In drag racing circles, they say "the bullshit stops when you line them up." That's also true with aftermarket tuners. After all, when you contemplate spending a small fortune modifying your engine, suspension, wheels, tires, and brakes, you want to know that the finished car really will perform like it says on the box.
So on the last Saturday of every May for the last 18 years, the German performance car magazine Sport Auto has sponsored an event for the makers of these modified cars at Hockenheim Circuit. In the Tuner Grand Prix, the best-timed laps result in prizes for the top finishers in each of several categories.
Class 1 Winner:
Schäfer Clubsport GmbH & Co. KG
The first Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix took place in 1994, and was a closed event where the magazine staff at Sport Auto and a bunch of German tuners ran a timed shootout at Hockenheim. After the results and pictures were published however, readers asked if they could attend, and the event grew from there. In recent years, as many as 25,000 enthusiasts turn up for the Tuner GP and Drift Challenge event each year. A bonus is that entry is free, and you only have to pay for parking.
The long straights of the 4.22-mile Hockenheimring Grand Prix Circuit are ideal for top-speed testing. But if your primary concern is assessing handling or just getting the feel of a car, then the 1.63-mile Club Circuit is the benchmark.
Class 2 Winner:
Sport Auto is one of the two German magazines that incorporate lap times at Hockenheim's Club Circuit and the North Loop of the Nürburgring into its full road test data. From that, we have control times for various high-performance cars and we have an idea of how fast they are in relation to one another and the opposition.
Just to give you an idea of a quick time, a standard BMW M3 will lap Hockenheim's Club Circuit in roughly one minute, 14 seconds, compared to around one minute, 11 seconds for a Porsche GT3 RS. To put things in context, a proper race car like a Porsche GT3 RSR Le Mans car on slick tires will lap the Club Circuit in around 1 minute, four seconds.
Class 3 Winner:
Väth Automobiltechnik GmbH
As the Tuner GP matured, the magazine started an amateur section for the Drift Challenge element, with participants coming from neighboring countries like Belgium and Switzerland. In recent years, even Japanese drivers have taken part in the Drift Challenge.
The fastest lap times, and therefore the Tuner GP winners, have traditionally been set by Porsches. But as the Hockenheim Club Circuit is a handling course as much as a power one, naturally aspirated GT3-based cars have beaten turbocharged 911s packing over 200 hp more power.
Just as with "normal" organized motorsport, the cache of winning the Tuner GP means a lot in image and sales terms. Because of this, the interpretation of "road legal" has become rather borderline over the years.
The great thing about fully-adjustable coilover suspension systems is that you can make them comfortable enough for road use at one end of the spectrum, and firm enough for track 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 2003, a number of cars came close to being thinly disguised racecars, and were protested by other competitors. Complaints from entrants who complied with the spirit and letter of the event by using only parts types approved for the public to buy and use on the road meant that something had to be done if the event was to remain fair and relevant.
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. So when they signed up the following year, the contestants entered in the 2004 Tuner Grand Prix found themselves presented with three pages of rules governing permissible modifications.