TechArt underlined its 2008 win by snatching overall victory at this year's Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix. And just to ram home the point, it swept the board in two other classes as well.
Run by the German performance car magazine, Sport Auto, the Tuner GP started off as an internal test day at Hockenheim 17 years ago. A few readers turned up, and the following year Sport Auto decided to turn it into a full-blown spectator event, with a drift challenge thrown in for good measure.
The rules are simple. Every entrant must be totally road legal, with the TÜV certification to prove it. In Germany, every single part that goes on sale, even a wooden gear knob, has to be tested and certified by the TÜV authorities, to guarantee perfect fit and safety in operation.
Just as with normal organized motorsport, the cachet of winning the Tuner GP means a lot in image and sales terms. Because of this, the interpretation of "road legal" became rather ambiguous over the years.
The great thing about fully adjustable coilovers is that you can make them comfortable enough for road use at one end of the spectrum, and firm enough for track-day use at the other. That said, a track-day setup on a road car is still far off the settings for a true racing car.
However, in 2004, a number of cars came close to being thinly disguised racecars, and were protested by other competitors. The following year, Sport Auto and Dekra, the official third party scrutineers, made doubly sure that the interpretation of "road legal" left nothing to the imagination.
The Tuner GP normally takes place at the end of May, but due to public holidays, it was a month later this year. The format is practice sessions on Friday afternoon and the event proper on Saturday morning, with the Drift Challenge after lunch.
The event was originally divided into half a dozen classes. But as the age of the performance SUV and turbodiesel dawned, more classes were added, and coupes and cabriolets were also split off. There are now separate classes for naturally aspirated and forced induction sedans, while the kerfuffle over the street legal issue spawned the Open Class, where anything goes.
Things tend to get boring and predictable if you have exactly the same program every year, so the organizers try to vary things to keep interest high. However, the suggested third event for this year, a 400-meter sprint, was cancelled, as there were too few entrants.
In past years, a fastest lap was the clincher for a class, or overall win. The major change this year was the averaging of five flying laps, thus putting consistent speed ahead of one blinding lap.
In terms of marques, while BMWs have always figured heavily in the Drift Challenge, the cars have not been represented in the Tuner GP itself since 2006. This is a strange state of affairs as the M3 is a fairly effective track-day tool.
This year, however, BMW made a big comeback with two M3s and a 335i. The E92 M3 entered by A-Work, a Munich-based BMW, MINI and Porsche race and road tuning specialist, entering the Tuner GP for the very first time. With just a sport exhaust on a stock engine, the company's E92 M3 won the Naturally Aspirated Sedan Class in the hands of legendary multiple Tuner GP winner, Wolfgang Kaufmann. His 1 minute, 12.534-second average and 1:12.201 fastest lap put the A-Work M3 right up with some of the slower turbocharged Porsches.
The other M3 was the VF Engineering-supercharged E46 M3 CSL entered by Auto Tauber. Its 1:12.787 average and 1:12.656 fastest lap earned a well-deserved second in the Coupe/Cabriolet Class, sandwiched between TechArt's spectacularly fast GTstreet R Cabriolet and the Vath SLK55 Compressor.
Proving the point that a well set up 335i can actually be faster than an M3, Evotech Motorsport's torquey 397-hp 335i posted a 1 minute, 11.863-second average and a 1:11.681 fastest lap. Running in the Open Class, for cars with modifications that aren't street legal, it finished third after Welzel Motorsport's single-seat formula car and THF Racing's Porsche GT3 RS.
It used to be a foregone conclusion that a Mercedes-AMG car could never achieve a podium finish in the annual GP. A heavy, automatic, rear-driven car, no matter how powerful, simply stood little chance against the hordes of Porsche 911s and BMW M3s.
This was the year that changed all that. Not only did a pair of C63 AMG-based cars from Vath and Lorinser snatch second and third places on the podium, the Vath C63 that came close second in the C3 Class (naturally aspirated sedans) to the very quick M3 was the estate car (wagon) version.
However, when the stopwatches were punched, the Vath T-Model was a mere 0.6 seconds behind, its 1:13.056 average in the hands of Andreas Gulden. This was the fastest time ever set by a Mercedes in the GP's 17 years.
As with all motorsport events, driver skill is a big part of the equation, with the ability to reach peak performance and hold it over the measured laps critical for a class or overall win.On that score, Wolfgang Kaufmann had a slight edge in consistency, even if his and Gulden's best flying laps came a lot closer than their averages. The 430-hp M3's fastest lap was 1 minute, 12.201 seconds, while the 565-hp Vath V63 RS clocked an impressive 1:12.801. Both times are very quick for this class.
Tires are a big factor in the lap time battle, and even on the relatively short 1.63-mile-long Hockenheim Club Circuit, they can make close to three seconds difference to a lap. This was clearly highlighted in the C3 Class, where the M3 and Vath cars ran on the street-legal rubber allowed under the rules, while the Lorinser LV8 was on Continental Sport Contact 3 street tires simply because Conti's new track-day tires will not be available until the autumn. Thus, the 500-hp Lorinser LV8, driven by Sasha Bert, recorded a 1:15.717 average with a 1:15.397 best lap.
Vath was very prolific this year, and Andy Gulden also drove the 575-hp V63 RS in the C12 GT (naturally aspirated) Class where he finished third behind the very quick Cargraphic GT3 RSC 4.0 and the TiKT Performance Corvette. Ironically, this slightly more powerful and lighter sedan was slower than the estate with a 1:14.105 average and 1:13.712 best.
The third Vath car was the SLK55 V58K fitted with a factory Eaton supercharger running on relatively low boost for 450 hp. Entered in the C9 Forced Aspirated Cabriolet Class, it was no match for the TechArt GTstreet R Cabriolet or the Auto Tauber BMW M3, and finished third with a 1:22.760 average and 1:18.299 fastest lap.
Last but not least in the Vath contingent was the very purposeful looking 190E 2.3-16 Evo II that rivaled the winning MTM S1 Quattro rally car in the C16 Youngtimer Class (for bringing back memories of the good old days). This car is actually a 2.3-16 that was brought up to 2.5-16 Evo II bodywork spec. It was of particular interest because of its engine modifications, with the K-Jetronic injection system replaced by a Magneti-Marelli fully-mapped ignition/fuel-injection system using a single throttle per cylinder. A bespoke airbox with conical filter adds to the deep, gurgling induction sound when you pin the throttle to the lightweight carpet, and helps bump peak power to around 270 hp. Inside, a full bolted-in roll cage, race-style deep-dish steering wheel, and lightweight race seats trimmed in leather and Alcantara, endorse the car's track-day intentions. The ironic counterpoint to all this serious race hardware is the early '90s-style car phone cradle on the center console. But even 270 hp, a race-style front splitter and sticky track day Yokohamas only took this venerable homologation special to a third-in-class finish. It clocked a 1 minute, 19.311-second average, with a 1:19.183 best.