The Drift Challenge was more of an exhibition this year than a competition. As usual, MKB's Werner Gusenbauer was inch-perfect all the way in MKB's new 581-hp CLK63 drift car, and received a resounding ovation.
And so to the winners. This year's Tuner GP winner was the TechArt GTstreet RS driven by Jorg Hardt, the 1999 German Formula Ford 1800 Champion and Carrera Cup regular. Anyone watching Hardt drive the 700-hp 911 down to the winning numbers was witnessing an exercise in restraint and consistency behind the wheel. He was line-perfect, and smooth on throttle and steering to the point where the car looked quick but rather unspectacular. The timing clocks said otherwise, however, and his 1 minute, 08.037-second average, with a best lap of 1 minute, 07.709 seconds in a GT2-based Porsche on street legal rubber, was simply awesome. When you consider that this was the same lap time for a 420-hp Le Mans-qualifying Carrera RSR from 1999 with a full race setup and slick tires-from a street legal car-it's mighty impressive.
Because Hockenheim's Club Circuit has very short straights and plenty of challenging corners, it is actually better suited to cars with great handling and grip rather than out-and-out power. If anything, very powerful cars struggle here because they cannot deploy their grunt effectively exiting the tight bends. So while it may seem strange that a 700-hp turbocharged Porsche can only achieve the same lap time as a 420-hp naturally aspirated one, the fact is that a very powerful street car, whether rear- or four-wheel drive, can be a real handful here.
The antithesis of the sleek GTstreet RS, the TechArt Magnum, is brutality personified, both in the way it looks and in the way it eats tarmac. While TechArt offers up to 680 hp with a tweaked twin-turbo V8, this Magnum had a stock Cayenne Turbo S motor because TechArt has not yet homologated the upgraded engine.
Enco is TechArt's traditional rival in the GP's SUV Class, and always puts up a good fight. In this clash of titans, Jorg Hardt drove the Magnum to a 1 minute, 16.939-second average and 1 minute, 16.455-second best lap to take the class win. The even more brutal-looking Enco Cayenne posted a 1 minute, 17.816-second average, piloted by Matthias Kahle. His best lap was 1:17.662.
TechArt's third victory was in the Coupe/Cabriolet Class, where Jorg Hardt took the class win with the white GTstreet R Cabriolet. His 1:09.601 average and 1:09.351 fastest lap showed off not just TechArt's tuning prowess, but also just how good a platform the basic Porsche 997 Turbo Cabriolet is.
Cargraphic was the overall runner-up again, its Turbo RSC GT 3.6 sliding into second place in the Turbo GT Class with a creditable 1:08.641 average and 1:08.417 best lap in the hands of Dominik Schwager.Cargraphic did pull off a win in the Naturally aspirated GT Class with its GT3 RSC 4.0, Timo Kluck driving to a blinding 1:09.748 average and a 1:09.641 fastest lap.
In Europe, Audi is a major contender these days, posting much better sales figures than BMW and Mercedes in these hard times. And with its latest engine and chassis improvements, it is also a force to be reckoned with on the track. MTM entered cars in several classes and came away with a few trophies for the effort. Its formidable 700-hp RS6 R was runner up in the Sedan (Turbo Class), narrowly beaten by the lighter and nimbler Mitsubishi Evo of Import Racing.
However, MTM's mechanic and pro-race driver, Florian Gruber, took the Diesel (over 2.0 liter) Class win with an Audi A5 3.0 TDI, as well as the Funcar (Turbo) Class win with the 318-hp KTM X-Bow. In fact, Gruber's average of 1 minute, 8.536 seconds, and best of 1:07.836, brought him so agonisingly close to the TechArt GTstreet RS for overall fastest time of the day, it hurt.
That, however, is the nature of motorsport and the Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix.
TechArt Trio -The Right Stuff
Underlining the 2008 victory, TechArt pulled off a real hat trick at this year's Tuner Grand Prix by not only winning the event overall, but also nailing three class wins as well.
A couple of weeks later, I'm at the Mercedes-owned Malmsheim test track near Stuttgart with the three TechArt machines glowing in the late afternoon sun, raring to go. Even stripped of their Tuner GP race numbers and stickers, they still look purposeful, and in the case of the black GTstreet RS, brutal.
I've driven all these cars before, but it is fitting that after their big win I should re-acquaint myself with the qualities that help them stand head and shoulders over the competition.
I climb into the chunky Magnum first. This particular Magnum is based on the latest-spec Cayenne Turbo S, but a normal Turbo is also a good starting point. TechArt has sold nearly 900 of these beasts since the Magnum concept was rolled out back in 2003. Bearing in mind that a fully decked-out Magnum doubles the price of the Cayenne Turbo, this is no mean achievement.
The TechArt Magnum's Class win was made sweeter by the fact that its 550-hp engine is stock apart from the free-flow sport exhaust that provides a truly lovely V8 bellow when you accelerate. Other than Magnum body styling, 30mm lower ride height and 23-inch wheels, this rest of the car also remains mechanically factory spec.The chassis upgrade makes the big five-door Porsche turn in and grip even more impressively than usual, and gives you the confidence to deploy its 550 horses with more gusto. Direction changes are crisper, and mechanical grip is in another league.
As the evening sky moves towards a gorgeous sunset, the white GTstreet R Cabriolet beckons. Using a Turbo Cabriolet as its starting point, it has been endowed with 660 hp and blasts to 62 mph in just 3.4 seconds, and on to 214 mph. The aerodynamic additions add 10kg of downforce over both axles at speed, while the big 8.5 and 12.0x20-inch forged alloy wheels and 245/30 and 315/25 tires make the most of the traction delivered by the all-wheel-drive system.
While many Cabriolet owners like the Tiptronic transmission for easy cruising, this car has a manual six-speed, and is all the more hardcore for it. Rocketing off the line, the boosted motor revs faster than stock and you have to pay attention to avoid hitting the rev limiter in the first two ratios. The half-mile-long runway is eaten up in seconds, and I have to really lean on the PCCB ceramic brakes as the end approaches. Loading the car up under power in a sweeping turn to go back the way I came shows just how stable and flex-free the 997 Cabriolet shell is.
On to the Champion. I first speed-tested the GT2-based TechArt GTstreet RS at Malmsheim in September 2008. This 700-hp machine does exactly what it says on the tin, with a devastating mix of blinding straight line go, precise handling and awesome grip.
"Street" is its middle name however, and none of this would be relevant if it wasn't civilized enough to also be a daily driver. TechArt's fully adjustable coilover suspension allows you to dial it up for the track and then back down again when you drive home.
Importantly, the optional hydraulic Noselift system raises the front of the car by a generous 60mm to clear car park ramps and speed bumps. Both major manufacturers and tuners have always successfully exploited the link between road and racecars. "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" is one of the most effective sales philosophies ever conceived, and since its Tuner GP victory, TechArt's phones have been ringing off the hook. -IK