One man wants to reach the top.
When Keke Rosberg of Finland appeared in his first European event at Hockenheim in 1973 driving a Hansen Formula Vee, there was no mistaking that a new racing star had been born. ‘His driving style was aggressive, brutal and impressive,’ said the head of Kaimann, Kurt Bergmann, straight away from the side of the track. Soon after, Rosberg became the first Formula Vee 1300 driver to pass the nine-minute mark for a lap on the Nürburgring’s Northern Loop. By now, it was apparent that this was a man who was destined to move up to Formula Super Vee. Under the auspices of Kurt Bergmann, the European champion initially spent a season in the private Kaimann team, Uwe’s Mode Racing, before being promoted to the Vienna-based factory team. It was then only a matter of time before he clinched the title of German Super Vee champion. ‘Those were some fantastic years with a great deal of fun and cheerful team colleagues,’ Rosberg was quoted as saying back then. But it was a tough period too, during which his permanent place of residence was a campsite in Austria when he wasn’t staying with friends in Heidelberg. But Keke Rosberg was recompensed for all of the hardships of his early career when he won the 1982 Formula 1 World Championship.
Like a force of nature.
Helmut Marko, who hails from the Austrian city of Graz and has a doctorate in law, hit the world of Formula Vee like a force of nature when he joined it in 1967. The 25-year-old friend of Jochen Rindt was such a force to be reckoned with that his competitors often preferred not to put up any significant resistance when it came to tussles with him at close quarters on the track. Marko soon moved up the ranks of Kurt Bergmann’s Kaimann team and became its number one driver, proving himself to be an uncompromising victor time and again – competitors who crossed his path had to brace themselves for anything. There wasn’t a trick in the book or a concealed foul that he didn’t use – tactics which would nowadays see a driver instantly being slapped with a drive-through penalty or worse. And when things did get heated, it was always the other person’s fault anyway, as far as Marko was concerned. Nonetheless, big blonde Marko never lost his laid-back attitude. When race starts were delayed, for example, he would often whip out a pack of cards and would proceed to take his competitors to the cleaners in games of poker and pontoon. And it wasn’t unheard of for him to spend the evening before a training session or a race out drinking with his buddies – and still win the race the next day. Nowadays, Helmut Marko acts as a consultant to the Red Bull Formula 1 team. He is therefore one of the most influential men in the world of Grand Prix sport.
Alone against the rest of the world.
He was part of the group of wild and globally feared Austrians that decisively shaped the success of the early Formula Vee years. The quiet and introverted young man from St. Pölten assumed the role of lone warrior. ‘I relied solely on myself and ploughed my own furrow technically,’ says Huber looking back. This also included his own developments, such as finding suitable shock absorbers. ‘When it came to testing, everyone was pretty lazy back then. I took advantage of this and worked with Bilstein to push things forward.’ As the big Formula Vee movement swung into action in 1966, Huber was immediately among the front runners, emerging victorious in the European championship races on the Northern Loop in the rain and in dry conditions, also winning on the Nürburgring Southern Loop, and heading the field in Monaco with a record lead until he had to retire due to a broken brake drum. Despite heavy resistance from his compatriots Marko, Peter, Pankl and the rest, he secured the coveted European title in 1967. Huber still raves about it to this day: ‘It was enormously gratifying for me at the time, to go up against the rest of the world as a lone warrior and blow them all away.’
Make way, gentlemen!
There were few Formula Vee drivers who weren’t afraid of their competitor Hannelore Werner, a perky young lady from Hürth near Cologne. No man felt safe in her presence – purely in a sporting capacity, of course. The list of this blonde dental technician’s achievements really is quite impressive and many a time she drove her male competitors almost to distraction. ‘That woman’s driving really takes the biscuit!’ said the outraged Formula Vee driver Helmut Bross in Zolder in 1967 when this spunky lady driving a Mahag Olympic stole a seemingly secure victory right from under his nose with a hair-raising overtaking manoeuvre across the grassy verge shortly before the chequered flag. Situations like this arose time and again in the fast-paced world of Hannelore Werner and on many an occasion the competitors shown up in this way found themselves playing second fiddle to this blonde girl with the cheeky grin when they took their places on the winners’ rostrum. Dieter Quester, who is a bit of a joker, once suggested to his duped Formula Vee colleagues that they should ‘get that woman together with a real man so that she doesn’t have so much energy for racing’. She married her mentor Günther Hennerici, but this only made her even quicker on the track. An illustrious professional career followed the Formula Vee years.
Tamer of rowdies.
Although he has more than 30 years’ racing experience and has also racked up many successes with modern Formula and sports cars, the conversation always comes back to where it all started for Helmut Bross – the Formula Vee era. ‘The wonderfully wild and crazy Formula Vee was the greatest thing I have ever experienced. Kipping with four men in the same room, there was camaraderie and fun around the clock. Your fellow competitor was your friend; these days he’s your enemy.’ Bross grew up at the end of the 1960s with the craziest racing clique of all time. His rivals were called Marko, Ertl, Pankl, Riedl, Schurti, Luyendijk, Trint, Rosberg and the rest – the worst bunch of rowdies you could ever imagine. He sat in the capricious Fuchs, the solid Kaimann, the revolutionary Komet and the lean Lola. Three Formula Vee titles and one in the 1.6-litre Super Vee championship made him the most successful German in the sport at the time. Incidentally, the ‘Komet’ that brought him the Super Vee title in 1972 was actually a Porsche construction built by Weissacher racing engineers for their friends Günther Steckkönig and Eberhard Braun, and featured torsion bar suspension instead of spiral springs. ‘Only two were ever built,’ recalls Bross. ‘The thing was just incredible.’
The indestructible man.
Gerold Pankl from Bruck an der Mur had a brief yet intense career as a racing driver. Not for nothing was he known as ‘the indestructible man’. Most intense of all were the hair-raising accidents in which the Austrian was involved during the wildest early days of Formula Vee between 1966 and 1968. The well-built outdoorsman always pushed his Austro V to and beyond the limit. He either emerged victorious or sparks flew. There were so many crashes that even his hardened Formula Vee pals began to brood. Within the space of just a few weeks, Pankl was catapulted out of the cockpit of his Volkswagen racing car in Spa and at the Nürburgring, ‘on each occasion at tree height like a grenade’. In those days there were no seatbelts. That he survived both major crashes is bordering on a miracle: broken back, severed muscles, complicated fractures and bruises everywhere; hardly any area of his body was spared. He carried on after Formula Vee, switching to touring cars, until the fun slowly but surely went out of racing for the driving school owner from Styria following further injuries.
More dangerous than permitted by the TÜV.
Whenever the fastest man in Liechtenstein travelled to his Formula Vee races in the 1960s and 1970s, the little principality’s only government office for vehicle approvals simply remained closed. This is because Manfred Schurti was the government official responsible for automobile approval and his only member of staff was also his mechanic, so the office simply had to shut. And it is said that nobody in the principality was remotely bothered by this state of affairs – what a wonderful world it must have been back then! Manfred Schurti was a key player during the headiest days of Formula Vee and Super Vee. His race finish alongside Erich Breinsberg in the 1970 European final at the Salzburgring is legendary. The two of them thundered towards the chequered flag neck and neck, with Schurti in an Austro V and his Austrian opponent in a Kaimann. Shortly before the finishing line, both drivers began to steer in each other’s direction. The two adversaries sped across the finishing line with their front wheels locked together. Schurti, who was a fraction ahead and therefore awarded the race win, went hurtling into a crash barrier, while Breinsberg, who clinched the overall title, landed in the embankment on the other side. However, Schurti did then go on to win championships too. He won the 1972 Formula Vee European Cup in a Royale and then beat the Americans in the World Cup in Daytona.
There was no way of getting past him.
Erich Breinsberg, a qualified chemist and the son of a VW dealer in Vienna, is another of the big Austrian names who dominated the golden age of Formula Vee and Super Vee. Between 1966 and 1971, race victories were mostly the domain of Erich Breinsberg in Kaimann head Kurt Bergmann’s top team, where he spent almost his entire career as a racing driver, jostling with other crack drivers such as Lauda, Marko and Ertl. The only thing to say about his dramatic European championship win at the Salzburgring in 1970 is: see Manfred Schurti above. Breinsberg also got off to a flying start in the more powerful 1.6-litre Formula Super Vee: in the first year of Super Vee in 1971, he beat the Americans to win the first Super Vee Transatlantic Challenge in Daytona. At the end of the season, he also became the first ever European Super Vee champion. “Everything I have achieved, I owe to Kurt Bergmann. He was one of a kind, both as a team manager and on a personal level,” says Breinsberg.
The shocker from America.
Few visits from an American Formula Vee delegation have caused the same degree of shock as the one for the Eifel Cup event at the Nürburgring in 1968. The final of the European championship in the Eifel region was given something of a twist by the appearance of the American Bill Scott, who, at the age of 29, was already a big name on the American Formula Vee circuit with his Zink Special. The Austrians, who by now were used to regularly winning, could hardly believe their eyes when Scott ruthlessly and comfortably trumped them on the tricky, seven-kilometre-long Southern Loop, ultimately crossing the line on the wet circuit with an incredible 15-second lead. The Austrian trio of Riedl, Marko and Huber could only look on in astonishment at the end of the race. Riedl did manage to clinch the European Cup – but being trounced at the Nürburgring of all places was still very hard for the Austrians to swallow. Bill Scott, also Super Vee champion in the USA in 1971 and 1972, passed away a few years back following a tragic accident. In the small town on Adenau of all places – not far from the Nürburgring – he was knocked over by a car while crossing the road and seriously injured. He never really recovered and later died as a result of the injuries he received.
Between Genious and madness.
The Mannheim-based Austrian kept the Formula Vee world on the edge of its seat for a few years and left behind some enduring memories. As a penniless young driver, it was with an admirable degree of tenacity that he managed to persuade team chiefs to allow him to drive cars for free. By way of thanks, the master in the art of living with the full beard drove the Formula Vee racing cars acquired in this manner from Porsche Salzburg (Austro V) and Bergmann (Kaimann) to spectacular victories often enough, although he was also responsible for some hefty crash landings which soon gave rise to a new term in racing sport. When people spoke of a car that had been ‘ertled’, this simply meant that a driver had totalled a car in a manner characteristic of Ertl. When Ertl finally joined the Kaimann team, his team chief Kurt Bergmann noted with an expert eye that the ‘the wild dog oscillated constantly between genius and madness. He would either win the toughest race or throw away a sure-fire victory’. Even so, the Austrian who raced with a German licence only just missed out on winning the European championship and in 1973 he won the Formula Super Vee ‘battle of the nations’ between Europe and the USA at Hockenheim. Harald Ertl died in April 1982 at the age of 33 in a plane crash near Gießen.