absence of BMWs, which normally dominate the Limousine and Coupe & Cabrio Classes. In fact, there were only two BMWs among the 65 competitors across the nine classes, and one of these was a diesel!
The 185-bhp MK Motorsport 320d Compact was driven by Michael Krankenberg himself and finished third in class with a 1:22.923 lap. Sitting on 8.5Jx18-in. alloys with 225/40R18 rubber, the heavier rear-driven BMW was at a disadvantage against the lighter front-driven 170-bhp 1.9-liter VW Polo TDI from Wendland Motorentechnik, which won the Class, and the 163-bhp MTM Seat Ibiza TDI that came second.
The more spectacular looking BMW at the event was the E30 M3 Evo of Swiss tuner Hanni Motorsport, which was entered in the Open Class with Oliver Wittner at the wheel. With 250 bhp on tap, it was no match for the turbocharged Porsches, Donkervoorts and Caterhams that dominated the class. But Oliver made up for lack of sheer power by entertaining the crowd with lovely, controlled drifts through Sachs Curve. Maybe he was warming up for the afternoon's Drift Challenge?
There were plenty of Audis present this year, encouraged no doubt by the proliferation of the RS4 and RS6 cars, which start off with big horsepower and awd. MTM, SKN and others made full use of the latent potential of the twin-turbo V6 and V8 motors.
VW was another popular marque, and there was a huge diversity of models, from the old, early '90s Polo Coupe MkII with 136 bhp that took fourth in the Small Car Class, to Rothe Motorsport's full-house 505-bhp turbocharged Jetta V6 4-Motion. The fastest VW of the lot, it still did not stand a chance against the even more powerful RS Audis.
Somewhere in the middle was the 330-bhp Digitec Golf Turbo, which, despite its Race Logic traction control system, suffered from being front-wheel drive only. Nonetheless, it grabbed a creditable second place in the Compact Class, only a second a lap behind Rothe Motorsport's 380-bhp awd Audi S3.
If VW dominated the Small Car and Diesel Car Classes, Audi took the winning slots in the Compact, Limousine and Coupes & Cabrios Classes. These classes were won respectively by Jurgen Hohenester in the Rothe Motorsport Audi S3, Henning Renner in the 457-bhp Wheels Tech & SKN Motorsport Audi RS4 and Thomas Kappeler in the 450-bhp HMS Tuning Audi TT quattro.
Every single year from the start of the Tuner GP 11 years ago, Porsches have won the event. This year was no different, with TechArt taking the prize for the GT Class and Gemballa winning the new Open Class.
The two cars that achieved these wins were the same cars that locked horns in the GT Class last year. The TechArt GT Street S was entered as the sinister looking matte-black TechArt GT Street last year. It was crashed last October at the Nrburgring during a lap record attempt and was rebuilt over the winter and repainted in a vibrant shade of blue in the process.
As part of the work, the engine was uprated slightly to 646 bhp and the chassis set up to perfection. You could tell how well it handled as driver Frank Schmickler braked into and powered out of Sachs Curve. Watching it zoom through the quick left-right sequence of Opel Curve with impressive stability during the direction change only endorsed that impression, and the impressive 1:09.007 best lap clinched the GT Class win.
The 650-bhp GT2 Evo that Gemballa brought as its second car was just as fast in a straight line but seemed less happy in the bends. Piloted by last year's winner, Wolfgang Kaufmann, the car tended to oversteer exiting Sachs Curve and seemed on the edge through the bends. Even Kaufmann's superb driving ability could only push it to a 1:10.712 lap and second place.
Allowed much more radical modifications and special tires in the Open Class, the Gemballa GTR 650 Evo posted the fastest time of the day. Its 1:07.987 lap was just under a second faster than the second-placed 270-bhp, 680kg Donkervoort D8, also driven by Wolfgang Kaufmann. He also won the Fun Car Class with the D8, which had half the power and half the weight of the Porsche.
Fast laps are one thing, but for some spectators the major attraction of the day is the Drift Challenge held in the afternoon. There may only have been two BMWs in the Tuner Grand Prix, but they made up for that by fielding eight of the 26 entries in the Drift Challenge for professional drivers. In addition, 15 of the 29 entrants in the Drift Competition for non-professional drivers were BMWs.
The Drift Challenge is traditionally an event that the BMW M5 tends to dominate, and from his first spectacular run, Nrburgring instructor Timo Kluck looked set to win the Drift Challenge in his E39 M5.
Not only did Timo pull off three perfect slides through Sachs Curve, he carried on sideways through the subsequent left and right bends that make up Opel Curve. The crowd went wild with approval, and the judges, including the legendary Walter Rohrl, gave him top marks for both style and his impressive 5.875-sec. drift through Sachs Curve.
If the Vath SL55 AMG and SLK200 did not fare too well against their opposition in the Tuner GP, Wolfgang Vath showed he still had a sense of humor by entering his company's Sprinter Pickup truck in the Drift Challenge. His driver, Markus Grossman, did pretty well, picking up a sixth overall, placing with a 5.775-sec. drift.
The best-placed Mercedes in the Drift Challenge came fifth overall when Open Class winner Wolfgang Kaufmann kept the Brabus CLK 6.1 sideways for 5.775 sec. Although his time was the same as Grossman's, he picked up extra points for style.
There were a few Porsches entered this year, two in the Drift Challenge for professional drivers and five in the Drift Competition for amateurs. In the former, well-known Porsche engine builder and 24-Hour Oldtimer racer Michael Irmgartz took joint seventh place with a 5.75-sec. slide in his 911E 2.4, while Sven Herberger finished 14th with a 5.675-sec. slide driving a 996 Carrera 2.
Porsche fared better in the Drift Competition with a solid third place from Angelo Perez Riemer, who drifted the TechArt Boxster 3.6 for a full 5.85 sec. The ultimate irony, perhaps, is that the longest slide of the day in either class lasted 5.975 sec., coming from Michael Kuke in his home-built and quite standard-looking 240-bhp classic VW Beetle!
For more photos of the 2003 Tuner GP and Drifting Challenge, log on to europeancarweb.com.