John Fitz­patrick

swerves round dazed day-trip­pers at the Nür­bur­gring

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

There has been a lot of pub­lic­ity lately about Porsche break­ing the lap record at the Nür­bur­gring. Timo Bernard drove a five min­utes 19 sec­onds lap in the Porsche 919 Hy­brid on the Nord­schleife to beat the ex­ist­ing record of 6min 11sec. That had been set 35 years ago by the late great Ste­fan Bellof in a Porsche 956 while qual­i­fy­ing for the 1000km race. I was there that day in my own 956 and, along with sev­eral other 956s, was about 20sec a lap slower. We couldn’t be­lieve it when we saw his time be­cause many of us knew the Nür­bur­gring well. In fact, that was my 41st and last race at the ’Ring.

My first visit there was in 1964 driv­ing in the Six Hour race in the Mini Cooper team. I was over­awed by the sheer size of the place. In those days there were no guardrails and the track was lined with bushes and hedges. Bri­tish Mini driver John Aley showed me around the track and pointed out var­i­ous land­marks, in­clud­ing gaps where var­i­ous driv­ers had dis­ap­peared into the un­der­growth.

The el­e­va­tion changes are con­sid­er­able and there are nu­mer­ous flat-out, blind cor­ners. I spent two days thrash­ing round in my Mini Cooper road car and by the time qual­i­fy­ing ar­rived I had a pretty good idea of the lines and what was over the next brow. As the power and speed of the var­i­ous cars I raced there in­creased, so the flat-out brows and cor­ners de­creased.

In the 20 years that I drove there, the track hardly changed ex­cept for the guardrails and some run-off ar­eas where there was space. That is still the case to­day.

In my early days there, the track was opened to the pub­lic when the race fin­ished and it was not un­usual to see a fam­ily set off in their Volk­swa­gen to ex­plore the cir­cuit. Many a time I would see a chap with his hel­met and seat­belt on, with the wife hang­ing on in the pas­sen­ger seat and granny in the back with the kids. Af­ter the race we would get changed, have a drink and go for a leisurely drive around the track, which would be strewn with dam­aged cars, some up­side down, with peo­ple wan­der­ing around the track, dazed.

Peo­ple of­ten ask me if the ob­vi­ous dan­gers of the track in­flu­ence the way you drive there, but once in the car it’s just an­other track and you’re con­cen­trat­ing on the next cor­ner, not think­ing about what might hap­pen if you get it wrong.

The ’Ring is my favourite cir­cuit and I have been for­tu­nate to have had my share of suc­cess there. My favourite has to be win­ning the Six Hour race with Rolf Stom­me­len in the Sch­nitzer BMW CSL in 1972. We beat the works Ford Capris fair and square and it put me on the map in Ger­many, and that led di­rectly to my ca­reer driv­ing Porsches.

As an in­ter­est­ing aside, even to­day, if I’m hav­ing difficulty sleep­ing, I imag­ine I am driv­ing a lap of the Nürg­burg­ing. I have never got past half­way be­fore I slip into a deep and sat­is­fy­ing sleep.

Some of John’s per­for­mances at the Nür­bur­gring were the stuff dreams are made of – quite lit­er­ally

John Fitz­patrick be­gan his rac­ing ca­reer in the Bri­tish Saloon Car Cham­pi­onship, win­ning it in 1966. He was Euro­pean GT Cham­pion in 1972 and 1974, and be­came a team owner in 1981.

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