Group C Talk – The Fascination of Historic MotorsportApril 5, 2022
KW Group C Supercup – A review of the 2022 Race in HockenheimNovember 16, 2022
The start of the Group C Supercup in Hockenheim was not just a rare opportunity to see the fascinating cars from the golden era of endurance racing in Germany on the track again. The two races in Baden also provided deep insights into this very special category of historic motorsport.
Translation of the original text from: Norbert Ockenga
Fotos: Berit Erlbacher, Elfi Jung
published in PITWALK Magazine #67
The blue eyes look around searchingly. With a reserved smile, the petite gray-haired man finally asks some random passersby standing around, "Would you mind helping for a minute? Could you stop here and lift?"
With that, Edi Taveri points to the corners of the hood of his Mazda 757, and his gray hair bobs a bit in the windless box.
It almost seems as if the Swiss is a little uncomfortable asking the spectators at the Hockenheim Historic for help. But in fact, their eyes suddenly light up like those of a small child being allowed into the Christmas room for the first time: after all, they are allowed to personally lay their hands on one of the cars that is the absolute crowd favorite at every appearance in the Group C Supercup.
The Mazda 757 won the IMSAGTP class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1987 in seventh place overall, making it the predecessor model of the car in which Johnny Herbert, Bertrand Gachot and Volker Weidler took their sensational victory in western France in 1991. And it is a real treasure. "There are only two sister cars left of that model," smiles Taveri. They're both at Mazda USA in Irwing, California."
MEET HIM WITH A ROAR
Taveri is from Horgen on Lake Zurich. His uncle is the former motorcycle world champion Luigi Taveri. But the histo-racer from Switzerland doesn't really like to read about that. Rather, about his love for the brand from Hiroshima - for a car manufacturer, in other words, that is actually not exactly known as an idol and crowd puller. "I've been the Mazda representative in Switzerland for over 50 years," Taveri beams, his voice becoming as soft as if he were talking about his first love in the schoolyard. "Through that connection, I once went to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with them.
I still have the old video recordings and photos today - and I watch them regularly. Ever since I was allowed into the pits there, I've been absolutely enthralled by the cars and the atmosphere."
With the purchase of the white racing car, which was penned by the legendary English sports car designer Nigel Strout, the 74-year-old fulfilled a gentleman's dream - and is now suddenly the unwanted center of attention wherever he races the 757. The engine screams and shrieks like a toothy toddler - so piercingly that there is spontaneous applause every time Taveri presses the starter.
The carpet of sound is due to the engine concept - which becomes visible as soon as Taveri and his volunteers have balanced the huge hood. Where one would expect to find one or two banks of cylinders, the Mazda's rear end houses a giant box. In there, the three rotors of the rotary engine work. "They are guided by a gear wheel and describe a flat figure eight," Taveri describes. "The motor runs completely vibration-free during this process." But it roars infernally. So brutal, in fact, that Le Mans winner Weidler suffered chronic tinitus in the successor to Taveri's 757. To this day, the Heidelberg native can't watch a car race on site because the piercing whistle in his ears would drive him up the walls.
Taveri is a lone wolf. No mechanics scurry around the 757 in his pit; even the huge fuel can has to be hoisted up by the little Swiss with the sunny disposition himself when his Japanese has to be prepared for training sessions or races. In this way, the Swiss illustrates precisely the field of tension that makes the Historic Group C so fascinating: from one-man enthusiasts to large professional teams, the paddock reflects the entire spectrum of motorsport.
At the very top, behind the last pit at Hockenheim, for example, Karl David Jennings is scratching his head. "It's unbelievable what kind of work you have to do with these cars," marvels the chief engineer of Gebhardt Motorsport - and draws a comparison with current racing, in which his employer has also been involved again since 2022: "Our LMP3 runs and runs. But here you always have new construction sites."
Scott doesn't just wrench on the massive Spice. He also acts as team manager at Crowne Racing - a team based near London's Stansted Airport.
Sinclair smiles a bit sweetly as he takes stock of the sport - in the evening at the paddock barbecue party, which the series organizers have specially organized as a reminiscence of old and companionable times Cover Story Group C 1. "The Spice belongs to an American collector, Grant Reid. He's in the food business full time," Sinclair digs out, clutching his non-alcoholic wheat. "Crowne Racing uses the cars he owns. He has a pretty high standard when it comes to that: he hardly ever comes to the races himself. But he expects us not just to roll along somewhere - but to have real successes to show for it."
Werner's chase of Nielsen in the Porsche ends in transmission damage: The gear from second gear looks like a grandma who put the third teeth in the jar at night. "The transmission is built exactly the same as it was back then," explains Bill Harris, the C88's co-designer, "but the new gears, dog rings, and shafts are made in different places and different stores. If the measurements and dimensions aren't exactly right, the shaft can start to wander and the gears can break."
But it's not just manufacturing tolerances like these that put historic race cars under extraordinary stress. During restoration, parts are installed in some areas, such as the dampers, that are up to date with the latest developments and findings. "We used to race with soft bars and hard dampers," Harris nods, "now it's the other way around."
That also provokes completely different forces and load peaks into different areas of the car - and explains all the work Jennings has been snorting about. At the same time, the perfectionism with which teams like Crowne or Gebhardt prepare and use the old cars is also the best advertisement for these experts: In the second round of Hockenheim, Michael Lyons - a 31-year-old histo-racing specialist from Bishops Stratford in England - wins against the assembled C1 elite with the freshly built C2 small car. The professional world from all possible branches of histo-sport listens up: "We have already been approached by some other car owners," recapitulates team boss Fritz Gebhardt, "who would like us to restore their cars as well."
Taveri, on the other hand, has to contend with completely different perils. He doesn't drive his Mazda with the original Le Mans steering wheel - but with a touring car racing flounce. Its conspicuous diameter doesn't suit the squat interior of a Group C racer. "When it started to rain, my rear end broke out once," smiles Taveri. "And when I was countersteering, I hit the seatbelt buckle with my wrist. That's why I had to pit in between to re-tighten my seatbelt."
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