Life in cars

Bernd Maylän­der The F1 safety driver has got his rac­ing gloves around a few dream garages’ worth of metal

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Although I’m a Mercedes man, I grew up near Zuf­fen­hausen, so Porsche was a pres­ence in my life from early on. My fa­ther was al­ways a sports car fan, and took me to Hock­en­heim for my first GP in 1977. Niki Lauda won that race.

My first proper race was a club sport event at Zolder in 1990, in my fa­ther’s 911 Car­rera 3.2. I re­mem­ber how ner­vous I felt, be­cause I’d never done any­thing like that be­fore. But I just rolled up my sleeves and got on with it. I fin­ished fourth.

My first car was a BMW 320i cabrio. I was lucky to get such a cool car for an 18th birth­day present. As soon as I could, I drove to the Nord­schleife, and I did my first laps of the ’Ring in that BMW. I went there pretty much ev­ery week­end, drove around with the roof down, play­ing mu­sic, pretty re­laxed re­ally but get­ting faster and faster. That’s how I learnt the track, and in 1991 I did my first race there, in a 911, and we won in our class. The ’Ring’s cul­tural im­pact was grow­ing at the time, es­pe­cially when the Wall came down. You would see peo­ple do­ing laps in Tra­bants and Wart­burgs.

Af­ter that I got a BMW M3, an E30 Johnny Ce­cotto spe­cial edi­tion. You don’t need to re­mind me how pre­cious that’s be­come. Then my fa­ther bought a 1973 911 2.7 Club Sport… Hon­estly, back then they weren’t any­thing like as valu­able as they are now. I did a few races in that, then we sold it be­cause the rac­ing was get­ting too com­pet­i­tive for that car. Yes, I did ac­tual club sport rac­ing in a Club Sport. We’d do sprint races and long-dis­tance ones, at Brno, Zolder, Hock­en­heim, Nür­bur­gring.

I stopped do­ing Club Sport rac­ing in 1991. I did For­mula Ford, but it wasn’t for me. I raced in the Car­rera Cup, and came close to get­ting a proper job in 1992 be­cause I was just burn­ing money, when luck­ily some spon­sor­ship came through. I won the Porsche Car­rera Cup in 1994, and got a great dis­count on an Audi RS2. A won­der­ful car, but the fuel con­sump­tion was an is­sue.

I had a Jeep Chero­kee for a while, but I can’t hon­estly re­mem­ber how or why I ended up with that. I was ac­tu­ally quite happy when a good friend of mine de­stroyed the car on a high­way.

At the end of ’94 I got the call from Mercedes. I was driv­ing for a fac­tory team, and I thought I’d get a nice car thrown in. But I still had to pay to­wards it, so to save a bit I got a C 280. My team­mates all had the AMG C36, and crit­i­cised me for driv­ing an old man’s car so I got the C36 too.

We have a few clas­sics. I own a 1979 Mercedes 280 SL, and the fam­ily still has a 1989 Porsche 911 Speed­ster we’ve had since new. I just did the DTM clas­sic at Hock­en­heim, driv­ing a 1994 CLK. For a tour­ing car, it was in­cred­i­ble. Af­ter one lap dur­ing free prac­tice, I was right back in the zone. It’s fan­tas­tic be­ing a driver, es­pe­cially in one of the older cars. You are alone, you can feel ev­ery­thing, and it’s up to you how you man­age your race.

The best rac­ing car I ever drove was the CLK GTR – so much power and torque, big wheels, down­force, no trac­tion con­trol, no ABS… a proper ma­chine. There are other cars that mat­ter to me. I’m a big fan of Steve McQueen, so the Porsche 917 is a spe­cial car for me. And the Sauber-Mercedes C9, too. That’s a sig­nif­i­cant car in Merc his­tory.

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