Nobody knows Formula Vee better than Rainer Braun.
Rainer Braun. People with an interest in Formula Vee in the 1960s and 1970s simply can’t avoid this name. Rainer Braun was not only a passionate journalist, trackside reporter, and TV commentator, but also has first-hand experience of the sport: he was part of the driving squad at the German premiere in 1965 at the Norisring and also went on to compete in around 80 Formula Vee races in Germany and abroad up until 1972. The stories that this man can tell about Formula Vee are just incredible and still highly entertaining to this day. Daring drivers, hair-raising battles on the racing circuits, ingenious constructors and canny team chiefs: Rainer Braun knows the whole truth – and will reveal it all for Volkswagen Motorsport.
Fifty stories about the wildest and craziest racing series that European motor sport has seen to this day. And if you still can’t get enough, simply pick up one of the many motor sport bestsellers written by Rainer Braun.
Although the official end of the Formula Vee 1300 series was announced in 1977 and Formula Super Vee increasingly took centre stage, the 1.3-litre Volkswagen cars nonetheless continued to race happily at historical meetings. In 1996, 2000 and 2009 a number of former top drivers and constructors met at revival events at the Nürburgring and in Hockenheim.
Two organisations keep the now 50-year-old Formula Vee tradition alive in Germany: the ‘Verband Historische Formel V Europa e.V.’ in Munich and the ‘Rennsportclub 77 Formel V Deutschland e.V.’ in Fürth. Owners of lovingly restored Formula Vee single-seaters from the heyday of the VW racing series get together every year at the numerous meetings and club events. People compete in their own club championships and maintain the social aspect. Somewhere along the line, the nostalgia enthusiasts hit upon the idea of asking the surviving masters of the sport to get behind the wheels of the cars once again. The fact that the hip and waist measurements of the senior speedsters – now aged between 65 and 80 – meant they could barely fit in the tight cockpits did nothing to dampen the spirits. At the ‘AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix’ meetings in 1996 and 2000 at the Nürburgring and the ‘Bosch Hockenheim Historic’ in 2009, former stars such as Günther Huber, Gerold Pankl and Helmut Bross, and constructors like Kurt Bergmann (Kaimann) and Heinz Fuchs squeezed into their erstwhile racing cars with eyes all aglow.
Everyone had their fun on the quick demo laps and then things really got going when the tales of adventure began doing the rounds (‘Did I tell you about the time when we …’). Incidentally, the now 74-year-old Austrian Gerold Pankl had the longest journey – he now lives in Paraguay. Even 85-year-old racing legend Hans Herrmann, who was president of the European Formula Vee organisation for many years after his active career, wasted no time in helping 84-year-old Kaimann constructor Kurt Bergmann into his cockpit. ‘A wonderful sight. It really gives you goose pimples,’ remarked an older fan. The man next to him added: ‘Those were brilliant times.’ How right they are.
Imposing line-up: The Formula Vee revival in 1996 at the Nürburgring
Legendary status: Kurt Bergmann (84), Hans Herrmann (85) as revival guests in 2009 in Hockenheim
Businessman Eberhard Winkler had always been a racing fan. Since he wasn’t keen on getting behind the wheel himself for work-related reasons, without further ado he decided to establish his own Formula Vee team. The modest start in 1970 with a Kaimann 1300 was followed one year later by a two-car team which also included Jochen Mass.
The green and black Kaimann 1300 Formula Vee racing car belonging to the WRD team always looked spick and span – squeaky clean, state-of-the-art components and a real feast for the eyes. ‘When you work in the advertising industry, you have to present yourself accordingly,’ so went the motto of team chief Winkler. His company, ‘Westdeutscher Reklame Dienst’ (WRD) based in Bonn, earned its money through illuminated advertising and the production of promotional articles. The journalists Manfred Jantke and Rainer Braun took it in turns to sit in the Kaimann cockpit – both men repaid the team patron with victories and podium finishes. Jantke still waxes lyrical about the perfection of the Winkler team: ‘That was certainly the best team in which I ever competed in Formula Vee.’ The boss left nothing to chance and had the car regularly overhauled at the Kaimann headquarters of Kurt Bergmann in Vienna and only the best parts and engines were fitted.
However, Winkler is unable to refrain from taking a little sideswipe. ‘A fly in the otherwise squeaky clean team ointment was when the car was completely written off by Braun in a turbulent five-car battle for victory on the Southern Loop of the Nürburgring. The car was in a terrible state, but luckily he didn’t hurt himself.’ Winkler subsequently stepped up to larger models, bought two Kaimann Super Vee racing cars in 1971 and pinned most of his hopes on young driver Jochen Mass. But that’s a different story altogether.
Eberhard Winkler is now 75 and has been living in Monaco for 16 years, where he is involved in aid projects in the social and educational sphere.
In the drift: The WRD on a victory drive in Hockenheim
In conversation: Team chief Eberhard Winkler (right) and Jochen Mass
From the early days of Formula Vee, the man from ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands was a kind of cult figure: at almost 50 years of age, Jaap Luyendyk was not only considered a tough nut for many a young rival, but also a passionate mechanic whose hands were forever covered in oil. When his 19-year-old son Arie also decided to join Formula Vee in 1972, the first father–son team in this racing series was complete.
A picture that could be seen every weekend at a different racetrack: Jaap Luyendyk up to his elbows in the oily gearbox of a Formula Vee racing car. With boiler suit and spanner lying halfway under or next to his car, he was either working on his own or his son’s racing car. His oil-smeared handshake was as strong as it was sincere. Repairing, preparing, bolting, helping – that was Jaap Luyendyk’s world and also that of Luyendyk Junior from 1972. From then on, father and son battled it out for many a podium place. Both put their trust in the Karringer design from Germany, shared the front row of the grid – especially on their home circuit in Zandvoort – and even managed to record a double victory there.
While Arie quickly outgrew Formula Vee 1300, became European champion in the faster Super Vee and was soon receiving offers to race in the US Super Vee series, Luyendyk Senior carried on racing undeterred and was still sitting in the cockpit when the Formula Vee series was being staged in Germany as a historical event. ‘My father was happy doing that until the end of his days,’ reports Arie. ‘He was still taking part in historical events until shortly before his death.’
Jaap Luyendyk died in February 2005 at the age of 82, but not before proudly seeing his highly talented son win the famous Indianapolis 500 in 1990 and 1997 and secure pole position on three occasions.
These days Arie lives with his family in Phoenix, Arizona. His 32-year-old son Arie Junior has also been racing in the USA for a number of years, but there was to be no repeat of the father–son duel.
A family affair: Karringer duo Arie (#15) and Jaap Luyendyk (#1) share the front row of the grid in 1972 in Zandvoort
© Luyendyk archive
Arie and Jaap Luyendyk in 1991
© Luyendyk archive
He was one of the wildest, craftiest and craziest drivers in the early history of Formula Vee. Harald Ertl, an Austrian living in Mannheim, exasperated team chiefs and rivals in equal measure. He either celebrated great victories or wrote off his car.
With an admirable degree of tenacity, the penniless young driver with the full beard managed to persuade all kinds of team chiefs to allow him to drive cars for free. By way of thanks, the master in the art of living 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. It wasn’t long before Kaimann chief Kurt Bergmann noted with an expert eye that the ‘the man oscillated constantly between genius and madness. He would either win the toughest race or throw away the easiest victory’.
Incidentally, one of the most notorious tricks up Ertl’s sleeve went as follows: drive in the slipstream of the man in front with a slight overhang right on the exposed end of the gear linkage so that it jumped out of gear – and sure enough he moved up another place in the field on his way to the front. Rival Helmut Bross put it like this: ‘Fighting it out with him was actually always a lot of fun. He may have been an unforgiving trickster, but he was never a danger to other drivers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of a few other contemporaries.’
Ertl’s subsequent professional career took him to the world of touring cars, Formula 2 and even Formula 1. He made a lot of personal sacrifices in the process and was often teetering on the edge of the financial abyss, but his amazing talent for self-promotion and canny knack of finding willing sponsors saved him from total ruin time and again. However, in an ironic twist of fate, he ultimately did end up crashing once and for all. The private plane flying him to a short break by the North Sea in April 1982 smashed into field near Gießen. Harald Ertl was just 33 years old.
A famous Formula Vee face: Harald Ertl in 1968
Formula Vee win in 1970 at the Nürburgring: Harald Ertl (centre) with Bertil Roos (left) and Mika Arpiainen
Wherever Formula Vee turned up on the starting grid for an important race, two men from Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg were always in attendance. Public relations chief Hans Strömel and his deputy Harald Stibbe kept a watchful eye on proceedings as ‘inspectors’ to make sure that the company was accorded a sufficiently positive reaction.
It should be remembered that V did, after all, stand for Volkswagen and, apart from the frames and panelling, almost everything on these racing cars for young drivers had to be sourced from the range of original parts in Wolfsburg. When PR director Hans Strömel and his right-hand man Harald Stibbe turned up in the paddock, the entire Formula Vee crew and the organisers would stand upright. The two men from Wolfsburg were not only the most senior Volkswagen representatives in attendance, but were also responsible for allocating the generous annual budget which Formula Vee Europe and Formula Vee Germany received every year. In any case, responsibility for everything related to the then still somewhat modest Volkswagen Motorsport fell under the aegis of Strömel’s ‘public relations’ department. ‘Nothing was possible without his say-so,’ according to the former Formula Vee Europe general secretary Anton Konrad, who himself later became PR chief in Wolfsburg.
The roles were well allocated – Strömel was seen as the shrewd observer, pragmatic analyst and good diplomat, while Stibbe was seen more as his superior’s enforcer. If awkward talks or political changes of course within the sport were in the offing, Stibbe took care of matters by speaking clearly to those concerned in the interests of the company. ‘It was really great working with Hans,’ says the now 78-year-old, looking back. ‘Each of us did what we were best able to do.’
Here is a nice little story about Strömel: because wife Betty was concerned that her Hans could fall for the charms of a pretty lady in the paddock, she never let him travel alone to the races. ‘She generally followed him everywhere,’ recalls Anton Konrad with a grin. ‘The poor man didn’t ever get the slightest opportunity to stray from the path of virtue.’
Hans Strömel died in March 1999 at the age of 72. Harald Stibbe is a pensioner in the best of health and still lives in Wolfsburg.
A real honour: Stibbe (l.) and Strömel (r.) at a prize-giving ceremony in 1973 with Veemax constructor Max Johansson
A real pleasure: The Formula Vee officials Hans Herrmann, Anton Konrad and Harald Stibbe celebrate a successful race at the Nürburgring with sport presidents Huschke von Hanstein (AvD) and Jochen Springer (ADAC) in 1971
A voice like thunder, always well informed and present at most Formula Vee events as the race commentator – Jochen Luck from Kassel was part of the big Formula Vee family in Germany from the very first year.
As a race commentator, Jochen Luck was always one of the best. By the end of his commentating career in 1987, the reporter with the powerful voice had commentated on more than 500 races, including 36 MotoGP, 20 Formula One, 33 Motocross World Championship and 19 ADAC 1000 km races. The Nürburgring and Hockenheim were like a second home to him at weekends and in the years of the German Formula Vee movement hardly a race was started without his legendary, multilingual greeting ceremony for the drivers.
Once the wild Formula Vee fighters had taken up their starting positions, Luck embarked on his international greeting ritual. He often welcomed his Formula Vee clientele in up to ten languages. At the time, many people believed that there was an extraordinary language genius at work behind the microphone. Somewhere along the line, Luck eventually revealed the secret of his apparent multilingual talent – it consisted solely of a two-page crib sheet with the various greetings of all the Formula Vee nations. He had noted down some of the greetings as they were originally supposed to be written; others he only wrote down how they should be correctly pronounced. As such, Swedish drivers, for instance, regularly heard the following sentence: ‘Heija, Heija – frisk humeur, det er det som sussen jer.’ It isn’t clear whether that corresponds to how it is actually supposed to be written …
Luck recently celebrated his 88th birthday at home in the Wilhelmshöhe district of Kassel and is fitter than almost anyone else in his age group. He still rides his beloved enduro motorcycle around the area, goes to almost every MotoGP race and still even plays ice hockey occasionally. ‘A love of sport’, reveals the legendary reporter with total conviction, ‘has kept me fit and healthy to this day.’
Luck’s original crib sheet: ‘Heija, Heija’, ‘Buena partenza’, ‘Huie daach mijnheer’
© Luck private archive
Jochen Luck 1970
© Luck private archive
The atmosphere was very tense before the Formula Vee European Cup Final at the Salzburgring. Of all places, the title decider between the Austrians Harald Ertl and Erich Breinsberg (both Kaimann) and the Finn Lasse Sirviö (Austro V) had to be contested on the high-speed racetrack which was seemingly made for dangerous slipstream battles. The biggest commotion was saved for the finishing line.
The battle at the head of the field had swayed back and forth for a number of laps: from a group of six drivers, each took their turn to lead the race. In the thick of it were the three title candidates. The express train lined up for the final lap with five cars still in the running. Breinsberg cleverly brought his Kaimann to the front of the pack on the back straight and was leading the quintet coming into the final bend. With just one short straight left to negotiate, everything seemed to have been settled. However, the Liechtensteiner Manfred Schurti launched a surprising counter-attack and drew level with Breinsberg. Both men thundered towards the chequered flag side by side. Each squeezed the other a little until their wheels touched. As the flag was waved, the racing director couldn’t believe his eyes: both tearaways had crossed the finishing line in a dubious state. It happened shortly after that – Breinsberg’s Kaimann took off and, after a spectacular double somersault, skidded almost 200 metres along the asphalt on its roll bar. Meanwhile, Schurti was stuck fast on the crash barrier with his Austro V. Apart from a swollen foot for VW coordinator Harald Stibbe, thankfully nobody was seriously injured – what was somebody doing sitting on the very crash barrier that Schurti smashed into anyway …
Since the men were neck and neck as they crossed the finishing line, no clear winner could initially be established. After lengthy discussions and questioning of witnesses, Schurti was declared the winner. The result was highly debatable and a photo soon turned up the following day which showed the nose of Breinberg’s Kaimann in front by a hair’s breadth. ‘I really didn’t care,’ said Breinsberg, referring to the obvious wrong decision. ‘The only thing that mattered to me was winning the European title, and second place was enough for that.’ Peace, joy, party mood.
Salzburg somersault: The start of the rollover – Breinsberg (right) and Schurti in a clinch
The main protagonists without helmets: Manfred Schurti and Erich Breinsberg
The Volkswagen dealer Theo Hilmer from Ottobrunn, near Munich, helped to write a good deal of Formula Vee history. His racing cars were always as squeaky clean as his business and his willingness to lend a hand knew no bounds. As president of the German Formula Vee section, he touchingly looked after everything and everybody.
‘Why don’t we ask Theo?’ This sentence could be heard time and again whenever a Formula Vee driver who didn’t belong to one of the professional teams run by Porsche Salzburg, Bergmann, Mahag or Fuchs found themselves in a fix. Theo always helped out. Sometimes a word of good advice was enough, but tools and spare parts were also called upon. And those who were hungry or thirsty could rely on Theo’s wife Ruth to provide a solid meal. In the Formula Vee paddock, the pair kind of took on the role of surrogate parents for the weekend.
At the same time, despite his advancing years, Theo Hilmer also liked to get behind the wheel of his beautiful Austro V, with which the then almost 50-year-old would have won any ‘Concours d’Elégance’. There was not one speck of dust; everything was spotlessly clean – from the wheel carrier and rims to the roll bar. He even had the rear-view mirror chrome-plated specially. For all that, he wasn’t exactly among the front runners when it came to the race itself. That’s because he drove more in keeping with the rules of the Olympic spirit – it’s not the winning, but the taking part. He completed his laps carefully and considerately; he would never even have dreamt of exerting pressure on an opponent.
Of all places, it was the garage at home in Ottobrunn that was to prove a fateful place for the Hilmers. As the man of the house wanted to fire up the Austro V (‘the left hand on the starter, the right hand on the slide carburettor’) to take it for a quick spin, he was knocked down and run over by his own Formula Vee racing car. Unfortunately it was in first gear. He was to recover from the numerous fractures and bruises just as little as his wife, who subsequently had an accident while sweeping snow. She wanted to clean the glass roof of the same garage, but fell through while doing so. Theo Hilmer died in 2001 at the age of 78; his wife Ruth died a few years later.
Suited and booted: Hilmer in his role as president of Formula Vee Germany with drivers Bross, Jagtlund, Arpainen, Scharmann (from left)
© Hist. Formula Vee Europe
That’s the way it’s done: Theo Hilmer (l) imparts some seasoned advice in the Formula Vee paddock
On the initiative and invitation of the Volkswagen exclusive importer, Champion Motors, the European Formula Vee travelled to Israel in mid-November 1970 to take part in the country’s first ever car race in Ashkelon. For the organisers and spectators it was a first; for the drivers and teams it was a completely new experience.
For the first car race in the history of the state of Israel, the racing contingent moved into shared lodgings at the Hotel Schechter in Ashkelon, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Travel and hotel costs were paid for by the newly formed ‘Israel Racing Association’ (IRA) and the VW importer. The German cooperation partner AvD organised the entire race. The 4.5-kilometre-long circuit was bumpy and narrow and situated in a fallow area with sand, fields, dunes and wild vegetation. The generous timetable allowed plenty of time for cultural excursions to places such as the Wailing Wall or the desert town of Beer Sheva.
On the day of the race, around 20,000 excited spectators flocked to the course, although none of them had the slightest sense of danger. Safety zones were ignored; the further forward, the better. The lack of safety awareness among the general public turned the event into a ride on a razor’s edge and the training session had to be interrupted several times as a result. As the situation escalated further during the race itself and there was a risk to life and limb among the spectators and drivers, the race director prematurely brought the highly dangerous Formula Vee spectacle to an end after 15 of the 20 laps by waving the red flag. In the lead at the time was the Swede Bertil Roos (RPB) ahead of Austrian Helmut Koinigg (Kaimann) and the man from Stuttgart, Helmut Bross (Fuchs). Even the planned Formula 2 race featuring a number of international stars fell victim to the safety aspect – just a few slow demo laps through the throng of amazed Israelis soon put paid to that.
The native organisers were intent on holding the ‘Grand Prix of Israel’ again the following year and optimising many aspects, but nothing came of it – at the time the country simply wasn’t yet properly equipped for racing sport.
Unleashed crowd: the more packed the track, the better …
‘Thank you for coming’: A letter from the VW exclusive importer to the participants
Nürburgring, Saturday, 5 September 1970, shortly before 4 p.m. In the paddock, a huge Formula Vee field was ready and waiting to be called to the starting grid for the penultimate race in the European Cup. During the countdown, the news that Jochen Rindt had been involved in a fatal accident in Monza struck everyone like a clap of thunder.
Before the approach to the tunnel, the Formula Vee crew had lined up in their usual rows of three, most of them already buckled in with their helmet on. At that moment, Dieter Quester came running through the main gate before crouching down by the cockpits of his compatriots and breaking the terrible news: ‘Rindt is dead. I’ve just found out.’ Harald Ertl, Peter Peter and the other Austrians were all stunned, as were all the other competitors. News of the death had spread within the space of a few minutes. Some of the drivers removed their helmets, got out of their cars and began discussing agitatedly. Concentration for the impending race was ruined.
Jochen Rindt was just 28 years old. Even though he had long-since been a Formula 1 driver for Cooper-Maserati, particularly in the early years of Formula Vee he also looked after his compatriots with a great deal of enthusiasm and dedication. ‘Austria would never have risen to become a leading Formula Vee nation as quickly without Jochen,’ said Salzburgring chief and ÖASC president Willy Löwinger acknowledging his merits. ‘He trained patiently with the boys in Kottingbrunn and taught them all the essentials for winning a race.’ At the Bahamas Speed Week, he even squeezed behind the wheel of an Austro Vee and led the Austrian team to a resounding treble victory, and when the first major Formula Vee race was held on the Northern Loop in 1966, with drivers from eight nations, he organised a private training day at the Nürburgring for his protégés beforehand. ‘Jochen gave us all a massive boost and, above all, he gave us self-confidence,’ says Peter Peter to this day. ‘I don’t know whether we would have been as successful so quickly without him.’
Choking back tears, Harald Ertl, who won the sombre European Cup race on 5 September on the Northern Loop, immediately dedicated his victory to Jochen Rindt. The two men knew each other from their boarding school days in Bad Aussee.
Teacher Rindt with pupil Günther Huber: Formula Vee training day in Kottingbrunn in 1966
© Powerslide Archive
Sharing information: Jochen Rindt with journalist Braun
In 1970, European Formula Vee was bolstered by a popular figure. Racing legend Hans Herrmann was voted in as the new president and represented the organisation for six years.
Hans Herrman was 42 years old back in June 1970 and had only just driven to victory in perfect style in the Porsche 917 to secure the first ever win for the Stuttgart-based company in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans when he announced his retirement a little later in the ZDF aktuelle sportstudio. ‘I would like to use this wonderful success as an opportunity to bring the curtain down on my active career as a racing driver. I promised my wife that I would immediately stop racing as soon as I finally won Le Mans.’ Yet it wasn’t long before a new challenge awaited the ex-racing driver who enjoyed legendary status – Hans Herrmann was asked by the Munich-based Formula Vee organisation if he would consider being nominated for European President.
As a result of his close links with Porsche, he naturally knew what Formula Vee was all about and who had brought it to Europe. After a brief period of reflection, he agreed and was unanimously voted in as the new European President at the AGM in Budapest in November 1970, filling the shoes of Graf von Hardenberg for the next six years. He had three vice presidents at his side – Fred Matthews from England, Sigward Andersson from Sweden and Pierre van Houtte from Belgium. Another new recruit took some of the pressure off the committee and especially General Secretary Anton Konrad: Klaus Beck came to the European headquarters of Formula Vee to take up his post as assistant. As well as taking care of the administrative side of things, he also solved all manner of problem cases big and small.
Meanwhile, the Formula Vee drivers were proud of their new president, who could be seen at virtually all the important races, was always approachable and was on hand with help and advice for the teams and drivers. Hans Herrmann, now 85, never regretted his appointment: ‘It allowed me to stay in touch with motor sport and the players within it. It was always fun imparting knowledge and advice to the young Formula Vee talent.’
‘Yes, I accept my election’: Hans Herrmann in 1970 in Budapest, next to him is General Secretary Anton Konrad
New recruit: Klaus Beck, assistant and right-hand man of the Formula Vee management from 1970
Every year at the end of November, the racing calendar was brought to a close on the small circuit at Hockenheim Motordrom with the ‘MHSTC season finale’. The event was always a pleasing home fixture for the Formula Vee drivers from the local area – including Mannheim flower seller Günter Schmid.
‘How did you manage that?’ The compliments for the Kaimann driver Günter Schmid ranged from recognition to astonishment. The flower seller from Mannheim, who had been a regular if somewhat inconspicuous member of the Formula Vee 1300 community for years with his Opel estate, trailer and Kaimann racing car, was suddenly among the highly fancied Austrians after the training session. On both straights in particular, Schmid really turned up the heat and overtook three or more cars in one surprise attack. When the chequered flag was waved, Schmid was noted as the surprising runner-up and a few Austrians looked more than a little dumbfounded. The humiliated losers soon got together to discuss what was to be done about it. Of course, nobody wanted to lodge an official protest against the Schmid Kaimann for fear of being seen as a bad loser. So they opted for a more diplomatic approach and broke the following news to Schmid: the organisers were planning to inspect the engines of the first three cars. The news had the desired effect, because suddenly there were now just two Formula Vee cars standing in the parc fermé with the logical consequence being disqualification.
Friends of the man from Mannheim later recounted in trusted circles that Günter had anticipated the new generation of engines for Formula Super Vee and increased the cubic capacity from 1.3 litres to 1.5 or 1.6 litres as an experiment. Of course, it was never proven, but if that really was the case, he would have been better off waiting until the official start of the new Formula 1971. Particularly since Schmid, later owner of the alloy wheel company ATS, would soon go on to dominate the Super Vee races almost at will as team chief of his famous ATS Lola team with drivers like Manfred Trint and Freddy Kottulinski. He subsequently even made it as far as Formula 1 as the owner of the ATS racing team. It had been a long time since anyone had mentioned flowers.
Ready to go: Günter Schmid in the Kaimann in 1969
© Historical Archive Formula Vee Europe
Flowers and racing: Günter Schmid
© Historical Archive Formula Vee Europe
In 1969, as part of the German Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, the Northern Loop of the Nürburgring was the setting for the ultimate showdown between the two huge Austrian talents Dr Helmut Marko, 26, and Niki Lauda, 21. Both drivers were in a league of their own, battled it out come hell or high water and were half a minute ahead of the rest of the field. However, on the winners’ podium, there were more than just friendly words between the two adversaries.
Lawyer Marko in the McNamara was the first Formula Vee driver to receive a fixed fee; his compatriot Lauda was still driving for nothing in Kurt Bergmann’s Kaimann team. Both were on the verge of a big break; both knew that the Formula 1 team chiefs were watching them at the Ring. The Formula Vee engines were now capable of around 80 horsepower and the ten-minute lap record was teetering. Lauda broke it first in training with a time of 9.58.90 on the asphalt. Marko was just a hair’s breadth slower. In the race, both started on the front row and the lead was constantly changing hands, each following the other like a shadow. Every lap was under ten minutes. On the final lap, Marko set a new, absolute Formula Vee record with a lap time of 9.51.70 and suddenly won the race with a 15-second advantage. Peter Peter (Austro V) came third – about half a minute behind them. Once again there were three Austrians on the podium, but the atmosphere between Lauda and Marko was icy. Lauda was really peeved and thought he had been cheated out of possible victory. ‘Helmut forced me onto the grass during the final lap. That was not fair, not to mention the fact that it was highly dangerous.’ Team chief Bergmann considered a protest, but ultimately decided against it.
Two years almost to the day after the memorable duel at the Nürburgring, both former Formula Vee stars made their Formula 1 debut in their home Grand Prix at the Österreichring. Marko started in the BRM V12 from row nine and finished in a sensational eleventh place. Lauda in the March Ford V8 was two rows behind his long-standing rival, but had to retire due to technical difficulties.
Ruthless close combat: Lauda in the Kaimann in front, Marko in the McNamara behind
Presentation ceremony with discussions: Lauda, Marko, and Peter (from left)
Whenever inexperienced office dwellers forced their way into a Formula Vee racing car as guest drivers, alarm bells generally started ringing. Seasoned drivers mostly gave the pen-pushers a wide berth on the racetrack. However, in the case of motor journalist Manfred Jantke and Formula Vee general secretary Anton Konrad, an appearance at Hockenheim took a rather unexpected turn.
Both men only really wanted to get a little of the racing action at Hockenheim. The ‘DMV Rhine Cup Race’ in June 1969 or 1970 – it’s difficult to be exact – large circuit, ten laps, 80 entrants. There were two training groups, divided into odd and even numbers, the 30 slowest drivers would be eliminated; 25 drivers from each training group would qualify for the race. When the starting line-up was published, the established Formula Vee drivers were dumbfounded: in pole position was their federation chief Anton Konrad in the Austro V from Porsche Salzburg, next to him was top racer Beppo Wallner (Austro V) and immediately behind them was Manfred Jantke, editor of auto motor und sport, in the Kaimann which was normally driven by Erich Breinsberg. Race director Wilhelm Herz suspected a timekeeping error, summoned both guest drivers to appear before him and warned them with a stern look and severe tone of voice: ‘Gentlemen, I expect you to drive prudently and let the faster competitors past with no ifs or buts. If you fail to do so, I shall immediately withdraw you from the race with a black flag.’
It doesn’t take long to tell the rest of the story. Both guest drivers were at the head of the field. Jantke overtook Konrad on the final lap and drove to victory. Old hand Wallner finished third and was astonished as he paid tribute to the two pen-pushers. On the winners’ podium, a number of good things happened to motor journalist Manfred Jantke: ‘I got my very first laurel wreath, the German national anthem was played for me and Theo Hilmer, the president of Formula Vee Germany, gave me prize money of 300 Deutschmarks in cash.’ The final word goes to Anton Konrad: ‘It’s a shame that I made that mistake when I was in the lead going into the final lap. Manfred caught me off guard in the slipstream. It doesn’t matter; we had our fun.’
Driving like professionals: Jantke ahead, Konrad behind in the slipstream
© HP Seufert
Invasion of the pen-pushers: Jantke (with wreath), Konrad and German president Hilmer (with leg in plaster and stick)
© HP Seufert
The 1968 season finale in Hockenheim – in the starting line-up of the well-represented Formula Vee race stood two brand-new McNamara Sebring Mk1 cars. They were strikingly chic and sleek and even had the luxury of chrome uprights, suspension and driveshaft. And the McNamara single-seaters were also fast, which was proved by their starting position on the front row of the grid.
The US lieutenant and former Vietnam combatant Francis McNamara, born in 1938, was a motor sport enthusiast. When he was transferred to a US unit in Bavaria in 1966, he soon became involved in the still young Formula Vee movement as a driver. However, since he didn’t like the look and performance of the many different designs, he resolved to join the ranks of Formula Vee constructors. He quit the army and, with the help of his very wealthy wife Bonnie, the daughter of a rich publishing family in the USA, he opened a large workshop in Lenggries, near Bad Tölz. The young designers Jo Karasek and Gustav Brunner also got involved, as did superman Dr Helmut Marko. As driver, marketing manager and the company’s legal advisor, the lawyer from Graz soon became the most important figure at ‘McNamara Racing Cars’.
The fleet in Lenggries grew steadily and business was good. Besides Formula Vee, it wasn’t long before Formula 3 and even Indy racing cars were being built. In the build-up programme to the German Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Nürburgring Northern Loop, team leader Marko won the most important Formula Vee race of the year for McNamara in 1969. Following a ruthless battle with the new spearhead Niki Lauda over the full distance, the cunning Marko finally wrestled his rival to the ground on the last lap.
However, from 1970 onwards Francis McNamara’s star slowly began to wane. There were unpleasant confrontations with the clientele, the Formula 3 design was a flop and claims for compensation rattled the business. The demise of the racing car manufacturer assumed ever more dramatic forms; Marko and other important employees gradually left the company. The company boss ultimately fled Lenggries; his wife was found dead. McNamara’s whereabouts were something of a mystery for decades. However, the author of an upcoming book about himrecently tracked him down in the US state of Wisconsin. Now aged 76, he is said to be in poor health.
The cover page of a McNamara catalogue with Formula Vee driver Helmut Töpfl and a model
The boss and his deputy: Francis McNamara (right) and Dr Helmut Marko in 1969 at Hockenheim
© Archive Historic Formula Vee Europe
In April 1969, the 20-year-old Niki Lauda lined up in the works team of Kurt Bergmann for his first Formula Vee race on home soil at Aspern airfield in Vienna. His somersault in training would later become a sought-after image and adorned virtually every Lauda story.
In 1968, Kaimann team chief Kurt Bergmann noticed a young man who, initially in a Mini Cooper and later in a Porsche 911, was regularly driving to victory in domestic hill climb races. His name: Niki Lauda. At some point, he and Bergmann got talking and he asked whether there was any chance of a start in Formula Vee. Bergmann offered him a deal for one race in Finland. Since the regular lorry driver was away on holiday, Niki had to drive the van and trailer carrying a total of three cars to the far north. As a reward, in keeping with the offer, he was allowed to drive the third Kaimann for nothing. Niki did a decent job, finished the race and brought the entire fleet home again in one piece. This laid the foundation for Lauda’s Formula Vee year with the Kaimann team in 1969.
April 1969, the Aspern airfield race in Vienna, right on the doorstep of the Kaimann racing team. The team chief only needed to open one door to the airfield and his drivers were able to drive straight onto the track from the company premises. The Kaimann crew consisted of Erich Breinsberg, Helmut Lohner and Lauda, among others. On the morning of the race, there was a further time training session. Lauda briskly got down to work, overtaking one after the other before suddenly flipping upside down in the air. The rival who he had just overtaken raced past underneath him and then the Kaimann came down hard in the neighbouring field. Marshalls rushed to the scene, got the Formula Vee car back on four wheels and helped the slightly shocked but uninjured driver out of the cockpit. Niki’s first question: ‘Kurt, can you fix the car in time for the race?’ His analysis of the situation came afterwards: ‘I was so into the driving that I overtook where you can’t overtake. I’m completely to blame.’ They really did manage to fix the car and Niki finished in fifth place. After that came a series of wins in Formula Vee, but he left the series the following year to pursue a major career. The rest is history.
Impressive flight altitude, hard landing: Lauda overturns in 1969 at Aspern in Vienna
Slightly shocked: Lauda after his somersault making his way to the paddock
The ‘Easter races’ at Thruxton were not only a fine tradition among English people, but also the entire European Formula Vee community. Besides the Formula 2 European Championship, GT and touring car races, from 1967 onwards the Volkswagen racing cars were also an integral part of the racing programme.
Easter, Thruxton and Formula Vee – every year was a very special chapter. Arrive on Good Friday, train on Saturday, rest on Sunday, race on Easter Monday and return home on Tuesday. People arranged themselves into groups travelling by ferry to Dover from Ostend or Calais depending on where they lived. Most people at the time didn’t have the money for expensive flights, particularly since many of them had to tow their own racing car on a trailer anyway. Once on dry land at Dover, they then had to face a journey of around 235 km to Thruxton, which took just under three hours. The racetrack at Thruxton, a former Royal Air Force base, is situated on the A303 in the county of Hampshire.
Apart from the fact the Austrians always finished on the podium whenever they turned up, leaving frustrated local British drivers in their wake, this Easter weekend in England was always one big jamboree. It began on the ferry, where various groups of happy Formula Vee drivers would turn the boat into a party venue. In the grim hotels around Thruxton the fun continued – because English food wasn’t exactly to everyone’s taste, they simply made up for it with more liquid. Since the sparsely populated region also had no nightlife worth speaking of, Marko, Pankl and the rest got out the cards and played poker and pontoon until the early hours. Most people used the free Sunday between training and racing to nip across to the Isle of Wight on the hovercraft and behold the famous Easter carnival processions. On Tuesday it was time to return home.
Nowadays, Thruxton is primarily used as a training ground for student pilots and as a driving experience centre. The traditional Easter races have survived in the form of the historical ‘Easter Race Revival’. The classic, extremely fast 3.7-kilometre-long course can only be used twelve days a year for racing events (Superbike, touring cars, Formula 3, Formula Ford, club races).
Hot dual: Leading trio Pankl, Marko and Riedl in 1968 at Thruxton
© Hist. Formula Vee Europe
Thruxton lap of honour in 1968: Austria winning trio Riedl, Pankl and Marko (from left)
© Hist. Formula Vee Europe
In 1968, when the Europeans had to face the USA in the annual battle of the nations at the high-speed Daytona oval for the first time, it soon became clear why they lost in spectacular fashion. The US drivers had perfectly mastered the technique of drafting to increase the engine speed.
‘Something good also came out of our defeat in Daytona,’ summed up Kaimann driver Erich Breinsberg. ‘At least we learnt how to organise drafts.’ Breinsberg and his colleagues immediately set about practicing the slipstream express on European racetracks – with the result that the method of gaining a competitive advantage – which is as dubious as it is dangerous – very quickly became widespread. In order to implement the system, however, it required tracks with long straights – such as Salzburg, Hockenheim or the Nürburgring. A maximum of four to five drivers agreed to form a group in which each would ‘couple’ by gently driving up against the car in front and ‘sticking’ to the other for as long as possible at top speed. The extended slipstream created by several cars could increase the engine speed by up to 500 rpm or around 20 km/h. A perfectly organised draft was capable of catching up any runaway leader and leaving them behind without mercy. Many a superstar who had broken away from the pack ended up dropping back five or more places a matter of metres before the chequered flag.
‘A basic prerequisite is absolute discipline in the train,’ draft specialist Harald Ertl once reported, ‘and you have to be able to rely blindly on the lads in your group.’ That was also totally necessary, because many a draft ended in a mass pile-up due to someone within the Tatzelwurm (as the Austrians called it) reacting wrongly or misunderstanding the situation. Furthermore, the draft technique was increasingly distorting entire title races and also found its way into virtually all one-make cup racing series over the years. Accordingly, the sports authorities issued a drafting ban – although hardly anyone adhered to it. On sections of track out of sight of the stewards, cars continued to draft for all they were worth. It wasn’t uncommon for ten or more cars to be involved, ‘which was clearly far too many and moreover mega dangerous,’ Ertl was quoted as saying.
Stuck firmly together: Breinsberg (in front) and Bross (behind) as traction engines in a classic four-car draft in 1969 at the Nürburgring
‘Shall we push together?’: Bertil Roos (l.) and Harald Ertl in 1970 in Hockenheim
When Formula Vee drivers, especially those from Austria, went on trips, there was inevitably the odd slapstick situation and plenty of laughter. The trip to Yugoslavia’s capital Belgrade undertaken by Messrs Lauda, Pankl and Quester was no exception.
For the third weekend in April 1969, there was an invitation from Formula Vee Europe to take part in a Formula Vee race with an international line-up in Belgrade. It goes without saying that the Austrians – who were so used to winning – simply had to be there, so the young guns Niki Lauda, Gerold Pankl and Dieter Quester decided to set off from Vienna in one car. Lauda had begged his father to let him borrow his much-loved old Jaguar until the latter finally relented. And so the trio set off on their journey, reaching Belgrade without incident after almost six hours and fittingly finishing the race in first, second and third place.
However, the experience of the three heroes on the way back was recently recounted by Gerold Pankl, now 74, by email from his home in Paraguay. ‘After the presentation ceremony we immediately set off on the return trip. Niki was behind the wheel, Dieter was next to him and I sat in the back. It soon started to rain heavily. When the weather improved and the rain stopped, the windscreen wipers wouldn’t switch off. So Dieter came up with the brilliant idea of pulling over and getting out of the car with me, each of us holding a wiper arm until everything was calm and neither of them moved. The wiper motor soon began to scream and smoulder, the wiper arms twitched for a little while longer and then it was mission accomplished. By the time we reached Zagreb, the gearbox began to scream, then the brakes gave up the ghost and finally the engine began to boil over. We limped home in the Jaguar at walking pace. A few days later, Niki rang up and reported that the repair bill was huge and his father was not at all a happy man.’
After this costly experience, Lauda senior never again lent any of his cars to his son and his wild Formula Vee friends.
Belgrade and back: Kaimann driver Niki Lauda in action
The Jaguar killers: Belgrade winners Dieter Quester, Gerold Pankl
© Seufert, Fausel
Sunday, 22 September 1968 is a memorable day in Austria’s so successful Formula Vee history. At the Eifel Cup race on the Southern Loop of the Nürburgring, an American managed to beat the Austrians – who were used to winning – on European soil for the first time in a US-designed car. The defeat was so emphatic that it really hurt.
Everyone should actually have been forewarned, because just a few weeks previously in the rain and fog on the Northern Loop, the US boy Bill Scott was brilliant and finished second behind Dr Helmut Marko. The bearded man from across the pond stayed behind and trained diligently on the 7.7-kilometre-long, treacherous Southern Loop before they all turned up for the final race in the European Cup: the stars of the sport from Austria, Germany, Benelux, Sweden and other nations. On a rainy racing day, Scott stormed to the head of the pack within a few laps in his US-built ZINK Special, ambushed the supermen Marko, Huber, Riedl et al. in their Kaimann and Austro V cars in a surprise attack, and won with an incredible 15-second advantage. There were huge celebrations among the US delegation while the Austrian camp was left speechless. Even the fact that the final scores in the European Championship resulted in a quadruple triumph for the Austrians couldn’t really lift the mood of the outfoxed masters on the day.
Two years after this fantastic victory, the Nürburgring turned into a nightmare for Scott. A car ran into him as he was crossing the main road in Adenau. Complicated leg and bone fractures put him out of action for a long time and it seemed as if his promising racing career had come to an end. Yet despite a permanent disability and walking stick, Scott battled his way back to the cockpit and went on to win a number of FV championships in the USA in the years that followed. With Tom Milner Senior as his business partner, he ran his own racing team and, with his ‘Anti-Terrorist Driving School’, he also taught chauffeurs of leading political, military and business figures what to do in the event of a serious incident. Scott, who incidentally was also a geology professor, died on 7 December 2009 at the age of 71 in Middleburg, Virginia, near Washington, after suffering from cancer.
Triumph at the Nürburgring: Bill Scott after his memorable victory in 1968
Triumph on the ring: Scott cheers, pouting humiliated the Austrians Riedl (left) and Huber. Far right: Volkswagen Sales Executive Dr. Carl Hahn
There was a time when so many young ladies were racing around in Formula Vee 1300 throughout Europe that the petroleum company Caltex decided to create the ‘Coupe de Charme’ as a special event from 1967 onwards. Up to six female drivers took part in the race for the coveted trophy.
What began in 1966 with the super-fast Hannelore Werner from the Rhineland and was initially viewed as sensational became almost the norm in a Formula Vee race in the years that followed – women out in front. It wasn’t just Fräulein Werner who disrespectfully gave the men a hard time; the Englishwoman Jenny Nadin also made life difficult for her male colleagues in Formula Vee races in Great Britain. In Holland and Belgium, Liane Engemann and Christin Beckers drove hell for leather, as did Barbro Johansson in Sweden. Reason enough for the Formula Vee sponsoring member Caltex in Frankfurt to create the ‘Coupe de Charme’ as a special event – with prize money totalling a respectable 5,000 Deutschmarks.
In her first appearance at Silverstone in 1967, Jenny Nadin caused a small sensation. The 24-year-old owner of a boutique in London overpowered all the top stars in the course of the race. With a lap record, the blonde saw off high-calibre rivals such as later European champion Alfred Voglberger and the British champion Nick Brittan. In the same year she racked up another two victories in Croft and Castle Combe and a total of six top-three finishes. It goes without saying that Nadin became the first winner of the Caltex Coupe de Charme Trophy at the end of the season.
Although, as time went on, Juliane Distler from Munich and Inez Muhle from Hamburg took up the challenge of Formula Vee 1300 for Germany, it was ultimately the ‘big three’ in the shape of Hannelore Werner, Jenny Nadin and Liane Engemann who would dominate. While Nadin only raced for a few years before retiring to concentrate on her private life, her colleagues Engemann (touring cars) and Werner (touring cars, Formula 3 and Formula 2) continued to pursue their racing careers.
Jenny Nadin, Hannelore Werner, Kay Rathmann (v.l.)
© Archiv Hist. Formel V
Jenny Nadin at Silverstone, 1967
© Formel V-Europa
Three professional teams were calling all the shots when it came to winning in the early years of Formula Vee. Besides both Austrian teams run by Kurt Bergmann (Kaimann) and Porsche Salzburg (Austro V), the Munich-based Volkswagen and Porsche wholesale dealer MAHAG was also part of this triumvirate with its own design, the Olympic.
After the Austrians had begun to dominate Formula Vee, one thing was clear for motor sport enthusiast and owner of MAHAG, Fritz Haberl: ‘Someone on the German side has to act as a counterbalance.’ Accordingly, the dynamic Haberl made the project a priority and in Sven von Schroeter, Porsche sales manager and also a member of the AvD executive committee, he commissioned one of his best employees with the task of setting up and managing the Munich-based Formula Vee team. It was clear from the beginning that they wanted to line up against their Austrian rivals with their own design. As a stopgap measure until the in-house ‘Olympic V’ project was ready for racing, the MAHAG strategists acquired four Austro V cars from Porsche Salzburg and manned the cockpits with a high-calibre German driving team. The fearless Hannelore Werner soon rose to become team leader, which automatically assured her a place in the brand-new Olympic V from 1968 onwards.
However, the luckiest find proved to be Bavarian talent Alfred Voglberger from Markt Schwaben. He wasted no time in boldly taking on the Austrians, won a number of international Formula Vee battles in his first Olympic year and actually succeeded in bringing the European title back to Munich in 1969. Incidentally, Voglberger remained the only German European champion in the history of Formula Vee 1300, with most titles going to Austria and Sweden (four each). For its part, the MAHAG Olympic V can rightly claim to be the only purely German design with European Championship honours.
Successful German partnership: the Mahag Olympic V and driver Voglberger in 1969
The only Formula Vee 1300 title holder from Germany: Alfred Voglberger
There was certainly many an exciting, dramatic and turbulent Formula Vee race, but even hardened FV drivers of the day described the events during the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in the Eifel region at the beginning of August 1968 in the fog and torrential rain as a ‘cannonball ride’.
An almost impenetrable fog had descended on the Nürburgring Northern Loop. On top of that came the rain, which was torrential at times. And it lasted three days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Formula 1 training sessions were cancelled and one support race after another was cancelled; only the Formula Vee race could still be held. On the Sunday, a few hours before the scheduled start of the Formula 1 race, the organisers surprisingly called the approximately 60-strong Formula Vee field for its first and only training session. ‘This is an important announcement from the race organisers,’ said the voice on the public address system. ‘The Formula Vee training session has been brought forward. Please drive with the utmost care, because the surface is littered with debris in places and visibility is very poor.’ The plan was to let the pack of Formula Vee cars ‘drive away’ the fog so that the Formula 1 race would at least take place in somewhat acceptable conditions afterwards.
After Jackie Stewart had driven his Matra to the famous victory in the rain and fog by a margin of more than three minutes, as evening approached it really was the turn of the Formula Vee fighters to battle it out in their European Championship race for the ‘AvD Germany Cup’. The distance was reduced to five laps due to the persistently poor weather conditions. The Austrians Dr Helmut Marko and Günther Huber, both considerably faster than the rest in the limited training laps beforehand, immediately pulled ahead of the field, but Huber spun during the race and lost any chance of victory. Marko (Kaimann) won ahead of the surprisingly strong American Bill Scott (Zink). The fact that there had been no serious accidents in these conditions, which at times were even worse than they had been earlier in the Formula 1 race, bordered on a miracle.
Afterwards, many drivers berated themselves for having taken part in a ‘cannonball ride’ (as Helmut Bross called it). ‘To be honest, we all should have refused to start the race, but you try getting 60 men to agree …’
The Formula Vee field in 1968 at the Ring: fog, nothing but fog
Another unforgettable episode in the history of Formula Vee was the production of an official FV film and all the peculiarities associated with it. These include the time the film crew on the Northern Loop of the Nürburgring had to send out a search party for a missing driver among the group of actors – after that, the first use of the camera on the Nürburgring Southern Loop turned into an obstacle course.
In 1967, Volkswagen commissioned TV producer Dieter Riwola to make an official film about Formula Vee. Richard von Frankenberg, Porsche confidant and top course commentator, was given the job of narrating the flick. A Fuchs FV racing car was fitted with a camera and the huge almost one-metre-high steel construction on the rear of the vehicle particularly stood out. During one day of shooting on the Northern Loop, one of the drivers selected from the group of actors was involved in an accident, which nobody noticed until the others had crossed the start and finish line. A search party was sent out and they soon found Gerold Pankl injured in the undergrowth, trapped in his overturned vehicle (see also story # 22/50).
The adventurous ‘camera car’ first came into regular racing use at a rainy ADAC Eifel Cup race. ‘Just don’t have an accident,’ begged producer Riwola. ‘The camera is worth more than the entire car.’ For safety reasons, the racing stewards ordered that the Fuchs fitted with the camera should start on the final row of the grid and not be allowed to overtake. Furthermore, it had to return to the pit after three laps. There were fears that the rear-mounted camera on the tower-like steel structure would work its way loose and fly into the path of an oncoming car. During the race, the film car nonetheless overtook until it reached the middle of the pack, before quickly dropping down through the field again in order to cross the start and finish line in last place as instructed. Three laps turned into five, but everything went well, the structure held firm and there was some great film footage in the can. The film had its premiere at the end of 1968; years later, extra footage from the new Formula Super Vee was added.
No overtaking and stay in last place: the Fuchs with a huge camera tower shortly after the start of the Formula Vee Eifel race in 1968
© Formula Vee Europe
Early moving racing images: the Fuchs camera car with chauffeur
© Formula Vee Europe
Not exactly safe: the Arriflex camera in a precarious side position
© Formula Vee Europe
Virtually every Formula Vee competitor feared Hannelore Werner, who hailed from Hürth, just outside Cologne. No man felt safe from the then 26-year-old and her ambush-like attacks. The things the blonde lady got up to on the racetrack were indeed highly remarkable.
There were a few racy girls in Formula Vee, but the fastest, trickiest and boldest of them all was undoubtedly Hannelore Werner. The dental technician by trade, born in 1942, drove her male competitors to the edge of despair on many an occasion. ‘The woman’s driving is beyond the pale’, was the indignant opinion of one of these Formula Vee drivers, Helmut Bross, in 1968 in Zolder, as the courageous blonde in the Mahag Olympic stole certain victory from him with a hair-raising overtaking manoeuvre just before the chequered flag. Such situations occurred more than once in the fast life of Hannelore Werner. Many of her colleagues were shamed in similar fashion and stood on the winner’s podium after races looking crestfallen next to the cheekily grinning girl from the Rhineland. The joker Dieter Quester provided some advice for his outwitted Formula Vee colleagues in his inimitable earthy manner: ‘Instead of moaning, why not set her up with a real man so that she is flagging by the time it gets to the race.’
In actual fact, it wasn’t long before the relationship between Hannelore and her sponsor Günther Hennerici, a caravan manufacturer from the Eifel region, developed into something more than just flippant banter. But the intimate association only made her faster. A glittering professional career followed the Formula Vee era, which saw ‘dat Hannelor’, as her patron and later husband liked to call her, outpacing the legions of men in Formula 3. She didn’t even shrink from Formula 2, which occasionally saw the odd Formula 1 driver taking part. Her most audacious exploit came in 1970 on the Northern Loop of the Nürburgring, where she achieved the best result by a woman in the history of Formula 2 by finishing second. In 1973, after the arrival of the first of a total of three children, Hannelore ended her racing career.
Hannelore Werner in action: in the Olympic Formula Vee racing car in 1968 at the Nürburgring
Blonde, cute, fast: ‘dat Hannelor’ in 1969
A race virtually on your very own doorstep – that doesn’t happen every day. So why did the home match go so very wrong and how did the team boss build a new Formula Vee racing car overnight out of two half-wrecked cars?
This time I have another story in which I was involved as a Formula Vee driver. It was the airport race at Mainz-Finthen in 1968, just a few kilometres from where I lived. Kaimann team boss Kurt Bergmann turned up with two of his works cars and Dr Helmut Marko and I were named as drivers. If I could beat the doctor once in my life, then it had to be here in Finthen, where I knew every bump and every concrete joint in the road, which had helped me to win many a Formula Vee battle.
We had to start the time training at eight o’clock in the morning and drifted around the course like a formation flying team, ending with a best time for us both. In the subsequent qualifying round, we wanted to knock a few tenths of a second off our time, especially since we’d found out that the chicane made from bales of straw could be negotiated at almost full speed in fourth gear. I was once again ahead, Helmut was behind me. Heading towards the chicane in fourth, foot hard on the gas, slight turn – and a wall of straw appeared before me. It was a massive blow. I flew through the air in the direction of the field, Helmut took the same route, but not before he had left his tyre marks on my crash helmet. Both cars were in a pretty sorry state; Helmut was uninjured, but I had painful bruises from head to toe.
How could such a thing happen? Because the sports inspectors had heard that the design of the chicane was too fast, so without further ado, they had the middle bale of straw moved to make it one metre narrower. However, the gentlemen had unfortunately forgotten to inform us of the change – everyone knew about it except the Formula Vee drivers. An apology and waiving of the entry fee was little consolation …
Marko was fuming, I was covered in haematomas; our team boss on the other hand was once again on top form: ‘We’ll make a driveable car for the doctor out of these two piles of junk,’ decided Bergmann and adjourned to a nearly Volkswagen workshop with his mechanics. Virtually overnight, a new, race-ready Kaimann was built, with which Marko drove to victory the following day as if it were taken for granted. And I stood mournfully by the side of the track. What a depressing end to my home match …
A sorry state: One of the two destroyed Kaimanns on the way to the workshop
Seconds after the big bang: Crash drivers Braun and Marko and the demolished Kaimann racing cars by the track
Peter Peter, known to his friends only as ‘Mitten’, was part of the wild clique of Austrians in Formula Vee and a pioneer of the motor sport scene in Austria.
Peter Peter owes his nickname ‘Mitten’ to his parents’ traditional family business ‘Handschuh-Peter’ (Peter Gloves) in Vienna. The company has been producing leather gloves and special gloves for all kinds of professions since 1838. Even the native police force, diverse special units and the armed forces are supplied by Handschuh-Peter. Peter, who now oversees production in the fourth generation, even gave up his beloved racing career for the company after just five years. ‘It was a difficult decision, but my father was ill and he forced me to take over the running of the company.’??Up until that point, however, the cheerful man from Vienna had his share of fun in the wildest of the wild Formula Vee years. Along with his compatriots Quester, Lauda, Marko, Pankl, Huber and Breinsberg, between 1966 and 1970 Mitten helped to guide the Alpine republic to the top of all European Formula Vee nations. In doing so, he racked up two European runner-up titles and the state champion title. At the same time as his Formula Vee adventure, Peter also raced sporadically in a Porsche 906 and 908/3. ‘But as I said, by the end of 1970 the fun was over for me and my professional career began in earnest. Not being able to race again hit me really hard.’
The 70-year-old senior chief will soon hand over the reins to his children Philipp (44), Petra (40) and Nina (33), who will become the fifth generation to manage the company. However, as long as son Philipp is still involved in GT racing, Peter senior will continue to take care of business matters. ‘The lad has it much better than I ever did, because I would never force him to give up. Besides, I’m his biggest fan.’ Peter Peter still enjoys racing sport to the fullest as a spectator. ‘If I remain healthy and the children successfully take over the running of the business, then I will be a happy and satisfied man.’
Wild Austria clique: Formula Vee driver Peter Peter (#9) waits for the starting signal at the Nürburgring in 1967 with his rowdy friends Breinsberg (#10) and Pankl (#16).
Under the laurel wreath: ‘Mitten’ Peter Peter in 1968 at the Ring; on the left is Formula Vee colleague Erich Breinsberg and Formula Vee Europe President Sven von Schroeter
When the electrical company Rowenta stuck its company logos on the Kaimann team Formula Vee racing cars in 1968, it was agreed that the sponsorship deal would be paid for in kind. Kaimann boss Kurt Bergmann and his wife happily took delivery of a wide range of equipment.
This is another incredible story from a time when a firm handshake replaced the need for a contract running to several pages. Sometime at the beginning of the 1968 season, the electronics and household goods company Rowenta and the highly successful Kaimann racing team agreed upon a partnership limited to three races. Kaimann boss Kurt Bergmann made a verbal agreement with Rowenta’s head of advertising, without any kind of formal paperwork, that three company logos would be placed on two of his Formula Vee cars. However, instead of money exchanging hands for the advertising space, the Rowenta delegate offered an attractive package for the Bergmann household in Vienna. This included a height-adjustable hairdryer hood with powerful blower, several steam irons, a selection of hairdryers and weighty table lighters. Apart from the lighters, everything was immediately seized by the holder of the purse strings and head of the household, Johanna. From then on, according to husband Kurt, Mrs Bergmann sat ‘at least once a week under this dumb Plexiglas orb with a blower.’
Although the deal should have officially ended after three races, the Rowenta stickers adorned the cars of the Vienna-based racing team for the rest of the season. ‘The stickers go so well with our paintwork, we’ll leave them on,’ said Bergmann at the time. The sponsor also appreciated such loyalty and wasted no time in meeting Bergmann’s tentative request for further supplies (‘I wouldn’t mind another hood, a hairdryer and a few lighters’). The articles were delivered to him by return of post, immediately solving the wily team boss’s tricky problem of what to get friends and acquaintances for Christmas …
Payment in kind: The Rowenta logo on a Kaimann Formula Vee racing car
Always beautifully coiffured with the Rowenta hood dryer: Kaimann boss Johanna ‘Hannerl’ Bergmann with husband Kurt in 1968 at the Nürburgring
Gerold Pankl from Bruck in Austria was considered one of the wildest and most spectacular drivers in the history of Formula Vee. His career alternated between hair-raising accidents, severe injuries and magnificent victories.
They called him ‘the indestructible man’. Gerold Pankl, a tall, well-built outdoorsman from the heart of Styria, had a rather unusual racing career. That’s because he liked to push his Austro V beyond the limit, which often resulted in painful crash landings. His motto was all or nothing. As such, the Formula Vee family often worried about their fellow driver.
‘Gerold the Terrible’ was catapulted from the cockpit of his VW racer at tree height twice within the space of a few weeks. In those days there were no seatbelts. And had his colleagues Scott, Breinsberg and Riedl not suddenly missed him and gone looking for him during a demonstration drive for the official Formula Vee film in 1967 at the Nürburgring, he may not have survived at all. That’s because the chinstrap on his helmet had become entangled around his throat and almost strangled him after driver and car flew head first into the undergrowth. The three rescuers turned the Austro Vee over and pulled the helplessly stuck Pankl from the cockpit. The fact that he emerged relatively unscathed from all his mega crashes bordered on a miracle – from a broken back, severed muscles and complicated fractures of the leg and arm, hardly any area of his body was spared.
The luckless Pankl retired from motor sport after just a few years of racing, without ever having won a championship title. ‘How could I?’ he remarked with his own style of sarcasm. ‘Whenever it came to the crunch, I was always lying in a hospital bed somewhere.’ These days, the 74-year-old Formula Vee veteran manages two large farms in Paraguay with 4,000 cattle. Only seldom does he return to Austria. Pankl’s son Gerold junior (52) is the head of ‘Pankl Racing Systems AG’ in Bruck, which produces high-quality parts for Formula 1 and sports car racing teams as well as aircraft manufacturers.
Drive like a maniac till the doctor comes: Pankl in the Austro V in 1968 at Hockenheim
That wasn’t in the script: Landing in the undergrowth of the Northern Loop in 1967 – Pankl’s Austro V with his rescuers Bill Scott, Werner Riedl and Erich Breinsberg (left from above). Note the shape and position of the steering wheel …
First a Formula Vee driver, then a stuntman in a James Bond film, stunt double for famous actors and a rifle shooting champion, then came the doctoral thesis in philosophy and economics, followed by a career as a crime novelist and marketing consultant: Dr Erich Glavitza from Vienna can do virtually anything.
His first Formula Vee races were wild and terrifying; his courage seemed to know no bounds. In 1967, however, none of his rivals could have guessed that the 26-year-old man with the daredevil streak would go on to have the most diverse career of any formula driver. His first big gig was the stuntman job in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Glavitza doubled for Diana Rigg in spectacular crashes and somersaults. After that he had the privilege of taking the place of Steve McQueen and writing off a couple of expensive Porsches in the famous film Le Mans. In between times, the ‘man for all seasons’ took part in the odd motocross event, including world championship races, drove to victory in an autocross buggy, and became national shooting champion with the combat pistol. As a little sideline, he studied philosophy and economics and did his doctorate.
The fact that Dr Glavitza would go on to crown an already remarkable career by becoming a bestselling author even surprised the man himself, particularly since his crime novels came into being on something of a whim. The titles nonetheless soon conquered the German-speaking crime novel market. Accordingly, he still has to plan one reading tour after the other for his most famous works Killer Leopard, Männermord or Wölfe. Things certainly aren’t boring in the life of the now 70-year-old ‘Austrian with heart and soul’ – as the head of two marketing consultancy firms in Baden and Vienna, he ‘barely has time to draw breath’. Does he still have memories of his time with Formula Vee? ‘Of course, I was a madman among madmen. It was because I crashed out of races on so many occasions that I was offered the stuntman job by the Bond director.’
Bond crew: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, stuntman Glavitza
Glavitza (Kaimann #1) at the Salzburgring, 1969
Because the Austrian Formula Vee team had allegedly jostled all three racing cars from the Cologne-based IGFA team off the track shortly after the start, the team owner launched an all-out attack.
‘With immediate effect,’ announced the IGFA racing team via a press release shortly after the European Cup race at the Nürburgring in August 1967, ‘we are pulling out of Formula Vee, because the hoped-for objective of nurturing young talent evidently cannot be achieved.’ Team patron Lehmann, an impulsive publisher from Cologne, had already railed against the ‘Wild West driving style of the Austrians’ immediately after the race. On top of that, the livid Lehmann further suspected that the drivers from the Alpine republic were driving with engines that didn’t conform to the rules and nobody dared to ‘uncover the shady business’.
Here’s what happened: the three IGFA Austro V cars were lined up promisingly in starting rows two, three and five. Immediately after the start, as the cars entered the south bend, a scrap broke out between the three leading Austrians Marko, Rojkowski and Riedl, who also used the opportunity to force all three IGFA drivers positioned to the left and right of them off the track – before happily continuing on their way. Lehman’s tantrum and the press release were greeted with interest in the editorial offices of the trade and daily press. Accordingly, Formula Vee Europe General Secretary Anton Konrad, who had only been in the job for a matter of weeks, immediately had to assume the role of firefighter and calm the situation. Konrad ended his five-page letter by declaring that ‘your embarrassing fits of rage and indefensible accusations were far worse than anything that happened beforehand on the south bend. If anybody has lost control, then it is you, Mr Lehmann, with your conduct and the content of your press release.’
Fit of rage following a total loss: Hans-Günther Lehmann in the starting line-up for the Formula Vee race in question at the Nürburgring in 1967
Professional racing driver and Porsche works driver Rolf Stommelen clearly enjoyed his guest appearances in Formula Vee races so much that he founded his very own Formula Vee team for two amateur drivers from his home town of Cologne.
Richard Thiel and Herbert Elsner, two real ‘Kölsche boys’, 28 and 29 years young, were not having an easy time of it in the fiercely contested world of Formula Vee. Limited means and the consequent age of their not exactly state-of-the art Formula Vee racing cars made every race something of an arduous task. That’s when friend and role model Rolf Stommelen took the pair under his wing, secured sponsors, ordered two new Kaimann racing cars and formed the ‘Rolf Stommelen Formula Vee Racing Team’ for the 1969 season. From that point on, the two Formula Vee amateurs became noticeably more professional and successful.
Porsche works driver Stommelen not only brought his name and money to the team, but also his connections and knowledge. In the course of presenting the team to the public, he explained to local newspapers in Cologne what had motivated him: ‘I was fortunate enough to be given a chance by Porsche and that enabled me to forge a successful and prosperous career,’ he said at the time. ‘That is why I would now like to do my bit for two Formula Vee drivers from my home town. They are good lads and have earned it.’
Thiel and Elsner suddenly had no more worries; they heeded the advice of their mentor, who was often around, and began to rack up ever more podium finishes. Their patron was especially pleased with the double victory they achieved in Mainz-Finthen. ‘Without Rolf,’ says the now 72-year-old restaurateur Thiel, ‘Herbert and I would never have been able to win races. His knowledge, his tricks and his sheer presence were both important and invaluable. For these things we are eternally grateful to a friend who will forever be in our thoughts.’ Rolf Stommelen was involved in a fatal accident on 24 April 1983; he would have been 70 years old on 11 July 2013.
The Formula Vee team from Cologne in 1970 with man and material: Elsner, sponsor Hartmut Kautz, team principle Stommelen, Thiel (from left)
Sound words of advice before the start: Stommelen and Thiel in 1971 at the Nürburgring
After the USA, Germany and Austria, it was Brazil’s turn to experience a fast boom in Formula Vee racing cars. One of the nicest looking cars was constructed by later Formula 1 double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi and his brother Wilson.
After they had already racked up victories and titles with self-built ‘Fitti-Karts’, in 1966 Emerson Fittipaldi and his brother Wilson set to work on constructing their very own Formula Vee racing car. Already existing, rather tame constructions like the ‘Aranae’ or ‘Spadaccini’ had sparked the ambition of the two technophiles. After a brief construction period, the ‘Fitti Vee’ was unveiled, which received an especially high amount of praise from the native trade press for its looks.
Once the championship regulations were in place, the inaugural Brazilian Formula Vee season could get underway. Three of the smart ‘Fitti Vee’ cars lined up for the start of the first race of the new championship at the Rio de Janeiro circuit on 6 May 1967. It was a start-to-finish victory for the Fittipaldi construction; later on there were even double victories. In both 1967 and 1968 Brazil’s Formula Vee champion was called Emerson Fittipaldi, who subsequently continued his career in England where he became Formula 3 champion at his first attempt. Meanwhile, brother Wilson unveiled another self-built construction in the form of a monstrous Volkswagen racing Beetle, whose technical details could compete with any sports car of its day: two coupled Volkswagen power trains, each 1600 cc, giving an overall cubic capacity of 3.2 litres, 400 hp and a five-speed gearbox from the Porsche RS 550. In 1970 Wilson terrorised every racing track in his homeland with the monster Beetle, before moving to Europe to compete as a Formula 3 driver.
The highlight of the technical passion of both Fittipaldis was the construction of their very own Formula 1 racing car, which entered the world championship from 1975 under the name of the main Brazilian sponsor ‘Copersucar’. However, the Brazilian national racing car only enjoyed a moderate degree of success and as the 1982 season drew to a close, the project was discontinued.
Fit and fast: The Brazilian Formula Vee racing car ‘Fitti Vee’
A different kind of Volkswagen power: The terrifying Fitti Beetle with 400 hp
Amid all the new cars being built, a white Beach Formula Vee racing car from the first generation celebrated a remarkable comeback. The bold project was launched in 1967 by Volkswagen wholesale dealer Petermax Müller from Hanover.
In actual fact, its time had long since passed. Among the field of new Formula Vee racing cars, a first-generation US Beach was thought to have no chance against the latest Kaimann, Austro V or Fuchs models, but Petermax Müller, a Volkswagen dealer from Hanover, was unwilling to accept this state of affairs. The company boss, enthusiastic about sport and himself a former German sports car champion, took the aged model from the showroom and gave it a thorough going over in his own workshop. During a trial run on the test stand, the self-built engine turned out to be a real cracker – Müller’s men had done a fine job.
Driver Sigmund Seligmann, a young man from Müller’s circle, was handed the job of driving the innocent white Beach. The old racing car caused a sensation at the European Championship race in Monaco. Seligmann battled it out with the best of them for a podium place. Unfortunately the ignition coil broke and the Beach came to a stop. Things went better a few weeks later in Spa, where Seligmann also started the race from a leading position and won the European Championship race in the final spurt. After a series of further victories in the mountains and on the circuits, ‘Little Treasure’, as the mechanics affectionately named the car, rounded off the season in magnificent style at the aerodrome race in Celle: overall victory and the fastest lap of the day, although in the interests of fairness it should be mentioned that the Formula Vee race was the only one to have been run in dry conditions …
Incidentally, the wonder engine, the subject of wild rumours, was inspected a total of four times and often stripped down to the very last screw. Müller’s people once even got the individual parts back in a jute sack. And with them came the same inspection report as always: ‘The engine has been found by the technical inspectors to conform to the regulations in every respect.’ The legendary Beach graced Müller’s showroom in Hanover for many years thereafter.
Müller home game – the Beach being driven in Wunstorf, just outside Hanover
Beach owner Petermax Müller
In mid-1967 the Formula Vee organisation strengthened its Munich headquarters by appointing dynamic managers and key players. Volkswagen board member Dr Carl Hahn was personally responsible for finding the right general secretary.
When a story about Volkswagen sales chief Dr Carl Hahn and his efforts to introduce Formula Vee in Germany appeared in the technical magazine Hobby in spring 1967, it served as a kind of initial spark. The mighty Volkswagen man, highly taken with the style and content of the story, decided to hunt down the author and stumbled upon Anton Konrad. At the time he was part of the Hobby editorial team and was responsible for car tests and motor boats. He quickly received an interview invitation from the top level in Wolfsburg. Dr Hahn was able to convince the 30-year-old journalist to take up the vacant position of full-time general secretary at the Formula Vee Europe Association in Munich. On 1 June 1967 the qualified vehicle engineer took up his post as the new manager of Formula Vee.
Previously, in the course of the general meeting, a new executive committee had already been appointed. The post of Formula Vee president was now held by Sven von Schroeter, who was on the management board of the Munich-based Volkswagen dealership MAHAG and also still a member of the AvD executive committee. Within the European association, a new national section, ‘Formula Vee Germany’, was also newly formed, with just short of 50 members, who voted in Günther Graf von Hardenberg as their president. Due to his Volkswagen dealerships in Karlsruhe and the surrounding area, Hardenberg already had close links to Wolfsburg anyway. The catchword was Volkswagen: from Wolfsburg, PR managers Hans Strömel and Harald Stibbe acted in the interests of the company as official Formula Vee and motor sport representatives. In his inaugural speech, Anton Konrad declared: ‘Our main objective must be to make Formula Vee safer for our drivers and more attractive for the spectators.’ This is something that he undoubtedly managed to achieve.
V-men – General secretary Konrad (right) and technical chief Schmitz (left), 1968.
The new president – Sven von Schroeter in 1967
When famous skiers get behind the wheel of a racing car, the stars of Alpine winter sport disciplines generally cut a good figure. This insight was also confirmed by Rosi Mittermaier and Toni Sailer as they climbed into the Formula Vee cockpit.
When Austria’s skiing idol Toni Sailer slid into the cockpit of an Austro V car in the Eifel Cup race at the Nürburgring in autumn 1967 and immediately turned in speedy laps, the journalists had their headline. Ten years after the end of his career as a ski racer, the triple Olympic winner from 1956 showed little respect as he battled it out against seasoned Formula Vee drivers towards the front of the middle of the field on the demanding Southern Loop. The 33-year-old from Kitzbühel had enjoyed racing in the Formula Vee car so much that he subsequently entered a number of other races in the Austro V and McNamara in Austria in 1968 and 1969.
Rosi Mittermaier also enjoyed more than a whiff of success in Formula Vee. When the Munich-based Volkswagen dealership MAHAG arranged a special race for local sports stars at the Neubiberg aerodrome racing event in October 1970, the 20-year-old woman from the Winkelmoosalm region, who would later become a double Olympic winner, lined up at the start alongside boxer Bubi Scholz, München 1860 goalkeeper Petar ‘Radi’ Radenkovic and Prince von Thurn und Taxis. Even though she had only held a driving licence for a couple of months, she resolutely fought her way to the head of the field and won by a clear margin ahead of Prince von Thurn und Taxis and Audi NSU Chairman Paul Schönbeck. Every onlooker was delighted with the ski racer’s performance. ‘Rosi drove a clean and really fast race,’ said Formula Vee General Secretary Anton Konrad, praising the young lady over the commentator’s microphone at the presentation ceremony ‘and she also brought the car back without a single scratch. Respect.’
Ski racer Christian Neureuther, Rosi’s husband from 1980, was rather less successful as he entered the VW Junior Cup at Hockenheim in April 1976. Following a mishap, the popular slalom specialist joined a veritable collection of Scirocco wrecks at the tail end of the second chicane after just a few rounds.
Speedy racer – Ski star Toni Sailer (right) in 1969 with Dr Helmut Marko in Zeltweg
Formula Vee victory – Rosi Mittermaier at the 1970 Munich Neubiberg aerodrome racing event
The first Formula Vee race held in Monaco as part of the Formula 1 weekend caused consternation among the race organisers in the principality. The behaviour of the rowdy boys in May 1967 made the distinguished gentlemen from the AC Monaco turn pale.
In the build-up to the start of the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 7 May 1967, no sooner had race organiser Louis Chiron sent the Formula Vee mob on their way through the narrow alleys of Monte Carlo than there was crashing and banging coming from all directions. The Brit Nick Brittan made a very special contribution at the beginning of the wild chase in the chicane at the yacht harbour, where he overtook several rivals at once – albeit involuntarily by taking off and flying through the air. After a hard landing, he and others involved in the skirmish thankfully remained as uninjured as the other stricken drivers elsewhere on the treacherous course.
Meanwhile at the head of the field, the usual suspects were battling it out for all or nothing and once again it was Austria against the rest of the world. Huber, Riedl, Marko, Peter – the men were involved in a scuffle with a couple of fast Germans, a defiant Frenchman and two brave Belgians. Huber was the smartest, staying well away from the carnage and pulling clear at the head of the pack. As his brake disc crumbled, Marko caught up and drove to victory. His joy was short-lived, however, as he failed the post-race technical inspection and was disqualified. Compatriot Riedl consequently inherited the cup and the prize money for first place. The two Germans Kellners and Wünstel took the other podium places. Princess Grace handed over the ‘Coupe de S.A.S. le Prince Héréditaire Albert de Monaco’ and everyone bowed dutifully.
The organiser and the European Formula Vee Association mutually agreed that there would be no repeat performance. Years later, the chief press officer George Bertelotti confided that the gentlemen of the regal automobile club were horrified by the wild horde that were let loose on each other in Monte Carlo.
Image: Fly and drive – Fuchs driver Nick Brittan and his flight at the yacht harbour
Believing themselves to be superior, when the Americans invited a European delegation to the Bahamas in December 1966 for the first Formula Vee battle of the nations in December 1966, they had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. Three Austrians raced them all into the ground.
40 US boys against three Austrians – that was the unequal situation at the start of the first oversees battle of the nations held as part of ‘Nassau Speed Week’ in the Bahamas. The odds were stacked against the Europeans, especially since the Americans had a three-year advantage in terms of experience, but the wild young men sent by Porsche Salzburg – Jochen Rindt, Günther Huber and Michael Walleczek – nonetheless ventured into the lion’s dens. And the Austro V trio ended the raced in precisely that order. With perfect slipstream tactics, Rindt and his compatriots reeled off their 23 laps on the 7.2-kilometre-long rutted track and outclassed all their pursuers. The shock was so immense that all three cars were immediately dismantled and examined down to the last screw by the US inspectors, who could ultimately find no cause for complaint. Afterwards the victorious Austro V cars changed hands in the Bahamas in a wild bidding war. ‘We would never have been able to sell them back home at such utopian prices’, smirked team supervisor Wolfgang Marsoner. ‘And we also saved on the costs of transporting them back again.’
For 1967, the Americans swore merciless revenge, which, partially at least, they got. In Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise (Zink) and Austrian Dieter Quester (Kaimann), two Europeans may have won both preliminary races, each 100 miles long, but the main race over 200 miles with pit stops for all was won by Tony Jeffries in the Capital V – a purely American driver–vehicle combination. The Kaimann/Austro V fraction with Dieter Quester, Rindt and Dr Helmut Marko was surprisingly and clearly beaten and had to settle for second, third and fourth places.
Afterwards, clever US officials moved the big Formula Vee battle to the Oval in Daytona where the Europeans were taught a proper lesson in the art of American oval racing for many years. But that’s another story altogether.
Victorious Austria trio: Rindt (centre), Huber (right), Walleczek in Nassau
© de Barsy/Formula Vee Europe
In front from the start: Jochen Rindt
© Kurier/Formula Vee Europe
Major mischief, cheeky shenanigans and lots of laughs were always on the agenda in Formula Vee. Anyone could be on the receiving end – anytime and anywhere.
Imagine the following scenario in 1966: the winner of a Formula Vee race is proudly standing on the podium with laurel wreath and ribbon; the national anthem is playing. The initially faint laughter of those looking on gradually becomes uncontrollable; the winner looks around with increasing irritation. What he doesn’t know, but everyone else can see, is that instead of having a magnificent head of hair, the man is suddenly almost bald. How could that happen? It hadn’t escaped the attention of his dear colleagues that their rival (who shall remain nameless) wore a toupee, so they chose an opportune moment to smear glue on the inside of the poor unsuspecting man’s helmet. When he removed the helmet after driving to victory and immediately took to the podium for the winners’ ceremony, the outcome of the prank was obvious for all to see …
This is just one of countless episodes that took place over the years at Formula Vee venues. Whether hair-raising fancy dress costumes in the cockpit, Bedouin robes during the pre-race build-up or raucous poker games between two training sessions – wherever you went, there was always something to laugh about. If you were fastest in training, you could expect to find your steering wheel, seat or wheels missing. The people behind such scandalous deeds were invariably Austrian; the name Dieter Quester often cropped up in such instances. But the German fraction also played its part in it all. Helmut Bross from Herrenberg recalls those times almost wistfully: ‘The wonderfully wild and crazy Formula Vee was the greatest thing that I have experienced in 30 years of racing sport: kipping with four men in a single room, camaraderie and fun around the clock. Your rival was your friend; nowadays he is your enemy. The decline in these values is alarming.’
Even Beduin people love Formula Vee races: fun before the start in Hockenheim
Günther Huber was considered the most successful driver in the early years of Formula Vee. There is a very special reason behind the fact that he consistently pulled off everything he did: the secret to his success was a perfectly tuned chassis. How did the clever Austrian manage to do it all? The now 70-year-old vehicle engineer explains personally.
‘During the first real year of Formula Vee, I was a lone warrior. In 1966 I was driving an Austro V and had to go up against the already well-organised Porsche Salzburg racing team and later against Kurt Bergmann’s Kaimann troupe. As a car mechanic by trade, and the son of a Volkswagen dealer in St. Pölten, I was in a position to carry out all the work on the Austro V myself. I undoubtedly tinkered about and tested more often than my rivals – it was just instinctive.
‘I noticed very quickly that the tricky road conditions could be significantly improved with the right shock absorbers. In the beginning, the Formula Vee chassis were very weak and unstable; drivers were all over the place and lost time. Since nobody was able to do much more to the engines than anybody else due to the restrictive regulations, the only way in which significant improvements could be made was by looking at the vehicle’s handling. And that in turn could only be achieved by making changes to the chassis area and the shock absorbers. Together with Bilstein, I then carried out an extensive testing programme which really gave me the edge. The cooperation was simply perfect. As a thank you for my testing work, I was always given the latest shock absorbers. As such, despite the fiercest opposition, I was able to win the coveted 1967 European Cup ahead of my compatriots Marko, Pankl, Peter, Riedl and the rest. At the time, it was hugely gratifying for me, because I was a lone warrior who was able to break through this strong phalanx.’
Günther Huber ended his racing career after just six years in order to take over the running of the family business.
Perfect road conditions – Huber’s Austro V in 1967 at the Nürburgring
Perfect performance – Nürburgring winner Huber in 1968 with laurel wreath
The ‘piggyback rides’ from the circuit to the pits for colleagues who had broken down was considered a totally normal service among friends in the early years of Formula Vee. Nowadays it would be completely inconceivable.
Images of passengers sitting on the tail with legs wide apart have long since been a thing of the past. Nobody would dare to do it these days, primarily because it’s far too dangerous, but they would also risk a hefty fine. Those who failed to hold on tightly were sent flying if the car took a bend too quickly or the driver put his foot down or hit the brakes abruptly. Passengers were always at the mercy of the taxi driver’s sensitivity and disposition. In certain cases, it is said that particularly devious chaps tried to gain an advantage by unseating unpopular rivals, although these claims cannot be substantiated …
Austrian Formula Vee driver Dieter Quester had no need to fear such misfortune in 1967 at the Nürburgring. He had broken down in his Kaimann during the training session and was standing waving by the circuit at the end of the session. The author of these lines pulled over, let his friend ‘Quastl’ climb on, and set off towards the pits with a gentle foot on the gas pedal and smooth steering manoeuvres. Only at the ‘Carousel’ (see picture) did it get a little uncomfortable for the passenger due to the uneven concrete slabs. ‘Couldn’t you have driven around them back there?’ Dieter grumbled as he climbed off the car massaging his dead legs after almost 15 kilometres.
Rolf Stommelen had to drive a significantly shorter distance with his passenger around the seven-kilometre-long Southern Loop. The author of this article also played a part in this fare, because this time he was sitting on the back. Both had tumbled down a hill during a wet training session for the Eifel Cup race. Stommelen’s car was recovered with the help of track marshals, allowing both stricken drivers to chug slowly back to the pits. Although one of the rear wheels was dangerously askew, it caused no further bother.
(back) Piggyback I – Braun with passenger Quester
(right) Piggyback II – Stommelen with passenger Braun
When three drivers with the same name are heading the field in a Formula Vee race, the race leader is constantly changing and all three cross the finishing line almost level with each other, confusion reigns supreme.
Throughout the ten laps, the race commentator tried in vain to sort out the confusion caused by the Müllers at the head of the Formula Vee race. ‘Müller, Müller, Müller’ was heard through the speakers after every lap. What the 60,000 visitors experienced on 14 August 1966 at Hockenheim would remain a one-off. Never again would three drivers with the same name lead the field of a race, including two Müllers with the same first name, driving identical cars and hailing from the same place. And none of them was related to the other: Roland Müller (Stuttgart) and Werner Müller from Stuttgart, both in a Fuchs, and Werner Müller from Switzerland in a Zarp. The timekeepers, announcers and organisers all got in a right muddle, lap times were mixed up and positions and best lap times were assigned to the wrong drivers. The official result was only published after a lot of toing and froing.
The three Müller boys had barely stepped off the winners’ podium smiling and waving when, one after the other, the winning smiles were wiped from their faces. The Formula Vee Europe Organisation requested a ‘race after the race’ and inspected the engines of the first three cars to cross the line. And lo and behold – all three power trains did not conform to the regulations and were disqualified. ‘I don’t believe it,’ the head of timekeeping was heard to say as he was instructed to produce a new result, this time without the three Müllers. The winner was now called Werner Riedl from Austria in an Austro V. And there was only one of those in the field.
Three Müllers in front: Werner, Roland, Werner (from left)
© Stuttgarter Zeitung
The last Müller learns of his disqualification – and Werner Riedl (right, light coat) is handed the victory
Why is that man driving in a suit? Since this question has been asked quite often, allow me to shed some light on why I wore such an unusual outfit in the cockpit at the Formula Vee premiere at the Norisring in 1965:
At the Formula Vee premiere at the Norisring in 1965, I was supposed to be the race commentator. In the paddock, Porsche racing chief Huschke von Hanstein came up to me with a big grin on his face: ‘Braun, I have a surprise for you. Now you have to show us whether you can back up your brazen commentaries and articles.’ With these words, he led me to one of the ten Formula Vee cockpits. Wearing a jacket, shirt, tie and sandals, I slumped into the spacious cell of the car with the starting number 2. AC Cobra driver Jochen Neerpasch lent me his helmet and goggles; overalls weren’t really a big issue back then. Taking part in the race may have clashed with my job as race commentator, but Norisring chief Gernot Leistner joined in the fun with almost malicious joy and appointed a stand-in to take the microphone. That is how I came to take part in my first real race at the age of 25.
Apart from the fact that Neerpasch’s helmet was far too big for me, which meant it nearly flew off my head or pressed against my face whenever I accelerated or hit the brakes, and the tie had wrapped itself around my neck, it was very nice. Almost everything was askew or twisted. When I reached the chequered flag after ten exhilarating laps, I was in a respectable fifth place from eleven starters, even though I was some considerable distance behind the winner. Incidentally, his name was Günther Schmitt from Würzburg; his son Rüdiger later became a really good racing driver in touring car sport.
(right) In the cockpit in shirtsleeves – author Braun storms to the summit at the Schauinsland in 1965
(back) Cockpit chic – author Rainer Braun as a Formula Vee driver at the 1965 premiere
Two young Austrian hopefuls from the Porsche Salzburg Formula Vee team wanted to explore the pitfalls of the Northern Loop before their first Nürburgring start.
Around four weeks before the 1966 German Grand Prix, Peter Peter from Vienna and Michael Walleczek from Kitzbühel were passing the time with their colleagues from the Austro V team at the Nürburgring in preparation for a very big event – the first Formula Vee race on the Northern Loop as part of the build-up to the Formula 1 race. There were 95 entries for 50 starting places over three laps. Jochen Rindt personally explained to his compatriots how to take the fastest line while negotiating the labyrinth of bends. After all, it was the wild youths’ first encounter with the Northern Loop. On top of that, Austria had its reputation to defend as a leading Formula Vee nation.
In order to immediately put into practice what had been learnt, Peter climbed into his Porsche 911 and asked Walleczek to call out the sequence of bends in his finest rally style in the passenger seat. ‘Michi screamed for me to go left on the High Eight,’ recalls Peter, ‘but the road went to the right and we had a little problem.’ But that was nothing compared to the surprise that was in store on the Döttinger Höhe, where the 911 unfortunately hit a bump on the left bend under the bridge, became unstable and took off. The subsequent flight was far and high; after rolling a few times, the air journey ended in the undergrowth with the car on its roof. ‘It took an eternity before somebody finally found us,’ according to Peter. ‘We ended up some distance from the track, but at least we had each other to talk to.’ Thank goodness both men survived the mega crash with no broken bones, but they did have severe bruising. A chronic limp has reminded Peter of that memorable day ever since.
Despite being in a great deal of pain, Peter Peter at least ended his first visit to the Northern Loop on a positive note on 6 August 1966, finishing in second place behind his fellow countryman Günther Huber. Colleague Walleczek, on the other hand, overturned at the Brünnchen section of the circuit.
Michael Walleczek – called out left, where the road went right (© Jelinek)
Peter Peter – flew far and high (© Seufert)
At the ‘Formel V Europa’ inaugural meeting in July 1966 in Munich, the executive committee resolved to publish a free monthly association mag. The first issue of Formel V Express appeared just three weeks later.
In the newly founded Formula Vee association, the journalist Ulf von Malberg immediately had to assume a double function. Besides his role as managing director, the board also appointed him editor-in-chief of Formel V-Expreß. The first issue, four pages thin, appeared at the beginning of August with the teaser ‘1st prize: a brand-new Volkswagen for the fastest Formula Vee at the Nürburgring.’ It was referring to the upcoming race over three laps featuring international drivers as part of the build-up programme to the German Grand Prix on the Northern Loop. Incidentally, Günther Huber, the Austrian son of a VW dealer, was fortunate enough to take the 1300 Beetle back home to St. Pölten. The Austro V driver benefited from the disqualification of the Swiss driver Beat Fehr, who lost race and car to Huber due to the fact that the engine on his Zarp FV racing car didn’t comply with the rules.
In the editorial, von Malberg reported on the huge planning stress, tough negotiations and the consequent ultimatum ‘to deliver the printing material within four days.’ ‘At that point in time,’ moaned the unfortunate colleague back then, ‘I was my only employee and hadn’t even finished one page.’ But it all turned out well and the magazine was published on time, with four pages at first, followed by six and in the end there were eight. The articles in the first issue included news, results, insights, tests and technology on the subject of Formula Vee throughout Europe. The initial print run consisted of 2,000 copies. Due to the international propagation of Formula Vee, the association organ was soon printed as a trilingual publication in German, English and French.
Premiere – The cover page of the first Formel V-Express from August 1966
In only its second year, Formula Vee experienced a real boom throughout Europe. There was hardly a single nation that didn’t get involved in the major movement that grew up around the Volkswagen racers. But there was a problem – every country interpreted the casually formulated regulations differently.
‘We simply have to establish some kind of order,’ urged AvD sports director Herbert Wilhelm Schmitz on the sidelines of a Formula Vee race in Hockenheim, ‘otherwise people will soon be doing whatever they want.’ It really was a case of having to formulate a set of Formula Vee regulations that applied to the whole of Europe as quickly as possible. Thus, on the initiative of Volkswagen, sports functionaries and Formula Vee initiators, a meeting was held at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich on 11 July 1966 that led to the founding of the association ‘Formel V Europa e.V.’.
In the first official act, an executive committee was elected, featuring representatives from the strongest Formula Vee nations. Ewert Jan Groen (Holland) assumed the role of president, with Hans Peter Fürst (Austria) and Sven von Schroeter (Germany) elected vice presidents. AvD sports manager Schmitz, an expert member of the technical commission at the FIA in Paris, was quickly promoted to the role of technical director responsible for handling questions relating to the regulations, and Hans Strömel (Wolfsburg) represented the interests of Volkswagen. For the responsible task of managing director, the executive committee appointed the Munich TV journalist Ulf von Malberg. Annual membership fees were set at 20 Deutschmarks (? £9) for drivers, 200DM (? £90) for teams and 400 DM (? £180) for companies.
Besides a standard set of regulations for Europe, the new association management resolved to improve the coordination of international dates, introduce a European Cup, hold driver training courses under the tutelage of Formula 1 drivers, and offer cash and non-cash prizes. Volkswagen man Hans Strömel immediately set a good example and donated a brand-new Beetle 1300 S for the winner of the upcoming three-lap Formula Vee race held as part of the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
Three important Vee men: Vice president Sven von Schroeter, initiator Huschke von Hanstein, AvD sports manager Herbert Wilhelm Schmitz (from l.)
In 1966, the first complete Formula Vee season, the small country of Austria immediately became a regular winner. Hardly a race went by without one of the young, wild drivers from the Alpine republic ending up with a laurel wreath. Michael Walleczek from Kitzbühel and Günther Huber from St. Pölten stood on the winners’ podium particularly often.
Gijs van Lennep saw the Southern Loop of the Nürburgring for the first time in his still nascent career as a racing driver. The 23-year-old from near Zandvoort had been sent to the Eifel region by his mentor Ben Pon with the mission of recording the best time in training and driving the orange Beach to victory in the last Formula Vee race of the season. As instructed, van Lennep took care of both of these things as if he’d never done any different. And while he was at it, he also beat one Rolf Stommelen, who was already considered a seasoned pro at the time.
On 16 October of the following year, the stripling caused a huge sensation at Aspern airfield in Vienna. Immediately after his latest success in a Formula Vee race, he switched to the five times as powerful Porsche Carrere 6 owned by his mentor Ben Pon and raced against local hero and world star Jochen Rindt, also in a Carrera 6. After a dramatic duel with the Cooper Formula 1 driver, the young Formula Vee lad secured a narrow victory. That was the decisive breakthrough for the Pon protégé and within a very short space of time he blossomed into one of the world’s best sports car drivers. In 1971, six years after his first Formula Vee start at the Nürburgring, the slender Dutchman won the 24 Hours of Le Mans together with ex Formula Vee man Dr Helmut Marko in the monstrous Porsche 917, simultaneously setting the course and distance record, which was held for 39 years until it was finally broken by Audi in 2010.
Gijs van Lennep (71) is still associated with the Volkswagen Group today in his ambassadorial role. In Holland he mentors young racing drivers and is a coach on Porsche and Audi driver training courses.
From Formula Vee to Le Mans winners – Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko 1971
Emerging star Gijs van Lennep in 1966 in an Austro V at Aspern airfield near Vienna
© Archiv Historische Formel V
In 1966, the first complete Formula Vee season, the small country of Austria immediately became a regular winner. Hardly a race went by without one of the young, wild drivers from the Alpine republic ending up with a laurel wreath. Michael Walleczek from Kitzbühel and Günther Huber from St. Pölten stood on the winners’ podium particularly often.
The Austrian team from Porsche Salzburg with its front men Michael Walleczek, Werner Riedl and Peter Peter drove their rivals to sheer desperation in the big Formula Vee races of 1966. On top of these came the individual battler Günther Huber and occasionally the universal weapon Dieter Quester. Above all, the races at the Nürburgring, in Hockenheim, Zandvoort and on the airfields of Innsbruck and Wien-Aspern, which featured a number of international drivers, were in the hands of this committed team. ‘Where they are is ahead,’ moaned top Fuchs driver Helmut Bross from Herrenberg. ‘If one of them doesn’t win, then another of them will.’
Even Walter Wünstel from Kaufbeuren, who became the first German Formula Vee champion in 1966 in the Mahag-Austro V, despaired at the dominance of the Austrians, who incidentally were all coached at the time by their idol Jochen Rindt in special training sessions. On a tyre testing track in Kottingbrunn, near Vienna, the best Formula Vee drivers from Austria regularly practiced the ideal racing line and racing tactics under Rindt’s guidance.
National hero Rindt also made sure that the annual award ceremony for his successful Formula Vee compatriots was held in the fitting surroundings of his ‘2nd Jochen Rindt Show’ for racing and sports cars at the Messepalast in Vienna. That is where this memorable photo was taken, featuring the three best Formula Vee fighters of the season and guest of honour Juan Manuel Fangio.
‘Having Fangio there when we received our trophies‘, recalls Huber happily today, ‘was the best thing that could have happened to us.’ The photo with the three Formula Vee boys and the five-time Formula 1 world champion actually went around the world.
‘Our boys’, said a proud HP Fürst, then Formula Vee team chief of Porsche Salzburg, ‘are real winners who have earned this good publicity.’
Picture: Juan Manuel Fangio, öASC President Willi Löwinger (front), FV drivers Robert Rojkowski, Günther Huber, Michael Walleczek (behind, from left to right)
© Archiv Steinbacher, Wien
Before the start of a racing weekend, every racing track in the world has to undergo the procedure of a technical inspection. It was no different for the newly established Formula Vee. At the start, however, it was completely different to normal.
In the inaugural year, the technical inspection for drivers and inspectors was still pretty straightforward. As owner and competitor, Porsche drove the twelve cars from its travelling circus en masse to the examination. A technician confirmed the most important components, stamped the car log book and that was it. However, this blissfully simple approach to inspections changed dramatically in 1966, the second year of Formula Vee. That’s because from this point forward, each driver was individually responsible for the log book, data sheet and all other administrative tasks associated with the Formula Vee car. The regulations were constantly being whipped out, components compared and dimensions checked. ‘The most ruthless man of all was Seegers,’ recalled Formula Vee legend Heinz Fuchs before he died. ‘If need be, he would have taken apart half of the car just to prove that one spacer washer too many had been fitted. The man drove me crazy.’
It got even more dramatic in the technical team when protests had to be investigated and rulings given. Just like after one Formula Vee race at the Nürburgring in spring 1966 in a protest case against an Austrian Austro V driver. The technical jury, five experts in total, used every power at their disposal in the drivers’ camp and got down to work on the Formula Vee car of the alleged offender from Austria. The Austrians of all people – always victorious, always suspicious, but always deemed to be clean.
With a good eye for special situations, Hans-Peter Seufert, one of the best racing photographers of his day, captured this wonderfully grotesque situation with his camera, showing the baffled ‘investigation committee’ in hats and coats bent over the half-upended racing car. And the rickety wooden chair as support gives the whole scene an even more slapstick feel.
Picture: © Seufert
Many people who witnessed the inaugural year of Formula Vee in Germany still remember it as more of a fun event than a serious racing series. At the centre of it all was a Porsche employee whose position helped him to achieve unimagined popularity within the Formula Vee travelling circus.
In 1965, the Formula Vee fleet imported from the USA by Porsche consisted of 12 ‘Beach’ and ‘Formcar’ racing cars produced by US manufacturers. There were seven locations on the programme: Norisring, Solitude, the airfield races in Mainz-Finthen and Trier, the Schauinsland mountain race, the Eifel cup race on the Southern Loop of the Nürburgring and the airfield race in Wunstorf.
Huschke von Hanstein, then simultaneously press and sports chief at Porsche, commissioned his assistant Gerhard Härle to accompany the promotional tour financed by Porsche as a ‘manager authorised to issue directives’. From this point forward, Härle, a rather diminutive figure who was unknown to most of the driving camps, had a major role to play. ‘The man with the hat’, as the rotating squad of drivers in his Formula Vee travelling circus liked to call him for reasons of simplicity, was constantly beleaguered with applicants. That’s because everyone wanted to drive in a Formula Vee race for nothing. But there were only ten cockpits to fill on each occasion; two cars remained unused in reserve. Härle’s instructions were to find ‘a good mix of stars, experienced drivers and novices’. As such, the Porsche stars Rolf Stommelen, Willi Kauhsen, Udo Schütz and Gerhard Mitter lined up at the start every now and then to draw in the crowds.
All the same, most of the winners in the first year were young, as yet unknown drivers. And Gerhard Härle really enjoyed the inaugural Formula Vee year in Germany in his role as ‘ringmaster’.
‘My telephone in the office and at home rang day and night; I could have filled every cockpit 100 times over. It was a fantastic experience to oversee the start of a new form of nurturing young talent.’ Gerhard Härle is now 72 years old and is enjoying his retirement in France.
Image: Wunstorf 1965 – Rolf Stommelen, Eckhard Schimpf, Michael Franz, Siegmund Seligmann, Dieter Bohnhorst, Rolf Wütherich, Gerhard Härle, Rainer Braun (v.l.)