Klaus Ludwig interview
We chat with Klaus Ludwig at the 2018 Le Mans Classic – where, true to incorrigible form, he’s racing a 1978 Group 4 930
The German racing great on his illustrious career at the wheel of the Kremer 935 and Porsche 956
They don’t come much more successful than this man: three Le Mans wins, plus one second place, victor of his native German DTM Championship as well as forays Down Under to Bathurst and across the pond for the Transam and Camel GT IMSA series. Klaus Ludwig has enjoyed success driving top-line cars not only for Porsche, but Mercedes-benz and Ford as well.
Klaus has also won the German national DRM, DTM and FIA GT Championships. Having retired in 1999, he couldn’t resist some ‘hobby racing’ at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, placing 2nd in the Alzen brothers’ 997 GT3 in 2006. We caught up with King Ludwig at Le Mans Classic 2018, where he was racing a 930 and a 356 Speedster. Klaus, You started for Porsche in a 934 and 935. What was that like? The 935 is nothing like this 934; it’s a street car modified into a 930, and the 935s are completely different, purpose-built race cars. But this car makes about 420bhp against 650 or 750 with the 935. So it’s a completely different ball game, but it’s a lot of fun to drive, very good handling and a good solid car.
Let’s talk about your Le Mans win in 1979 with the Whittington brothers. A 935 in the wet, that’s got to be a real task; you’ve got to have some guts for that! No, in fact it was not so hard. We had Dunlop tyres, and they were really working very well in the rain especially, and no, it was not really so tricky. You had to get used to the power delivery of the 935. It had great big rear tyres so you could slide it; you could make a wonderful four-wheel slide. You had to be at one with the car, and after a couple of laps playing yourself in, you were fine.
What were the principle characteristics of the 935, given its massive horsepower and those enormous rear tyres?
Very big turbo lag! You had to wait for the power to come in, and that took about one second or more sometimes, but then the power was there instantly. Such a brutal delivery. It was not easy to drive, that’s for sure, but once you were dialled in it was wonderful.
You came from Ford to Porsche in the mid1970s. What was the transition like?
Yeah, from a saloon car to a coupe, and later, in 1982, I came from Ford C100 prototypes to Porsche 956 prototypes, so that was about the same speed-wise.
And then you were with Reinhold Joest driving his 956; had you known him for a long time?
Actually, I didn’t know him so well at the time. I was doing some prototype racing with the Ford C100, and then Porsche asked me if I wanted to
drive for Reinhold Joest, who at that time was a pretty small operation, about 15 people and two cars, but very professional; good guys and very good mechanics. The car came from Porsche and wasn’t over-engineered. We didn’t do too many things to it like what happened later when they built their own chassis – like the Thompson chassis and trick suspensions – but that was a pretty much standard long-tail Le Mans car from Porsche, on Dunlop tyres the first year. That was the Marlboro car in 1983, and we [Ludwig, Johansson and Wollek] were very unlucky that year because we were good for 2nd place for sure, but I lost it at Arnage because there was a big oil spill and no flags. We spent a long time in the pits repairing it, so we only finished 6th overall. Then a year later we came back with a New-man 956 and Pescarolo and I won, and a year later we came back with the New-man 956 and we won again, this time with Barilla.
And you were right at the heart of the groundeffect era when fuel economy ruled the roost in Group C.
Yeah. So then the next year I came back to Le Mans again in Joest’s Blaupunkt car with Goodyear tyres, and we were really dominating the race, using less gas – and the gas consumption was a secret – and the tyres were less roll-resistant because they had a lot of chemical grip, and at the time nobody really recognised that. But we knew that we could run a little bit less downforce or wing on the straight, so we were very quick. We used very little gas and that was wonderful.
So we [Barilla and Winter] were dominating the race – until the engine blew up because of the pace car situation after Jo Gartner’s dreadful crash. That meant it was not running hot enough. We were running no thermostat in the cooling system, so when the water temperature went down to 35 degrees and the oil temperature was at 35 degrees, the oil pressure went up to 11, and then I think a bolt flew out of the oil pump and that was it! It was very sad because that year was our year; we would have won. In 1987 and 1988 you were using the 962… Yeah, and I was also driving with Mass and Wollek, Dieudonné and Winter, and I came back to Le Mans in 1988 with a factory car with Stuck and Bell and we were flying again. But we couldn’t make use of the reserve tank because the fuel pump was full of the yellow foam from the tank. It was a new car and we didn’t know that, and when I came in from my first stint I was surprised that the pump wasn’t working, so we had to push the car and we lost some time. We fought back though, and Stuck did a wonderful job during the night in the rain, and we were leading again, easily. And then a water pipe broke and we had to stop for another seven minutes. Then we fought back again, this time against the Jaguar, but we couldn’t overtake it. We finished 2nd behind the Jaguar. That was one of the hardest fights we ever had, and Stuck and Bell did a great job.
Can you explain a bit more about what happened with the fuel pump incident?
I was the loser because I was the first one to experience that problem with the fuel pump. The system in the Porsche was very straightforward to handle: a white light came on to warn you that the main fuel tank is empty, so now you have to switch over to the reserve, but you could carry on going until the engine started to cough because it was starved of fuel. I passed the start/finish line, went down the Mulsanne Straight, and at the end of the straight came the first cough, and I pressed the reserve switch but there was nothing happening because the pump was clogged up.
I managed to limp back with the dregs of the normal tank as far as the last chicane, but the engine cut out and I covered the last 100 metres jerking it with the starter motor! That was very lucky because it was only 100 metres to the pits; if it had been 400 metres I wouldn’t have made it. After that we could only use the main tank’s 90 litres, but it was okay because we just did one lap
less so we didn’t run into a problem. It was really a shame though, because we could have won that time. After the race I spoke with Jan Lammers, who was in the Jaguar, and he told me the Jaguar was dead – complete transmission failure with the gearbox groaning and nothing working anymore. So maybe with just one more lap they would have stopped on the straight and we might have overtaken them. That’s how it goes. They were very lucky and we were a bit unlucky. At the time I think that was good for the sport, Jaguar winning at Le Mans in front of 100,000 English people; they loved it.
You’ve driven events like the N24 quite recently. In 2004 and 2005 you drove with Uwe Alzen in the Alzen team’s 996 GT2, and you finished 2nd in 2006 in their 997 GT3. Yeah, I’ve won that race three times. But that’s a different ball game too. That was my home ground, and the first victory was with a street car more or less. The second victory was the same with a Sierra Cosworth and the third one was
BELOW Driving the 956 for Joest Racing