Old Friends ReuniteFebruary 20, 2021
Hockenheim Historic – PostponedMarch 12, 2021
A Group C-Christmas Carol
As the 1989 Le Mans winner, Swede Stanley Dickens is an established name in the history of the golden Group C era. But only a few people know that the 68-year-old has a very prominent ancestor who comes back every year, particularly around Christmas.
Translation of the original text from Norbert Ockenga published in PITWALK Magazine #58
Stanley Dickens really starts to stutters a little. "He must have been the brother of the father of my grandfather's grandfather”, he works out – and speculates a little about whether he might be able to think of the right degree of relationship after all.
Finally, the spontaneous family tree research of Stanley Dickens - the Swede with the somewhat wild appearance who won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1989 in a Sauber-Mercedes, ends up with great-great-great-great uncle. The Swedish racing driver's distant relative is Charles Dickens - the author of famous novels such as "A Christmas Carol". It is the story of stingy slumlord Ebenezer Scrooge, who is reformed by the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future, celebrates a cosy Christmas with his clerk Bob Cratchit and his poor family, and becomes a major philanthropist in mid-19th century London. Charles Dickens' atmospheric, socially critical story is revisited every Christmas – in theatres, at readings, in films, even as a Muppet Christmas story with Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchit husband and wife.
Stanley Dickens, is surprisingly uninterested in literary history to begin with. "At school we read 'The Pickwick Papers' and 'Martin Chuzzlewit’”, i.e. his first work and another great novel by Charles Dickens, "and of course I also know 'The Night Before Christmas'."
However, the former Le Mans winner clearly didn’t expect to suddenly have to talk about the great work of a relative who was so far removed during the Advent period with a motorsport journalist, of all people. “It's actually very amusing,” he muses. “A writer lives in a completely different world than a racing driver. I don't know a single writer in my motorsport environment - and only very few artists. But in my younger years I was also a graphic designer myself – so when I was doing my professional training I was very much into this artistic world, motorsport was just a hobby in those days. That changed at some point. But since I stopped racing, I have become more and more interested in art."
Admittedly, when he first thinks about it, he has no motorsport friends that he is able to talk to about it. But his train of thought quickly falters. “Stefan Johansson started painting in the late eighties,” he remembers his compatriot, who drove Formula 1 cars for McLaren and Ferrari and is now the part-owner of a team in the IMSA, “and Kenny Bräck” - the former IndyCar driver - “Plays in a band. But he lives in London."
Dickens, on the other hand, now lives out his creative streak as the international marketing director of a large automotive company. In Sweden. To a place where he would never have been located as a Group C fan due to his name. “My great-grandparents moved from England to Sweden in 1885, because my great-grandfather was a specialist track-layer and was involved in the construction of the major Swedish railway line. Afterwards, they simply remained. ”He doesn't know much more about the roots of his family: "I have an older brother who is much more interested in genealogy."
The clan hung around in Färila, a small town in the district of Gävleborg in the north of Sweden. Stanley Dickens’ father trained to be a police officer there. A police reform then took place, after which the family was transferred to Motala, a town in Östergötland in the south-east of the country. Here there was a booming speedway club for the Swedish Elitserien. “But motorcycle racing in dirt wasn't really for me. I was much more interested in rallying, because this was also popular in the area.”
In Motala he also got to know formula driver Reine Wissel, who was a main competitor of Ronnie Peterson at the time, on the way through the junior formulas and in the direction of Formula 1. This passing acquaintance became hero worship. When a new race track opened in Mantorp Park some 50 kilometres away in the late sixties, the young Dickens accompanied the up-and-coming Wissel to polish the Formula 2 car or help him in some other way at the races, for example. He gradually became more involved in the motorsport community - and drove Formula Ford and Formula 3 himself, but was also involved in a club that held races in Mantorp.
In 1979, this team imported so-called Sports 2000 racing cars from England, a kind of shrunken Le Mans sports car. The cars are actually Formula Ford 2000 cars with the body from the old group 6 - the predecessor class of Group C until 1982. “I took a step backwards for Sports 2000. Because the cars were somewhat slower than Formula 3. But I really wanted to drive them at home."
This is how young Stanley came into contact with the cars that would bring him the greatest successes in his career during his formative period in motor sport: Sports cars. Dickens became a fixture in the Group C era. Typically Swedish, he was somehow always there, successful, extremely reliable, fast, but didn’t make a fuss about himself. “Motorsports people always have to be creative,” he says, “perhaps they also have an artistic streak. Particularly in Sweden, where big companies are few and far between, you have to come up with a lot as a young driver if you want to achieve something on the big stage.” And his famous literary relative is suddenly back in his mind's eye again.
The connections he made during his Group C days are still there today. Kraichgau group C2 team boss Fritz Gebhardt signed Dickens for his fledgling racing team with the rustic self-built components - after Dickens had first been on the road in the new class with Norwegian rallycross warhorse and motorsport all-rounder Martin Schanche. In a self-built vehicle made by Bo Strandell, who had adapted a Porsche 934 for the fledgling group C in a somewhat awkward and home-made way. The door opener to a more successful period for Dickens was Hanover racing driver Frank Jelinski.
The pair got to know each other in Formula 2. And Jelinski was already driving for Gebhardt's C2 team. The self-starter from the Sinsheim area got Dickens away from "teams that weren’t so good", as the Swede so typically says, and brought him into his group C2 racing team as Jelinski’s partner in 1985. "Before that, I drove for Dome in Japan for two years, mediated by Eje Elgh." Because his Swedish compatriot, now a respected Formula 1 commentator in the land of the Vikings, used the Japanese formula and sports car scene as a springboard for Formula 1, and recommended the young Dickens to the brand from Kyoto as a teammate.
The early eighties set the course for Dickens' long and successful career. As the de facto manager, Gebhardt also looked after Dickens and Jelinksi. First he went to Brun-Porsche in 1986 for a memorable race in Japan in which Brun won the team championship, then in 1987 to Joest-Porsche, the paragon among the 956 customer teams. “In the first race, I was allowed to drive alongside Klaus Ludwig. It was a real honour for me to be in the same car with such a big name. But after that I had to drive with Louis Krages - i.e. with John Winter.” A wealthy Bremen timber merchant who drove under a pseudonym as a gentleman driver for fun. “He was a really nice person. But I couldn't develop my driving skills next to him. I thought that my career was at an end. I saw only one way out: Formula 1. Because Group C was a World Championship, I had the points that I needed for a Formula 1 super license, so I thought: It has to work. Pretty damn naive."
Over the winter he found half of the budget that the Minardi team requires for a year as a dowry. “It was the worst team in existence – but my only chance. In the week before driver registration, I was told that there was someone else who would bring in more money. It was a bitter blow - but I understood."
An offer from the Japanese sports car scene, which was now also using Group C cars and really skyrocketing, saved his career. Exiles had always enjoyed the status of exotic eccentrics in Japanese motorsport, fluctuating between admiration and amusement. Admiration usually prevails. This was also the case with Dickens. Especially when he won the first race for the FromA team - whose 962 was now in the possession of Franz Konrad.
At a big victory party with a gala reception in a gigantic hall, which was customary in Japan, the financier of the team promised to make Dickens' Formula 1 dream come true if they managed to win the sports car championship at the end of the year. They did – and the sponsor negotiated a deal with the EuroBrun team for the last two Grand Prix of 1988. However, Oscar Larrauri, who drove for Brun Group C and accompanied the ill-fated promotion of the Swiss team into Formula 1, advised his short-term teammate from 1986 against it: He wouldn’t be able to qualify with the car, only embarrass himself. "So I became the first Swede to turn down a Formula 1 offer at the time."
This turned out to be a stroke of luck. Because Kenny Acheson, with whom he took part in Group A touring car races in Japan, strongly recommended Dickens to Peter Sauber and Max Welti - who were orchestrating the return of the Silver Arrows to major motorsport at the time. “All of us who drove in Japan at the time kept together and helped each other out wherever possible. But Jochen Mass also stood up for me at Sauber.”
The unexpected move to the federal Group C team brought Dickens his greatest success: Together with Mass and Manuel Reuter, he won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1989. In Japan he secured another title in the All Japan Endurance Championship with Kunimitzu Takahashi - still driving a Porsche 962. “The two cars weighed the same - but felt completely different. The Sauber drove a lot more like a formula car – you had the impression that it was much easier to handle."
Following his time at Sauber, Dickens returned to Gebhardt, because the Kraichgau team had now established a self-made group C1 for the third and last generation of the huge sports car class. "And at Gebhardt I found two other families at the beginning of my Group C career – one amongst the mechanics, but also in the Gebhardt family itself."
The contact to the busy team boss and ex-manager has never been broken. Dickens now works for Gebhardt’s automotive companies in the marketing area – and is also flirting with the idea of driving in the Hockenheim Historic in May 2021. Gebhardt organises its own race there for historic Group C cars.
Dickens would be one of the biggest stars on the scene, whose comeback would bring the golden era back to life. If only a quiet and extremely humble one. A real Swede.
Human & sporting
Born 7th May, 1952 in Färila, Sweden Lives with partner Angelica Roberts in Motala, Sweden; Father of three children from his first marriage.
1970 - 1980 rallying, Formula Ford and touring cars; Formula 3 and Sports 2000
1981 Sports 2000 European Champion
1982 - 1985 European Touring Car Championship, Formula 2 Interseries, Group C2 World Championship
1986 Group C World Sports Car Championship
1987 Group C World Sports Car Championship, Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans
1988 Japanese sports car champion; Group C World Championship, Daytona and Le Mans
1989 Le Mans 24 Hours winner, Japanese sports car champion
1990 Group C World Sports Car Championship, Japanese Sports Car Championship
1991 Group C World Sports Car Championship and IMSA series
When & where?
7th, 8th and 9th May 2021
One 45-minute race on each day, with pit stops for two drivers per car directly after the lunch break.
Technical and sporty
Class 1a = Group C1 and IMSA-GTP (Year of construction 1987 to 1990)
Class 1b = Group C1 and IMSA-GTP (Year of construction 1982 to 1986)
Class 2a = Group C2, Junior, IMSA (Year of construction 1986 to 1990)
Class 2b = Group C2, Junior, IMSA Light (Year of construction 1982 to 1985)
Class 3a = Group C, IMSA, Japanese Group C (Year of construction 1991 to 1993)
Class 3b = Special invitation from the organiser
The Bosch Hockenheim Historic - The Jim Clark Revival is an established motorsport event for vintage and young timers that draws large visitor numbers from Germany and throughout Europe to the traditional racing track in Baden each year. With twelve spectacular racing series & more than 500 participants bringing the magic of past racing days back to the time-honoured Motodrom, which has served as the stage for countless memorable racing battles.• Group C Supercup
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