#F1 Features: Oval Office – Memories of Alex and Young Driver Watch in Lusatia

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg

Editors Note: During the weekend of 14-16 June TJ13 contributor Danilo visited the Eurospeedway to watch the DTM race held their. This prompted him to give TJ13 readers a view of the history of the track and his experience there.

Germany is a small country, but since we are born with a love of cars we have one thing in abundance – race tracks! And they are not just the Tilkedrome variety either. There’s the 20 km behemoth of a racetrack called the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a track so fearsome Sir Jackie Stewart once called it the “Green Hell”. Hockenheim is another famous venue, but unfortunately it was Tilke’d a few years ago and is now a mere shadow of the great track it once was. And then there is…

Eurospeedway LausitzThe Eurospeedway Lausitz

Built in the late 90’s in eastern Germany and opened in 2000, the Eurospeedway is the only 2-mile Superspeedway outside the United States. It sports the highest race track grandstands in Europe and no less than 4 different track layouts can be run – the Oval, a 3.5 km infield variant, a 4.5 km infield GP track and by adding the Dekra test track, an 11.1 km endurance race configuration.

Eurospeedway has a number of ‘firsts’. It is the first newly built race track after German reunification and was host to the first Champcar race on European soil. With the Eastside 100 Formula 3 races in 2005 and 2006 it also hosted the first and so far only oval races in a major European junior category, run – among others – by drivers like Davide Valsecchi, Renger van der Zande, Ho Ping Tung, Nico Hülkenberg, Johnny Cecotto jr and Cyndie Allemann, who in 2006 became the first female F3 pole setter in the East Side 100.

Running average speeds of 250 kph with up to 4 lead changes per lap, the media described the races as ‘unbelievable’ and ‘utterly crazy’. Unfortunately the races were abandoned again after 2006 as the costs to produce specially strengthened tyres for the oval races proved too high.

The day on which the Eurospeedway broke my heart…

Alex ZinardiThe German 500, the first CART race on European soil was scheduled to take place on September 15th 2001. At 750 Deutschmarks each, I was the proud owner of two premium tickets with paddock and pit lane access. As big fans of CART and Alex Zanardi, my dad and I went for our second visit to the Speedway. But disaster struck twice.

Just four days before the race the Twin Towers in New York fell, but CART bravely decided to go through with the race. The race was renamed the American Memorial 500 and a Memorial stone was placed at the entrance of the Eurospeedway that is still there today.

After his failed stint with Williams in F1, Alex had been suffering all season long in CART even though he was driving for Mo Nunn, the mastermind behind his two CART championships in 1997 and 1998. But at the Lausitzring he was flying, setting very competitive times in free practice. He was leading most parts of the race and came into the pits for a splash-n-dash with a comfortable lead just 13 laps from home. The rest happened in slow motion.

Losing his car in the outlane on a patch of oil or cooling water, the #66 Pioneer car careened across the grass right into the path of Alex Tagliani and was violently split in half upon impact. If you’ve never heard 60,000 cheering fans go dead silent in an instant – count your blessings. It’s one of the creepiest memories of my life. I will never forget the heartbroken feeling as we left the track. Even without knowing about Alex’s condition, we knew it was bad – five litres of blood streaming down a banked corner tell a very unmistakable story.

Mending the heart…

If it wasn’t for the incredible story about and after Alex’s accident, I probably would never have visited the Speedway again. Alex Zanardi had lost 75% of his blood and was given the last rites on the way to the hospital in Berlin-Marzahn. If it wasn’t for the miracle performed by Dr. Terry R. Trammell and his CART response team, Alex would have lost a lot more than his legs.

Only a week later a Berlin newspaper published reports of wheelchair races being run in the park near a Marzahn clinic. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess the main culprit. Alex Zanardi’s road to recovery is one of the all-time most inspiring stories in history.

One and a half years after his crash he served as a Grand Marshal at the 2003 German 500, the second and last CART race at the Eurospeedway. Followed around by the Mexican wave in the grandstands, he completed the missing 13 laps in a car with hand controls, setting a lap time that would have put him fifth on the grid.

In 2005 I had the chance to see Alex live again, when the World Touring Car Championship visited the Motorpark Oschersleben, another new track in eastern Germany, just 50km from where I live. Driving a specially adapted BMW he won the second race of the weekend – his first win since the crash. Grown men were unashamedly bawling their eyes out in the grandstands – I was one of them.

Hungarian language footage of Alex’s dramatic win at Oschersleben. Skip to 6:00 to see the wild last lap and the BMW team of Johnny Cecotto go absolutely bonkers. I still start crying every time I watch it…

As if all this hasn’t been inspiring enough, Alex took up hand cycling after he hung up the helmet for good and in true Zanardi fashion, he won two gold medals and a silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympics and promised to be back for the 2016 Paralympics as well – a true hero.

What about the young drivers then?

Eurospeedway Lausitz 2During the weekend of the 14th June, almost 12 years after the fateful day in September, dad and I returned to the Speedway to watch the DTM race. As always when we visit a race, we helped ourselves to the ultimate package – upper grandstand seats and pitlane/paddock access for three days. Sitting in the upper rows is quite an experience. At a height of 35m above ground, you’re basically sitting on top of a 9 story building with a complete view of the track. You can follow a car’s progress for an entire lap without ever losing sight of it

The support races were a mixture of Formula 3 and one-make series. Little did we know that the most fantastic action would be provided by the most obscure series of them all.

Bartlomiej Mirecki

Bartlomiej MireckiYou better write this name down, because I’ll be damned if this young man won’t show up in DTM or even openwheel racing in the near future. He is the defending champion of the KIA Lotos Race, a Polish entry-level series run with identical Kia Picanto. Although these cars are little bigger than a pimple on a teenager’s face, they appear quite fun to race. And here’s the kicker – Mirecki is the defending champion, this years championship leader and he is only 16 years old!

Bagging a grid penalty after qualifying, he found himself 10th on the grid, but that was quite temporary. After only 4 laps he had picked up all the nine others before him like ripe fruit and he did it in style. No hair-on-fire banzai moves – he simply drove so much better than anyone else.

Since we could see the entire track, we could clearly see where he was driving a different line from anyone else, resulting in speed surplus on the two straights. This man methodically prepared his opponents for overtaking and then went through with it. As my old man said: “You’d think he has 16 years of experience doing this instead of being just 16 years old.

We peeled ourselves out of bed at oh-dark-thirty so we could be back on track for the second race, which started at 08:50 on Sunday morning and we weren’t disappointed. Having won the race on Saturday and the series adopting the reversed grid philosophy, he found himself 10th on the grid again – and guess what – he did it all over again, scoring the 6th win out of 8 races this season. This is definitely a man to watch.

Marvin Kirchhöfer and Gustavo Menezes

The German Formula 3 championship is a traditional support series of the DTM and with Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nico Hülkenberg, Sebastian Vettel and Davide Valsecchi, this series has been a stepping stone for quite a few F1 drivers.

For all the good tracks we have in eastern Germany, we don’t really have any good drivers – yet – because Marvin Kirchhöfer from the city of Leipzig in Saxonia seems ready to set the record straight. A rookie in the series, driving for Team Lotus (yes, in the famous golden-black livery), he is runaway leader in the championship and his results in the three races at the Speedway – 2nd, 3rd, 1st – pretty much explains why. He was the only driver to visit the podium after all three races.

The second one to catch the eye was Gustavo Menezes from the US of Americaland. You know that an American is serious about making it to F1if he comes over to Europe instead of racing midgets on dirt ovals. Also a rookie and the first American in F3, he scored his first ever F3 win in race two on Saturday and was the only one who could challenge the three dominant Lotus cars all weekend with any consistency.

The fans favourite however was 48 year old Luca Iannacone from Italy. A gentleman driver, who races just for the fun of it without any ambitions for titles and quite frankly, some of F1’s backmarkers should take lessons from Luca on how to be lapped without getting in the way of the leaders. He’s a genuinely nice guy, too.

The main dish

BMW M3 DTM - Timo GlockDTM porn – Timo Glock’s BMW completely naked during the pitwalk

For all the action in the support races the main event, the 52 lap DTM race, was Catholic. Nothing much happened. The Mercedes utterly dominated the proceedings, while the BMW, who had been the dominant force so far, were completely slaughtered.

After all the action in the other races the DTM run was a bit of an anticlimax, but the soundtrack more than made up for it. The doppler effect of the Audi engine is a crime against humanity, while the BMW’s and the Merc’s sounded like they were about to vomit rods and pistons any moment whenever the pitlane limiter was activated.

If you have the chance to visit a DTM race this year – do so, because the V8’s are gone next year. It’s the last chance to listen to this glorious sound track.

As I said, the race was rather Catholic, but the engine roar is an open-air Symphonic concert.

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7 responses to “#F1 Features: Oval Office – Memories of Alex and Young Driver Watch in Lusatia

  1. Damn You Danilo! 😉 I had to explain to my son why i have tears in my eyes.
    Alessandro Zanardi, the stuff that legends are made of.

  2. Thanks Danilo, I always enjoy your writing, reading thins sat in bed this Sunday morning, I was there with you almost smelling the pit lane myself. Great stuff and already looking forward to reading your next contribution.

    Olie

  3. Excellent piece Danilo, very high in the quality stakes.

    Thanks very much for putting it together.

    Forza Alex!

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