My location: United States
Dec 19, 2007

Last weekend nitro racing went indoors to the Munzig circuit for the Winter Cup race in Saxony, Germany. Racing at the event, which saw Serpent drivers occupy all three podium places, was Mark Pearson who sent us this indept report -

The oddly titled race held at the Munzig indoor track in the region of Saxony in Germany, forms part of a series of races which take place in the winter months for the Nitro fans, who just can’t wait for their “fix” until the outdoor season starts one again in the spring.

The Winter Cup series of races stands out from other race series held within German, not only for being held indoors, but also because the racers are allowed to use Lola shelled 1/10th scale cars. This makes for a very interesting alternative to the summer month touring car events.

My team mate, Steve Baumgarten, had suggested that we take part in the race just before Christmas, too see the racing year out with a bit of fun. Also other members of the Serpent 2-Speed team would be taking part (together with team boss Andreas Giesa), so it would be an ideal opportunity to put a couple of names to faces.

My week leading up to the race was spent preparing my Serpent 720 (still in original 06 spec – even including dogbones!!) so as to be able to fit the Lola shell onto it. Serpent produce a floating GTP rear body mount, which ensures that the rear of the bodyshell’s height remains constant in respect to its position above the ground, regardless of what the suspension is doing, thereby maximising aerodynamic efficiency and grip.

The shell itself was very easy to fit, except that the I had to modify the front suspension bridge in order to fit the bodyshell low enough. I painted the shell in my usual combination of illuminous orange and white and must confess to having not spent much time on painting the “driver”! :-( Never-the-less, the shell looked nice with its clean lines – at least in my eyes ;-)

The race organisers had been generous enough to allow for a full day of training on the Saturday, with the four qualifying sessions and finals taking place on the Sunday.

Munzig lies some 300km from my home town of Nuremberg and to be able to get to the track early enough to take full advantage of the training time, meant getting up at the very ungodly hour of 04:30am!! Not adding to my low enthusiasm of getting up so early, was the outside temperature of -4ºC and a couple of inches of snow – knowing that the indoor track isn’t heated, I ensured to wear all my warmest winter clothing, in fear of not being able to drive due to shivering!

Regardless of the weather, the journey passed very quickly and I arrived at the track at 08:30am, only to find out that the track didn’t open until 10:00! DOH!!

Steve Baumgarten, his brother and father obviously also didn’t realise that the track opened at 10:00am, as they arrived soon after myself – but it’s always a nice atmosphere with Steve and his family and the time passed quickly as we waited for the circuit to be opened.

We quickly unloaded our cars and equipment and setup our work-areas and soon we were heading for our first laps. Having driven at the track previously a couple of years ago, I was familiar with the layout, but this was the first time I’d be driving a Lola bodyshelled car, and really didn’t know what to expect! My first couple of laps weren’t exactly confidence building, and I managed to crash into the tyre barrier at the start of the main straight, resulting in a small tear in the bodyshell after a total of 5 laps! GREAT! After this, I decided to take thing a bit easier, but thing weren’t helped by my setup, as my car was very, very sensitive to steering input and seemed to be jumping around on the track.

In the meantime, 2-Speed team owners Andreas Giesa and Jirka Hassler had arrived together with some other members of the 2-Speed team and an old team mate of mine from the Pro 8 Team, Nicci Boers. Steve and myself know Nicci well from our time in the Pro 8 Team and it was nice to see her once again.

I explained my problems to Andreas and he suggested that I should change to the hard purple front springs, to calm down to front end of the car. Together with this change, I also changed from 38 shore Exceed front tyres to the much softer 30 shore versions. At the rear of the car, I was running the “Hall-Tyres” from GP – I had previously used the tyres to good effect with the touring car on my last visit to the track.
Having made the changes which Andreas had suggested, I headed back onto the track. The car was much better and was no longer overly sensitive to changes in directions, but appeared to have more steering, too – however, I still wanted more steering, as I was having some trouble turning into the fast sweeper at the end of the main straight.

A lap on the Munzig circuit starts with a short straight section in front of the driver’s stand, following this is a reasonably tight 180º left-hand turn, which leads onto the main straight. The entry to this corner is very important and the best grip appears to be found when you keep quite a wide radius through this turn. Care has to be taken at the exit of the corner, as coming out a little too wide will see you being sent into the tyre barrier. Onto the main straight will 100% throttle, but quickly releasing again, to be able to roll into the next 180º degree left-hand turn at the end of the straight – basically the same radius as the corner onto the main straight. It is important to get back onto the throttle as soon as possible in the 180º turn, as more downforce and therefore more grip is generated by the Lola bodyshell. No sooner have you got back onto the throttle, then you need to release it once more and break very lightly for the 180º tight left-hand hairpin. Keeping tight here is important to get a good exit to the next 180º right-hand hairpin – again it is very important to remain tight through this corner too, to be able to get the right line through the chicane which links to the next 180º right-hand hairpin.

The chicane is the hardest part of the circuit, as you’re trying to thread your car through it at full throttle for the best lap time. A small mistake, will cause you to hit the barriers either on the left or the right-handside.
Just after exiting the chicane, you have to quickly get onto the brake, otherwise you find yourselve overshooting the next 180º right-hand hairpin and potentially flying over the circuit divider and landing in the path of a car exiting onto the main straight!!!. Exiting the right-hand hairpin you must again quickly get onto full throttle and then just as quickly back onto the brakes for the final 180º left-hand hairpin which takes you back onto the small straight in front of the driver’s stand.

My car was essentially lacking steering on the turn into most of the corners and needed a little more at the exits. I made some changes to the rollbars, caster and shock positions and we discussed the best things to try out with Steve and Nicci – myself and Steve were trying various things out to save some time in achieving the right setup. All the suggested changes allowed the setup to progress in the right direction, but it still didn’t give me what I was looking for. Again I consulted Andreas and he suggested that I change to a one-way instead of the diff which I was using. I wasn’t too keen to try a one-way, as I know how difficult it can be to drive – especially where braking is important. I decided to give it a go and see what difference it would make to the car.

I actually found it very easy to drive and braking was absolutely no problem, as I had been braking so lightly even with the diff, that the car remained perfectly stable – I even had the impression that the car braked better with the one-way! Also the lap times showed that the one-way was the best way to go, as I started to improve from 12.9 second laps, down to 12.6. I proceeded to do some longer runs, with Steve doing some changes to camber and toe-in, to improve the overall balance and at the end of which, I was able to run very consistent 12.6 second laps and get down into 12.3s when everything came together.

Returning to the pits, Andreas suggested to Steve to go for the shortest gear ratios, as we were all approaching the corners too quickly and were having trouble in getting the braking points right. A small interlude to the proceedings was taken in the form of the race organisers serving the roasted pork meals for the drivers – which given the very cold temperatures in the hall, was indeed welcomed by all drivers.

Steve, Nicci, Dirk and myself decided to indulge in a small tradition which we have been doing for the past couple of years during race weekends: a small drink of the Greek spirit Ouzo! :-) This was also especially warming with the temperature in the hall hovering around 0º!

Steve and myself tested the gear ratios after the interlude and found the car to be much more drivable and it was also much easier to find the braking points for the hairpins. Just before finishing my final run for the day, I made a mistake a hit one of the tyre barriers – I could see from the driver’s stand that it had caused some damage to the bodyshell and when I got down into the pits, I could see that the damage to the shell was quite sever – there was a rip from the front right wheel arch toward the middle of the bodyshell. It looked like I needed to find a new shell or I wouldn’t be able to compete in the race on the Sunday. Steve’s father and brother suggested using a piece of lexan and some screws to hold the rip together.

We packed our gear together for the day and set off on the journey to Steve parent’s flat, where I would be staying overnight. Steve’s Mum had prepared some delicious food and we enjoyed a very nice evening with a couple of beers and ramazzotties. Indeed Steve’s father and brother had managed to repair my shell, as they had suggested and all was set for a great day of racing on the Sunday.

We arrived at the circuit at about 09:15am on the Sunday and already there was some testing going on. We got our work-areas setup once again just before the race director called a drivers’ meeting, in order to explain how the racing was to proceed.

After the meeting I had about 30 minutes until the start of my first qualifying session. In total there would be four qualifying session for each of the 6 groups of drivers. The groups were divided into the various classes of racing: Standard – for standard engines and touring car bodyshells; Scale – for race engines and Lola bodyshells; 1/8th – for race engines and 1/8th Lola shelled cars.
I watched Steve’s qualifying session first (group 3) and saw that he drove very well and consistently, hitting consistent low 12 second laps – unfortunately he lost some time whilst stuck on a position of the track and had to wait until a marshal could send him on his way. My group (group 5) was on approx. 10 minutes later. My aim was simply to drive a consistently as I could and make as few mistakes as possible. The car still felt good and I was pleased that the grip levels were very similar to the previous day, so I didn’t have to re-learn how the car was reacting. The five minute qualifying session was one of the most intensive which I’ve ever experienced: the combination of a small tight circuit and a fast Lola shelled car called for the utmost concentration. I managed to achieve my objective and get a safe set of laps in, even managing to get my fastest lap down to 12.0 seconds. I felt once again, though that the car was lacking a little steering. I made a small change to the rear anti-roll bar in order to get a little more steering before my second session.

In the warm-up period of the second session, my car was really great and easy to drive – just how I wanted it. Then just after the start, I hit the curb in one of the 180º hairpins and my car flipped over damaging one of the tyres, leaving my car difficult to drive – I decided the best thing to do was to return to the pits and wait for the 3rd session – I already had a safe run, so there was no need to take risks with a badly handling car.

Come the third session, I had made a couple more of adjustments to the car, just to get a slightly easier driving feel out of it. Indeed in the session the car felt really great and really like it was on rails, but the lap times which I was running showed, that I had made the car too easy and I was loosing time, my best time was a 12.2 second lap, but I also managed to run much more consistently and therefore improve my overall time to 24 laps and in 5 minutes and 1 second, leaving me in 4th position.

For my final session, I could take a couple of risks with the setup, as it wasn’t so important to improve my time so much, but the first four drivers after qualifying, go directly into the main final, the rest have to participate first in the semi-finals in order to make it through to the main final, so it was still important for me to defend my 4th spot as best as possible.
I wanted a bit more steering again, and setup the car so it would be a little more aggressive. This time the qualifying session really flew over like I was in a trance – I heard the tone from the timing computer, which indicated the end of the session and I wondered at first why it had gone so soon. I felt as though I’d only been driving for a minute. I had again driven very consistently, but I also had a lot more lower 12 second laps and the fastest lap was a 12 second dead. I had improved on my overall time and position, 25 laps in 5 minutes and 11 seconds and I was now in third position. I was really happy with this result, especially on such a demanding circuit.
My team boss, Andreas had taken first spot and fellow 2-Speed driver Juergen Hennemuth in second place, so this was a very good qualifying result for the team. Unfortunately my team mate Steve had further problems in his remaining qualifying sessions and could only manage 6th spot, although his speed had shown that he deserved to be much higher – just down to bad luck on this occasion.

For my final I had to true my tyres a couple of millimeters larger than for the qualifying sessions, to ensure that I’d have enough rubber left on the rims for the whole of the 30 minute race. Everytime I thought about driving this circuit for 30 minutes, I shuddered - it was difficult enough getting through a 5 minutes session without breaking the car – how I was ever going to make it through 30 minutes!!!

Steve’s semi-final was up first and he drove really well – indeed, he would have easily have won, had a helper from another drive not have stood on his car twice during the race!!! Still second spot and no damage to the car was still enough for the final.

Soon it was time for the main final – I was still nervous at the prospect of the 30 minutes of high level concentration. First came the three minutes of warm up and I took the first few laps very easy to ensure I ran in the tyres properly and got a little bit of heat into them. Suddenly someone call of an “out” period due to a defect. At first I thought it was the team boss, Andreas, but it turned out to be my team mate, Steve. He’d somehow clipped a barrier just at the wrong angle and ripped out his rear suspension assembly – all weekend without breaking anything and then it goes wrong just before the final – this just wasn’t Steve’s weekend.

Steve was allowed 10 minutes to attempt to repair his car, but it was obvious that the repair would take much longer than the allotted time, so Steve was unfortunately out before the race had even started.
Now he would be joining Nicci, who was doing my pit stops, to help me during the race.

The cars took their positions for the start of the race in the long 180º corner leading onto the main straight. I wanted to try and make a safe get-away at the start, but someone hit me up the rear-end and spun my car around, leaving me at the back of the field. It was ok, though – this kind of thing was bound to happen due to the very tight nature of the circuit. The circuit was so tight, that only 8 cars were allowed in the main final and not the usual 10.

I took things easy at the begining, as I’d deliberately trued my tyres to have a lot less overdrive at the begining of the race, so that it would find its balance towards the end of the race. Indeed the car proved difficult to drive at first, as it was understeering into the corners and oversteering out of them. I simply took things easy, though as there was plenty of time. Unfortunately, the car started to flip due to the large tyre diameter and I lost further time waiting for a marshal to get my car back on its wheels. Again, everything was going like in a trance and it was really difficult to hold my level of concentration – slowly the car became better to drive and I could really push. I could see that I was making up places, but I had no idea which position I was in.

Due to the noise in the hall, it was very difficult for Nicci to get me to hear when I needed to come in for a fuel stop and indeed, Steve had to shout out to me, before I responded – it was good that my Heinrich tuned motor was very good on fuel consumption!!

With ten minutes left to run, my car started to become more difficult to drive again and in the last five minutes, I was simply doing my best to try and not destroy my car in a crash – it was extremely difficult to drive and it would either understeer or have the rear end break-out. I was really glad to hear the tone which indicated the end of the race.

I went over to have a look at the results on the computer screen and was absolutely delighted when I saw I had retained my 3rd place from qualifying! I couldn’t have hoped for a better result – it’s never a bad idea to get a good result in front of the team boss ;-)

Looking at my tyres after the race, I could see that the outside rear wheel had almost no rubber left on the rim and this explained the difficult handling towards the end of the race – just as well the race hadn’t lasted any longer.

Andreas had won the race and had set a new lap record in the process with 11.47 seconds. In second place came my team colleague Juergen Hennemuth, so that was three 2-Speed drivers and three Serpent 720s on the podium, an absolutely perfect result and an absolutely perfect weekend!