Rainer Braun has come up with 20 new stories from the Formula Super Vee era.
Our journey back in time to the crazy days of Formula Vee came to an end. The iconic Formula Vee individual, Rainer Braun, shared his personal stories on a weekly basis. In addition to being a passionate journalist, track-side reporter and TV commentator, Rainer Braun also has hands-on racing experience: he was one of the drivers in the German premiere of Formula Vee at the Norisring in 1965 and went on to compete in some 80 Formula Vee races both in Germany and abroad until 1972. The stories this man can tell about Formula Vee are simply unbelievable and are as entertaining today as they ever were. Crazy, daredevil drivers, hair-raising battles on the racetrack, genius constructors and canny team managers: Rainer Braun knows the truth about them all – and has brought their stories to light for Volkswagen Motorsport.
The fans of these historic racing series were delighted and asked for more. Rainer Braun didn’t need to be asked twice and has now supplied a further 20 stories from the days of the equally exciting Formula Super Vee, the bigger, stronger and faster brother of the Formula Vee. We hope you enjoy them.
This article marks the end of the series of 20 episodes from the history of Formula Super Vee. Together with the already published 50 episodes from the Formula Vee era, a total of 70 stories now document the history of this VW racing series for young drivers, which was so popular in its day.
It gave me a great deal of pleasure to initially put the events from this fantastic, incredibly happy and carefree period into chronological order and then make them accessible to a broad audience. I am very grateful to Volkswagen Motorsport for entrusting this task to me. Gathering together old facts and photos certainly involved a lot of work, but every phase was immense fun and it was a wonderful journey through time, peppered with many memories and emotions. After all, the Formula Vee years remain among the best experiences of my career in motor sport as a journalist, reporter and hobby driver, which stretches back more than 50 years. I wouldn’t have missed a single day of this era for the world.
This particular Formula Vee chapter may be at an end for now, but it is by no means forever. That’s because the next revival is already planned for 2015 – a historic Formula Vee pageant at the Norisring in Nuremberg, where the VW racing cars were first officially seen in action in Germany two years after their premiere in the USA. The exact date was 4 July 1965. Volkswagen Motorsport will certainly wish to mark the occasion in a befitting manner and once again bring back memories of the first winner’s podium featuring Günther Schmitt from Würzburg, Peter Scheuermann from Erlangen and Peter Kaiser from Stuttgart. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget the celebrations in July 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary since the founding of Volkswagen Motorsport. Here, too, there is a rich vein of entertaining stories which simply have to be told …
Since this article also shouldn’t go without photos, here are my two favourite images from my time spent as a Formula Vee and Super Vee driver. I hope you have enjoyed reading all the stories I put together for you.
I would like to wish friends of Volkswagen Motorsport all the very best.
Drifting to the right: In the WR Kaimann Formel V in 1971 on the final bend at Hockenheim
Drifting to the left: In the WR Kaimann Super V in 1971 on the Breidscheid Bridge section at the Nürburgring
They were among the best in the Formula Super Vee series – as drivers and as human beings. They all made their way in the world; some even made it to Formula 1. When we read their names today, we are overcome by sadness and wistful feelings, because Super Vee heroes such as Gunnar Nilsson, Tom Pryce, Helmut Koinigg, Stefan Bellof, Jo Gartner and Freddy Kottulinsky died far too young.
Since I am nearing the end of my 20-part series, I wish once again to spare a brief thought for those outstanding Super Vee drivers who are unfortunately no longer with us. They played a big part in shaping the Formula Super Vee era – through their exceptional personality, fascinating charisma and admirable fighting spirit. Each of them was a true friend.
Helmut Koinigg drove a Kaimann in Formula Super Vee for three years, racking up a total of nine wins and thereby securing position number four in the all-time list of greats. On 6 October 1974, the Austrian paid for his rise to Formula 1 with his life – he was just 25 years old.
Tom Pryce was among the starters in the first Super Vee season in 1971 in a Royale. The Briton then experienced a rapid rise through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2 before finally making it to Formula 1. On 5 March 1977, at the age of 27, Pryce was involved in a fatal accident in the South African Grand Prix on the Kyalami circuit.
Gunnar Nilsson contested the 1973 Super Vee season in a Lola. Everyone had taken the ever cheerful Swede to their hearts. His fans were overjoyed as he finally won his first and only Grand Prix for Lotus in 1977 on the Zolder circuit. This made his early death in October 1978 at the age of 29 all the more shocking.
Stefan Bellof may have only driven in three Super Vee races in 1981, but what races they were. Observing the driving style of this exceptional talent, it was clear to everyone that this young lad was something special. He dominated Formula 3 and Formula 2, was world sports car champion with Porsche and drove in Formula 1 for Tyrrell. The man from Gießen died on 1 September 1985 at the age of 27 in Spa in a Porsche 962. An entire nation mourned their greatest motor sport idol.
Jo Gartner was a regular Super Vee starter with Lola and Kaimann between 1975 and 1979. He, too, quickly made it to the world of Formula 1 via Formula 2. Like many of his Formula colleagues, he also occasionally competed in a Porsche sports car. The life of the 32-year-old Austrian came to an end on 1 June 1986 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Freddy Kottulinsky was considered the Methuselah among the hobby drivers. Besides two years as a constant winner in Formula Super Vee, he also drove pretty much everything that had four wheels in his 50-year career. Whether racing, rallying, cross or desert, Freddy handled it all masterfully. On 4 May 2010, the Swede died of cancer at the age of 77.
Formula Super Vee personalities – gone, but not forgotten
Formula Vee legend Freddy Kottulinsky
© Remmel, Kräling, Förster, ESPN, Hist. FVE
… Austrian and German motor sport stars come in droves to Vienna and pay homage to their old master. Whether 70, 75, 80 or 85 – the former Kaimann constructor and team chief ‘Master Bergmann’ welcomes a familiar crowd of guests every five years.
Superstars like Niki Lauda, Dr Helmut Marko, Keke Rosberg, Harald Ertl and Dieter Quester all once learnt the art of speed under the auspices of the small man in the Viennese district of Eßling. Kurt Bergmann, forever immortalised in Formula Vee history as a living legend, once again welcomed around one hundred guests to celebrate his 85th birthday in February 2014. Just like his 80th birthday in 2009, Bergmann’s favourite driver, 71-year-old Erich Breinsberg, head of the large Viennese VW car dealership Liewers, took care of all organisational matters relating to the party. ‘Everything I learnt in motor sport is due to Kurt. It is only natural that I now wish to give something back.’
Accordingly, Breinsberg has also made sure that his old mentor and team chief is able to enjoy a worry-free retirement in a familiar environment. That’s because the plot of land known as Eßlinger Hauptstr. 13, which has been home to a newly built VW Liewers dealership since 2009, is where almost 200 Kaimann Formula Vee and Super Vee models were built from 1966 until the late 1970s. Bergmann not only has residency rights here for the rest of his life, but is also able to continue tinkering and building in his own workshop. His new hobby is building remote-controlled mini submarines and helicopters which he has designed himself. While he is there, he is also able to keep a watchful eye on proceedings in the VW business next door – and if they ever find themselves in a tight spot, he is immediately on hand with help and advice.
Despite a heart operation, the ‘Master’ is in remarkably good shape at the age of 85. Long after midnight, the feisty birthday boy was still capable of entertaining the remaining ‘hard-core’ guests with delightful anecdotes. The only time Kurt Bergmann looked sombre was when the conversation turned to his wife Johanna. The couple were married for almost 60 years before ‘Hannerl’ died in 2010 following a long illness.
Best wishes at 80: Erich Breinsberg, Niki Lauda, Dr Helmut Marko, birthday boy Kurt Bergmann, Peter Peter, Dieter Quester (from l.)
85 and still young at heart: Formula Vee legend Kurt Bergmann on his birthday
The former Formula Super Vee European champion and two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk has lived in Fountain Hills, Arizona, for a number of years. The author of this series took advantage of one of the rare visits to his Dutch hometown of ’s-Hertogenbosch to catch up with an old companion.
We have arranged to meet at midday in a bistro in the market square of the small town in the province of Nordtrabant. With me is my Dutch colleague Rene de Boer, who also helped to set up the meeting. It is Wednesday, 27 February 2013. Arie arrives right on time and there is immense joy at seeing each other again – after all, I haven’t seen him since the glorious Super Vee days at the end of the 1970s. In terms of looks alone, he has hardly changed. There are no wrinkles; only his hair is thinning slightly on top.
We order a café latte, a little something to eat and begin to reminisce. At almost 60 years of age, Arie can look back gratefully on a fulfilled and highly successful career. It goes without saying that the titanic duel with Axel Plankenhorn for the Super Vee European title in 1977 soon comes up in conversation. ‘It was a really close run thing,’ he says, immediately beginning to rhapsodise. ‘We both drove a Lola T 326; sometimes Axel was in the lead, sometimes it was me; each of us had three wins under our belt. We had the same amount of points two races before the end of the season and then I simply had more luck in both of those races. Axel and I have remained good friends to this day.’ Arie was almost crowned Super Vee European champion for a second time in 1980, but then the outstanding John Nielsen got in his way and he had to settle for runner-up. ‘In any case, my time in the Super Vee series laid the foundations for my career in the USA, because the Americans kept me there after an invitation to compete in a Super Vee race in Phoenix.’
He soon also won the US Super Vee championship and then came the offer to compete in the Indy Car series. The rest is history, right up until he was crowned Indy 500 winner twice in 1990 and 1997. In addition, he secured pole position on three occasions in Indianapolis. In the USA, his adopted nation, Arie Luyendyk is still considered one of the country’s most popular sportsmen even after his retirement. To summarise our encounter, despite his mega career, Arie has remained what he always was as a Super Vee driver – a down-to-earth guy who hasn’t been seduced by stardom. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to meet up with him again.
chat with friends: Arie Luyendyk (right), Rene de Boer (middle) and author Rainer Braun
© de Boer
Champion and runner-up: Arie in 1977 as the newly crowned Super Vee European champion; next to him the narrowly defeated Axel Plankenhorn
It was under this motto that drivers, team chiefs and organisers from the early years of Formula Vee got together in December 2007 at the motor show in Essen for a kind of class reunion. For many, the joy of seeing old faces again after 30 or even 40 years was immense.
‘Live wildly and dangerously’ – this is definitely a saying that could be applied to the early years of the Formula Vee movement and it was precisely this motto that was used on the invitations for a Formula Vee class reunion sent out by joint organisers Messe Essen and Dunlop with the appropriate title ‘Hi, how are you?’. And the heroes of yesteryear came in droves – they were just 30 or 40 years older. The evening turned into one big reunion party for many friends, rivals and team colleagues from an era which many wouldn’t have missed for the world. As the evening drew on, the stories told on the tables of ten and on the stage became even more adventurous. Representatives from the press could hardly believe what they were hearing. One correspondent from ‘BILD Essen’, who could certainly be described as an experienced motor sport journalist, asked incredulously ‘whether some of this was perhaps a little exaggerated’. Responding to the man, those involved in the sport at the time soon set the record straight: ‘My dear man, if anything it was even worse.’
People reminisced late into the night on 8 December 2007. Historical photos and video footage were shown in a continual loop on a screen, accompanied throughout by jovial banter and raucous laughter. And as a permanent reminder of the memorable get-together, towards the end of the evening they even managed a group photo featuring those heroes who were able to make it to the stage under their own steam. A colourful mix of Formula Vee and Super Vee drivers, team chiefs, organisers, movers, shakers and managers lined up for a ‘class photo’, although it tested the nerves of photographer Henning Müller to the limit. ‘It took an eternity for everyone to line up as I wanted them.’ In view of the impressive gathering, Anton Konrad, former general secretary of the Formula Vee Europe organisation, rounded matters off with the appropriate closing words: ‘All the things we lived through together, nobody believes us these days anyway.’
A rare group photo: Formula Vee men from three decades. Bottom row l. to r.: Bertram Schäfer, Freddy Kottunlinsky, Rainer Braun, Knut Lehmann, Richard Thiel, Günther Huber, Fred Hoenle. Middle row: Anton Konrad, Gerhard Härle, Kurt Lotterschmid, Josef Kaufmann, Manfred Trint, Hans Herrmann, Werner Müller, Manfred Schurti, Klaus Beck. Top row: Peter Scharmann, Siegfried Spieß, Manfred Jantke (hidden), Helmut Bross, Kennerth Persson, Reinhold Rohde, Günther Steckkönig, Eckhard Schimpf, Eberhard Winkler
A group photo with a lady: Peter Peter (Austrian state champion), Hannelore Werner (winner of the ladies’ cup) and the European champions Manfred Schurti and Günther Huber (from l.)
Around the turn of the millennium, VW Motorsport chiefs Carsten Kröger and Andrè van der Watt had their minds set on reviving the good old Formula Super Vee tradition. On 12 September 2000, the new ‘Formula Super Volkswagen’ was presented to the teams and trade press in the Motorsport Arena in Oschersleben.
When Volkswagen Motorsport decided to launch a new ‘Formula Super Volkswagen’ series 18 years after the official end of the first Super Vee era, two classic representatives from the old Kaimann days – Kurt Bergmann and his former German ace driver Manfred Trint – were also among the guests at the presentation. The experts who had gathered at the event were presented with a stylish, slimline and visually appealing Formula car from the industry newcomer ZATO. A two-litre VW engine from the new Beetle, tuned to deliver almost 200 horsepower, was fitted at the rear. It came with a sequential five-speed gearbox. The racing car was priced at €39,500 without engine; the VW powertrain had to be acquired on a loan basis at a cost of €4,900 for the season. In addition, the entry fee was €6,000, making a grand total of almost €50,000.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as the organisers had anticipated. The ZATO carbon-fibre chassis proved to be unstable and material fatigue necessitated fairly costly replacement and conversion measures before the first race had even taken place. The start of the 2001 season was put back to the middle of the year as all improvement work had to be completed before racing could finally get underway. The name of the first title winner was the same as that of the last winner 19 years previously: Walter Lechner from Austria – only this time it was his son. Subsequent champions were Sven Barth (D) in 2002 and Jaap van Lagen (NL) in 2003, before the new VW Motorsport director Kris Nissen put the kibosh on the lacklustre ‘Formula Super Volkswagen’ project after just three years. The end wasn’t totally unexpected – the starting line-ups, atmosphere and racing action were rather bland; the fascination that had characterised the original series was somehow missing.
Keen interest from the press and team chiefs: The new ZATO Formula Super Volkswagen is unveiled in autumn 2000 in Oschersleben
© VW Motorsport Archive
Lechner again: 19 years after his father (right), Lechner junior was also crowned champion in Formula Super Volkswagen © Müller, RaceCam Bechtel
All good things must come to an end, and the same can be said of Formula Super Vee. As the cars became ever faster and costs rose ever further, Volkswagen Motorsport finally pulled the plug on the series in 1982. Only the professional teams with financial clout were in a position to contest an entire Super Vee season; newcomers and independent competitors had little chance of securing a place among the leaders.
‘The original idea of promoting young talent had been eclipsed,’ argued VW Motorsport chief Klaus Peter Rosorius after consulting the head office in Wolfsburg. ‘We had to act and bring the expensive arms race to an end.’ Thus, on 26 September 1982 on the Concrete Loop (‘Betonschleife’) of the Nürburgring, a line was drawn under the twelve-year-long era of Formula Super Vee with the last official race of the European championship and German championship.
In the two years prior to this, nobody could get close to the British Ralt RT 5 chassis driven by John Nielsen and backed by constructor Ron Tauranac. However, Austrian Walter Lechner’s professional team ultimately managed to supplant the Dane in the final season in 1982. The boss of a racing school in Salzburg also had excellent links to Ralt in England and accordingly contested the season with the very best materials. With a total of seven from nine possible season wins, Lechner once again left his frustrated rivals trailing in his wake. At the same time, the Austrian also went down in the history books as the last European champion in the Super Vee series. And while he was at it, he also secured the final title in the German Formula Super Vee championship. In the all-time list of winners, Lechner occupies fifth spot with eight races won, placing him behind John Nielsen (17), Kennerth Persson (11), Arie Luyendyk (10) and Helmut Koinigg (9).
These days, 64-year-old Lechner is principal of his own racing team, which has contested and won titles in the Porsche Super Cup. Both of his sons, Robert and Walter Jun., are also successful motor sport drivers.
Almost unbeaten: Ralt driver Lechner in 1982 at the Nürburgring
The last Super Vee champion: Double champion Walter Lechner
Whether Formula Vee or Super Vee – when you peruse the list of all those who took part between the years 1966 and 1982, two names appear time and again: Josef Kaufmann and Helmut Bross. Having each been present for 13 years, both men are the most loyal Formula Vee drivers of all time.
While Helmut Bross from Herrenberg, near Stuttgart, was part of the first generation of drivers involved in the then still young Formula Vee series from 1966, Josef ‘Jupp’ Kaufmann didn’t make his debut for another four years. Both then switched to Formula Super Vee in 1971, with Kaufmann remaining loyal until the end in 1982. Bross left a few years earlier to pursue other plans. When all is said and done, however, both men were involved for around the same amount of time. Both more or less regularly finished among the leaders and occasionally even stood together on the podium.
In Formula Super Vee alone, Bross entered races with six different constructors: Fuchs, Komet, Veemax, Lola, Chevron and March. With the ‘Komet’, built by Porsche engineers, he even secured the German Super Vee title in 1972. He lined up alongside his European colleagues on many an occasion in the battle of the nations against the USA in Daytona and once came back having secured third and another time fifth place. Bross still has fond memories of his Super Vee years: ‘We were a totally crazy bunch; the camaraderie was everything. We often slept four to a single room due to lack of money – those were the same people who fought hard against each other the following day. Back then, your opponent was still your friend.’
Josef Kaufmann sees things the same way as Bross. Although he didn’t win any titles, he drove a number of good races with a total of five constructors: Horag, Lola, Veemax, Ralt and Martini. Incidentally, after their time with Super Vee, both men moved onto Formula 3 where they also stood their ground. For his part, Bross even made a bold move into Formula 2 and subsequently developed into a successful sports car driver in the two-litre category.
Ready for the off: Bross in the cockpit of his Fuchs Super V in 1971
Formula Vee veterans: Helmut Bross and Josef Kaufmann
© Seufert, Esch
Formula Super Vee in particular witnessed fascinating duels for prestige and notched up a number of new records over the years. Names such as Keke Rosberg, Arie Luyendyk and John Nielsen – they all made history. And that a Super Vee driver would end up breaking the Formula 3 lap record on the Northern Loop of the Nürburgring exceeded even the most audacious of expectations.
The man who ultimately outshone everyone and everything was John Nielsen. The Dane achieved the feat of winning three European titles on the trot. In 1979, 1980 and 1981, he and his black Ralt RT became regulars on the winner’s podium. With a total of 17 wins, Nielsen also secured a place on the list of all-time greatest Super Vee drivers, followed by Kennerth Persson (SWE, Kaimann/March, 11 wins) and Arie Luyendyk (NED, Lola/Argo, 10 wins). And it was also ‘Super John’, as those in the sport reverently called him, who, in his last Super Vee season on 26 April 1981, smashed the Nürnburgring Formula 3 lap record set in May 1978 by Jan Lammers (7:50.20). The official stopwatch recorded an incredible time of 7:43.50 for Nielsen, which equates to an average speed of 177.3 km/h.
However, Nielsen had to battle hard for at least two of his three European titles. At the end of the 1979 season, for instance, just two points separated him from his long-time rival Günther Gebhardt (March) and, one year later, Arie Luyendyk (Argo) made life difficult for the Dane. Only in his final season did Nielsen cede just one of twelve possible wins to his rivals, thereby setting an all-time record for Super Vee victories in one season. The record holder then switched from Formula Super Vee to being works driver in the Formula 3 programme run by Volkswagen Motorsport. Incidentally, the closest title race was fought in 1972, when just one point separated the European championship winner from Liechtenstein, Manfred Schurti (Royale), from the Austrian Helmut Koinigg (Kaimann). Helmut Henzler (March) holds the record for the biggest ever lead – in 1978 he ended the season 107 points ahead of the runner-up Kennerth Persson (Ralt).
‘Super John’ in action: In the Ralt with start number 1 on the way to victory in Hockenheim
The most successful Super Vee driver ever: John Nielsen
© VW Motorsport Archive
On the second weekend of May in 1981, a young talent shook the Formula Super Vee elite like an earthquake in the European championship race on the circuit at Mainz Finthen Airport. His name: Stefan Bellof. It also marked the start of an extraordinary career.
Even the time trials ended spectacularly. Not one of the top favourites – such as two-time European champion John Nielsen or then leader of the German championship Kennerth Persson – managed to drive into pole position. Instead, it was occupied by the tall, blond man from Gießen. Stefan Bellof was allowed to drive the Ralt RT 5 car belonging to the Lechner team ‘just for a bit of fun’ (Lechner) and also to get a little taste of the Super Vee series. He immediately turned the hierarchy on its head as if it were always a given. ‘The man brakes incredibly late and takes bends with ease,’ reported flabbergasted onlookers. It was the same story in the race; nobody could keep pace with him and, at times, his lead was as much as 20 seconds – an eternity in the normally tightly packed Super Vee field. Only a technical problem prevented a certain victory, but the car was still able to limp home in second place. Team chief Lechner was so delighted with what he saw that he immediately let the 23-year-old wunderkind off the leash at the following races in Wunstorf and at the Norisring. It was the same story everywhere – Bellof drove in a league of his own.
The three Super Vee guest appearances gave people an idea of the mega talent that was emerging. Whether driving in Formula 3, Formula 2 or Porsche 956 sports cars, he was able to rack up victories in his first start in each of these series. He even earned immediate respect and recognition in Formula 1, but before he was able to achieve his declared goal, the Formula 1 crown, Bellof’s racing life ended on 1 September 1985 in the wreck of a Porsche sports car on the Eau Rouge section of the Spa circuit. ‘Stefan was clearly from another planet,’ his Tyrrell F1 team colleague Martin Brundle once said. ‘He would have been a big challenger against Ayrton Senna.’
In a league of his own: Bellof in the yellow Ralt RT 5 secured pole position, victory and lap record in the Super Vee race on the Wunstorf Air Base circuit in 1981.
From another planet: Super talent Stefan Bellof in 1981
One of the wildest lads in Formula Super Vee was the young Lufthansa flight engineer Manfred Trint. He kept his rivals and team chiefs on the edges of their seats with hair-raising exploits. He performed his most daring escapade in the final race for the 1975 European Championship in Hockenheim.
When Manfred Trint begins telling stories of his 15-year career as an amateur racing driver, he invariably ends up talking about Formula Super Vee. The man from the Rhineland region drove some brilliant and crazy races during his eight years in the series. He was one of the wildest, loved a scrap and battled with rivals such as Rosberg, Luyendyk, Persson, Schurti and Koinigg. ‘It was sheer madness,’ recalls the retired flight captain, who still waxes lyrical about the series. ‘We were a completely crazy crew, drove the maddest races against each other and still had the most insane fun together.’
What Trint pulled off in the 15-lap final race for the 1975 European Championship in Hockenheim has even gone down in Formula Super Vee history. After a good start, a competitor drove across the front section of his ATS Lola bearing the start number 6, causing him to spin off and end the first lap in 18th place. Trint describes what happened next as if it happened yesterday: ‘I thought I had no chance of finishing among the top drivers as I used the slipstream to my advantage and closed up on the huge leading pack of at least ten cars with every lap. The slipstream, which is especially effective on the large circuit, helped me to move one or two positions further up the express train with every lap, and on the last lap I caught up with the leading pair – my Lola team colleague Mika Kozarowitzky and Mika Arpiainen in the Veemax. The fact that I still managed to win this race coming from 18th place was simply incredible.’
Incidentally, Manfred Trint quickly rose through the ranks at Lufthansa to become flight captain, flew the 747 jumbo jet around the world, and switched to flying 757 and 767 jets at Lufthansa subsidiary Condor up until his retirement ten years ago. ‘I have seen the whole world from 40,000 feet and had the best time in racing sport – you can’t ask for more than that,’ says the 71-year-old, gratefully looking back.
Slipstream battle in 1975 in Hockenheim: Trint (6) takes the lead on the last lap ahead of Kozarowitzky and Arpiainen and wins after coming from 18th place.
Trint as Formula Vee driver in overalls in 1975
The right people really did come together in 1975 to form a Super Vee team under the aegis of boutique owner Uwe Jürdens: the up-and-coming Finnish star Keke Rosberg, the ever jovial Prince Leopold ‘Poldi’ von Bayern and the industrialist’s grandson Thomas Teves (ATE Bremsen). The fun-loving crew and their bus were a regular sight in every paddock.
When you ask 70-year-old Prince Leopold ‘Poldi’ von Bayern for his finest memories of a racing career spanning almost 30 years, he doesn’t have to think very long before answering: ‘The 1975 Formula Super Vee season with Keke Rosberg, Thomas Teves and team chief Uwe Jürdens would definitely be up there. We had endless fun and were like vagabonds as we travelled from racetrack to racetrack.’ With a colourfully painted old bus and three Super Vee racing cars, ‘Uwe’s Mode Racing Team’ was a permanent fixture of the 1975 Super Vee season. Racing team owner Jürdens, proprietor of several fashion boutiques on the island of Sylt, also boasted two high-class team sponsors in the form of Boss and Kern.
‘It goes without saying that Keke was the star of our crew even back then,’ recalls Teves. ‘He was also the most sensible and professional among us, while Poldi and I were responsible for all the shenanigans.’ Nonetheless, when it came to racing, they took matters seriously and were all ambitious. When Keke and friends hit the gas pedal in the blue and white Kaimann racing cars, their rivals usually had to brace themselves. All the team’s cars finished among the top ten often enough. ‘Since Keke almost always won,’ recalls Teves, ‘there was many a drunken victory party on or around our bus.’ It also wasn’t uncommon for the bus to be used as a place to bed down for the night when necessary.
Keke Rosberg ended the memorable 1975 Super Vee Season by winning the Castrol GTX trophy and the German championship, only just missing out on the European title. Afterwards he launched his impressive professional career, which was crowned in 1982 with the Formula 1 world title. When the team colleagues from Uwe’s Mode Racing sometimes get together in a DTM paddock, the wild stories from 1975 are revived. Thomas Teves, now 66, sums it up nicely: ‘We are fortunate to have been able to experience these carefree times together. It’s something you never forget.’
Victory lap in 1975 at the Norisring: Kaimann driver Keke Rosberg
Fun around the clock: Super Vee trio Teves, Rosberg and Poldi in 1975 on the team bus
For competitors and Formula Vee organisers it was quite simply a nightmare: one man and one team dominating at will, winning one race after the other and reducing everyone to despair.
That’s what happened in 1974 with Freddy Kottulinsky and the ATS Lola team owned by wheel rim manufacturer Günter Schmid. The presence of the great professional driver, who had already been successful in Formula 3 and Formula 2, seemed completely out of step with the fundamental principle of Formula Super Vee. Volkswagen intended it to be a place for young, ambitious talent to learn the tools of the trade before moving on to greater things. ‘It’s like Lauda switching straight from Formula 1 to Formula 3,’ grumbled Kaimann team chief Kurt Bergmann.
Events unfolded in the only way they can when the best man is sitting in the best car. Kottulinsky – at 42 years of age the oldest by far in the starting line-up – won one race after the other and logically ended the season as European champion. His rivals had soon grudgingly resigned themselves to their fate after spending most of the time looking at the rear of the yellow Lola T 320. However, the solo displays from the superman in the ATS Lola left the management staff at Formula Vee and Volkswagen with a lot of explaining to do. To lift the mood among the humbled teams, attempts were made to entice Freddy away from Formula Super Vee with an attractive offer for rally sport. As a result, from 1975 he drifted successfully across open terrain in a VW works car and also entered European touring car championship races in an Audi 80.
The success story of this irrepressible speed junkie continued at a high level for a number of years. He thrashed the Audi 80 around European circuits in incredible times and the rally community feared him as a merciless Golf tamer. Freddy crowned his motor sport career at Volkswagen in 1980 with the first Dakar win in the VW Iltis off-road car. Even after that he kept on going and continued to show flashes of his brilliance. Two months before his 78th birthday, on 4 May 2010, Freddy Kottulinsky passed away after suffering from cancer.
Always the same picture: Kottulinsky leads in the ATS Lola, the rest follow behind
Discussing the situation: Formula Vee Europe chief Rosorius, continuous winner Kottulinsky
Huge starting fields characterised the Formula Super Vee series in 1972 and 1973. Up to 50 entrants battled it out for decent prize money and championship points. In doing so, a growing number of professional drivers found themselves competing against amateurs and hobby racing drivers who adopted a devil-may-care approach and were out of their depth. This resulted in serious accidents and mass pile-ups.
‘It can’t go on like this. We must act and do so immediately,’ announced the ONS – the German motor sport authorities based in Frankfurt – following a series of mass pile-ups at the Nürburgring and in Hockenheim in 1973. Up to ten racing cars were involved in the mega crashes and unfortunately several drivers were also injured. The accident scenes resembled battlefields, the material damage was enormous. It was an extremely critical time when everyone involved found it difficult to raise a smile. The situation was serious; driving and safety rules were tightened and drivers who were reckless or out of their depth could expect temporary bans.
An entire generation of racing drivers suddenly assumed responsibility for ensuring the continued existence of Formula Super Vee. In intensive talks, professionals such as Helmut Koinigg, Kennerth Persson and Mika Arpiainen explained to the amateurs that Super Vee races were not events for larking around like perhaps the Formula Vee meetings were in the early years. They also told them that they were now sitting in real racing cars where they couldn’t get away with driving carelessly.
Fortunately, the situation slowly stabilised; it was clear that there was increasing discipline and consideration among the drivers. Even in closely fought duels, everyone gave each other the space that was needed in such a tightly packed field in order to minimise collisions with the subsequent chain reactions they caused. Overtaking manoeuvres between slower and faster competitors also worked better than before and the major series of accidents thankfully became a thing of the past. The reformation did nothing to halt the excitement; leading packs featuring up to a dozen cars with just a few seconds between them remained the rule.
Lola driver and son of a beer brewer, Peter Cramer, now the owner of two sports sponsorship agencies in Austria and Monaco, describes his memories of the wild Super Vee times thus: ‘I was so scared before the start of every race. It was hell. Once, I even ended up in the same hospital room as several other unfortunate drivers.’
Super Vee battlefield: Mass pile-up in 1973 at the Nürburgring
Scant racing fun: Lola driver Peter Cramer in 1973
In the big battles of the nations with the US boys in Daytona, the Europeans had to concede painful defeat on a number of occasions in the Formula Vee 1300 series between 1968 and 1970. However, that suddenly all changed at the first Super Vee meeting in 1971 in Daytona.
The Daytona adventures of previous years still weighed heavily on the minds of the Europeans when they turned up for the first Super Vee battle of the nations against the Americans in 1971. The pain inflicted by defeat in recent Formula Vee encounters still sat deep – and nobody had the slightest idea of how the showdown with the new, more powerful Super Vee cars would turn out. After all, the US boys already had one year of experience with the 1600 cc VW racing cars, while the Europeans were merely standing on the verge of the new Super Vee era.
The race around the high-speed Daytona oval turned into a nail-biting event from a European perspective. Only Erich Breinsberg in the virtually untested new Kaimann design had any kind of chance of keeping up with the pace set by the US boys at the head of the field. Using the slipstream that is particularly conspicuous on this circuit, the Austrian carved out an ideal position approaching the finishing line which allowed him to take the lead for the first time just before the chequered flag fell. That was enough to earn him a sensational victory by the length of a car over Tom Davey (Zeitler) and Steve Pieper (Lola). Helmut Bross (Fuchs) finished in fourth place as the second-best European. Breinsberg was almost bursting with pride as a buxom ‘Miss Speedweek’ handed him a huge trophy and a cheque for 5,000 dollars during the presentation ceremony. That evening, Kaimann team chief Kurt Bergmann once again had to carry through on a flippantly made promise (‘If Breinsberg wins here with our car, I will jump into the hotel pool in my best suit.’). He jumped in wearing the full outfit …
Even in subsequent years, there was little for the Americans to laugh about at the big showdowns between the nations at Daytona. Breinsberg’s win was followed in 1972 by the triumph of Swedish high-flyer Greger Kronegaard (Lola) and in 1973 there was even a triple success for the European delegation, with the Liechtensteiner Manfred Schurti (Royale) leading the way ahead of the Swede Bertil Roos (TUI) and the Austrian Helmut Koinigg (Kaimann).
Strong finish: Breinsberg (7) takes his US tormenters by surprise with the help of the slipstream to win by a hair’s breadth
© Breinsberg Archive
A promise is a promise: Because his car won, Kaimann chief Bergmann had to jump into the hotel pool in his best suit
© Breinsberg Archive
A change of leadership at Formula Vee Europe: in autumn 1972, general secretary Anton Konrad left Munich after six years and moved to Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg. Klaus Peter Rosorius succeeded Konrad.
With such an attractive offer, Anton Konrad didn’t wait to be asked a second time. Volkswagen chief sales officer Dr Carl Hahn, who originally appointed Konrad to oversee the still young Formula Vee organisation back in 1967, now wanted to see his preferred candidate take up a position as the new product press man in Wolfsburg. A successor was sought and quickly found in the form of Continental sport chief Klaus Peter Rosorius. Most Formula Vee and Super Vee teams were already very familiar with the 32-year-old man from Hanover, because his company was responsible for supplying tyres around this time.
Rosorius initially guided the fate of Formula Vee from Munich. Just one year later he was able to return to his hometown, because the entire Formula Vee Europe organisation moved to Hanover in autumn 1973. Now that it was much closer to operations in Wolfsburg, it was soon renamed ‘Formula Vee Europe – Volkswagen Motorsport e.V.’ As managing director and sport chief, Rosorius and his team not only oversaw the fast-growing starting field in Formula Super Vee, but in the following year also planned new activities such as the first rallies featuring the Golf GTI, the ‘VW Scirocco Junior Cup’ and a Formula 3 engine which was immediately competitive. Rosorius was responsible for all Volkswagen Motorsport activities for more than 20 years.
Meanwhile, Anton Konrad’s career continued on an upward trajectory in Wolfsburg, rising from head of motor press to director of public relations and group communications. ‘Mind you,’ he acknowledges, ‘I still followed the fascinating developments in Formula Super Vee from Wolfsburg, particularly in the early years.’ And, of course, the hobby driver also secretly wormed his way into one or two Super Vee cockpits to do a couple of quick laps.
New man: Klaus Peter Rosorius 1972
Volkswagen chairman Hahn, new logo Volkswagen Motorsport
© Volkswagen Motorsport
It was a great honour for the winner of the Formula Super Vee race which formed part of the build-up to the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in 1972: the Swede Bror Jagtlund and his RPB car opened the Saturday edition of the TV sport magazine Sportschau, which was being broadcast live for the first time from the paddock of the racetrack in the Eifel region.
Bror Jagtlund had barely taken in the winner’s ceremony when he was summoned down to the paddock through the narrow tunnel with his laurel wreath and racing car. When he got there, he was welcomed by both presenters Fritz Danco and Günter Wölbert who were broadcasting the opening piece for Sportschau live. Nobody could have known at the time that the show almost ended up costing both TV professionals their jobs.
Not only the viewers at home, but also the bosses at the TV broadcaster ARD stared at the image on the television screen in amazement. The cameras showed both presenters in smart, white racing suits emblazoned with logos from the tyre manufacturer Goodyear at a time when wearing any kind of advertising was generally considered a bone of contention at TV broadcasters ARD and ZDF. While the programme was still on, the phone lines were already red hot. ‘How is it possible’, raged the head of department Ernst Huberty at WDR in Cologne and Rudi Michel at SWF in Baden-Baden virtually at the same time, ‘that two of our people are appearing on our screens as walking advertising vehicles?’ The usual Monday morning conference call descended into a tribunal; there were calls for both presenters and the director responsible for the incident to be immediately sacked. At the end of the heated debate, the men in charge settled for issuing strong reprimands and making appropriate entries in the respective personnel files.
Goodyear maintained that its actions were nothing but well intentioned: ‘We only wanted to create a little racing atmosphere for the presenters,’ assured PR manager Friedrich Maass and made absolutely clear that ‘we never intended to engineer a competitive advantage for ourselves.’ The final word goes to Fritz Danco talking about the advertising folk at the Nürburgring from today’s standpoint: ‘At the time, it was a bad affair which almost cost us our jobs. We were all caught napping a little bit.’
Sportschau scandal: Presenter Wölbert welcomes Super Vee winner Jagtlund during the opening piece in the Nürburgring paddock
Smart overalls with the Goodyear logo: Presenting duo Danco and Wölbert, director Baumhauer in plain clothes
Jochen Mass was considered a good inside tip in terms of Super Vee victories. The ambitious young star and later Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1 driver drove a Kaimann for the private WRD team. In Zolder, however, the firm favourite ended up well and truly stranded
When the Formula Super Vee crew turned up at Zolder in Belgium for the third race of the 1971 season, it was clear to many that the path to victory would only lead via high flyer Jochen Mass. At the Easter bank holiday race in Thruxton the previous week, the man from Mannheim was the fastest in the field in the bilious green Kaimann belonging to the private WRD racing team and only ended up narrowly losing to Kaimann works driver Erich Breinsberg because he spun off the track at high speed in the final spurt – fortunately with no serious consequences.
Together with the journalist Manfred Jantke, the author of this story had the fortune of being Mass’s WRD team colleague at the time. Racing team owner Eberhard Winkler entered two optimally prepared Kaimanns – one car was permanently reserved for Mass, the other cockpit was alternately occupied by Jantke and me. It was my turn in Zolder and Jochen made every effort to reveal to me the secrets of this rather treacherous racetrack.
‘In training you’d best drive behind me and make a note of the fastest racing line. After settling in for a couple of laps, things will get serious. I’ll take you with me in my slipstream and then both of us are guaranteed to be on the first row of the grid.’ No sooner said than done – Jochen as team leader in front; me following dutifully behind. However, during the first training lap, the brilliant plan came to an end in the ‘Kanalboocht’, a super-fast right-hand bend. Jochen flew into the safety fence at full pelt, skimmed the wooden posts and wire mesh for 20 metres and ended up in a complete tangle. The marshals had to use wire cutters to free the poor man from his rather uncomfortable situation. The Kaimann was so badly damaged in the accident that entering the race was no longer an option. The race on the following day ended with a sixfold Kaimann triumph.
Crash landing: Mass’s destroyed Kaimann is salvaged – team owner Winkler stands bewildered in front of the car
Fenced out in Zolder: Rising star Jochen Mass in 1971
Every last seat was filled at the Motodrom in Hockenheim when the Formula Super Vee series made its debut on the first weekend of April in 1971. Around 100,000 fans not only cheered on Tecno driver Francois Cevert as the winner of the Formula 2 European Championship race, but also the Briton Cyd Williams (Royale) as the first Formula Super Vee winner.
The first race also provided the first big surprise – the favourite Kaimann designs with star drivers Erich Breinsberg, Helmut Koinigg, Jochen Mass, Manfred Schurti and Werner Riedl were properly brushed aside by the Briton Cyd Williams in the only Royale in the field. And Helmut Bross, whose Fuchs SV was also represented only once in the starting line-up, nosed his way forward to secure second place ahead of the shocked Kaimann lads, who finished one after the other in places three to six. Yet that was all set to change at the next races in Thruxton, Zolder and at the Nürburgring. The ‘Kai-men’ struck back in impressive style and won often enough in a three-, four- or even five-pack. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that Lola in particular was able to close the gap under the stewardship of Swedish driver Greger Kronegaard and rain on the habitual winners’ parade on a number of occasions.
Nonetheless, the battle for the ‘VW Gold Cup’ in the first Super Vee season ended with title wins for the firm favourites in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. Breinsberg won just ahead of Kronegaard; Kaimann was a clear winner ahead of Royale. In the end, Kaimann chief Kurt Bergmann was so happy to have won both titles that he carried through on the promise he flippantly blurted out as Lola driver Kronegaard was swiftly moving up the standings: ‘If we still win the drivers’ championship, I will eat my hat – grilled if necessary.’ In the restaurant of the Walldorf Holiday Inn Hotel, it was actually served to him by the head chef, accompanied by sausages and sauerkraut. To this day, the people who were sitting at nearby tables at the time report with more than a little amusement that ‘he really did eat the thing’.
Hockenheim premiere: Bross (Fuchs #71) still in the lead ahead of eventual winner Williams (Royale, #66); the Kaimann gang stand no chance behind them
Bon appetit: The chef serves up ‘grilled trilby hat’ with sausages and sauerkraut
In May 1970, a further attraction was added to the already successful Formula Vee series in the form of a more powerful brother – Super Vee. Volkswagen Sweden was given the honour of hosting the inaugural presentation – with royal assistance. The official race premiere followed almost a year later in Hockenheim.
There was a good reason why Swedish Crown Prince and future King Carl Gustav was guest of honour at Mantorp Park on 29 May 1970. Besides the Formula Vee 1300 races, also on the agenda was the inaugural presentation of the new Formula Vee racing car with a 1.6-litre engine, about 130 horsepower and a top speed of around 200 km/h. After receiving a detailed briefing from Porsche baron Huschke von Hanstein, the crown prince, himself a racing sport enthusiast and huge Porsche fan, got behind the wheel of the ‘Beach SV’ imported from the USA and set off around the track on the car’s maiden run. Afterwards, the royal tester was full of praise and immediately put his name down for a guest appearance the following season, because from 1971 the Formula Super Vee series was set to conquer the whole of Europe like its little brother before it.
Shortly after the Sweden presentation, the first European Super Vee designs were unveiled: Kaimann, Fuchs, Royale, Lola. The new generation of VW racing cars was wider, faster and more expensive, but still more reasonably priced than technically comparable single-seater classes. Initially powering the cars was the engine with the model designation 197 V from the VW-Porsche 914. However, the two-litre engine had to be tuned down to 1600 cc by VW engineers especially for use in the Formula Super Vee series. ‘That was no mean feat,’ recalls the former Formula Vee general secretary Anton Konrad. ‘A handful of technicians in Wolfsburg were solely involved in building these engines as a kind of special series exclusively for Formula Super Vee.’
Royal test drive: Carl Gustav of Sweden in 1971 in the cockpit of a Beach Super V – flanked by Anton Konrad (l.) and Sigward Andersson, PR manager of VW Sweden
© Formula Vee Europe
Good friends: Porsche baron Huschke von Hanstein and Porsche fan Carl Gustav of Sweden
© Formula Vee Europe