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 |   |  2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars
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2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Ian Kuah
Oct 20, 2010

In drag racing circles, they say "the bullshit stops when you line them up." That's also true with aftermarket tuners. After all, when you contemplate spending a small fortune modifying your engine, suspension, wheels, tires, and brakes, you want to know that the finished car really will perform like it says on the box.

Epcp_1011_01_o+tuner_grand_prix+line_up Photo 2/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

So on the last Saturday of every May for the last 18 years, the German performance car magazine Sport Auto has sponsored an event for the makers of these modified cars at Hockenheim Circuit. In the Tuner Grand Prix, the best-timed laps result in prizes for the top finishers in each of several categories.

The first Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix took place in 1994, and was a closed event where the magazine staff at Sport Auto and a bunch of German tuners ran a timed shootout at Hockenheim. After the results and pictures were published however, readers asked if they could attend, and the event grew from there. In recent years, as many as 25,000 enthusiasts turn up for the Tuner GP and Drift Challenge event each year. A bonus is that entry is free, and you only have to pay for parking.

Epcp_1011_02_o+tuner_grand_prix+mini_cooper Photo 3/40   |   Class 1 Winner:
Schäfer Clubsport GmbH & Co. KG

The long straights of the 4.22-mile Hockenheimring Grand Prix Circuit are ideal for top-speed testing. But if your primary concern is assessing handling or just getting the feel of a car, then the 1.63-mile Club Circuit is the benchmark.

Sport Auto is one of the two German magazines that incorporate lap times at Hockenheim's Club Circuit and the North Loop of the Nürburgring into its full road test data. From that, we have control times for various high-performance cars and we have an idea of how fast they are in relation to one another and the opposition.

Epcp_1011_03_o+tuner_grand_prix+vw_gti Photo 4/40   |   Class 2 Winner:
Rothe Motorsport

Just to give you an idea of a quick time, a standard BMW M3 will lap Hockenheim's Club Circuit in roughly one minute, 14 seconds, compared to around one minute, 11 seconds for a Porsche GT3 RS. To put things in context, a proper race car like a Porsche GT3 RSR Le Mans car on slick tires will lap the Club Circuit in around 1 minute, four seconds.

As the Tuner GP matured, the magazine started an amateur section for the Drift Challenge element, with participants coming from neighboring countries like Belgium and Switzerland. In recent years, even Japanese drivers have taken part in the Drift Challenge.

Epcp_1011_05_o+tuner_grand_prix+mercedes_c63_amg Photo 5/40   |   Class 3 Winner:
Väth Automobiltechnik GmbH

The fastest lap times, and therefore the Tuner GP winners, have traditionally been set by Porsches. But as the Hockenheim Club Circuit is a handling course as much as a power one, naturally aspirated GT3-based cars have beaten turbocharged 911s packing over 200 hp more power.

Just as with "normal" organized motorsport, the cache of winning the Tuner GP means a lot in image and sales terms. Because of this, the interpretation of "road legal" has become rather borderline over the years.

The great thing about fully-adjustable coilover suspension systems is that you can make them comfortable enough for road use at one end of the spectrum, and firm enough for track use at the other. That said, a track-day setup on a road car is still far off the settings for a true racing car

Epcp_1011_04_o+tuner_grand_prix+audi_r8 Photo 6/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

However, in 2003, a number of cars came close to being thinly disguised racecars, and were protested by other competitors. Complaints from entrants who complied with the spirit and letter of the event by using only parts types approved for the public to buy and use on the road meant that something had to be done if the event was to remain fair and relevant.

The following year, Sport Auto and Dekra, the official third-party scrutineers, made doubly sure that the interpretation of "road legal" left nothing to the imagination. So when they signed up the following year, the contestants entered in the 2004 Tuner Grand Prix found themselves presented with three pages of rules governing permissible modifications.

All modifications had to have TÜV approval for legal road use. In Germany, every single part that goes on sale, even a gearknob, has to be tested and certified by the TÜV authorities to guarantee perfect fit and safety in operation. This also means an exhaust no louder than 95dB, 5dB more than EU factory production standards.

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In addition, tricky track-day rubber like the Michelin Sport Pilot Cup, Dunlop Super Sport Race, Pirelli P Zero Corsa, and Yokohama A048 was banned from the road legal classes.Of course every tuner likes to show what he can do in the way of ultimate spec, especially since some customers want cars specifically aimed at track use. Thus, a new Open Class was introduced for such cars, which could use the super-sticky track day tires.

The format is practice sessions on Friday afternoon and the event proper on Saturday morning, with the Drift Challenge after lunch. The event was originally divided into half a dozen classes. But as the age of the performance SUV and turbodiesel dawned, more classes were added, and coupes and cabriolets were also split off.

Epcp_1011_19_o+tuner_grand_prix+ktm_x_bow Photo 14/40   |   Class 11 Winner:
MTM Motoren Technik Mayer GmbH

There are now separate classes for naturally aspirated and forced aspirated sedans, while the kafuffle over the street legal issue spawned the Open Class, where anything goes.

Also new in 2004 was the SUV class for tuned off-roaders, which fit the then new Porsche Cayenne perfectly. In fact the Cayenne continued to dominate this class in the years to come.To make sure they get the best results, almost all the teams hire professional race drivers to pilot their cars in the Tuner GP. Big names like Jochen Mass, Nick Heidfeld, Roland Asch, Kurt Thiim, Claudia Hurtgen, and Wolfgang Kaufmann have figured in the lineup.

Epcp_1011_20_o+tuner_grand_prix+audi_q5 Photo 15/40   |   Class 7 Winner:
MTM Motoren Technik Mayer GmbH

Given that professional race drivers should be within half a second of each other on the same track in the same car, the raw data also gives us a fair baseline to compare how much quicker a modified car really is over the standard issue.

The weather certainly plays a big part in lap times. It has only rained three times in the Tuner GP's history, but it's worse if it is dry for the practice session on Friday and rains on Saturday for the main event. Just as with racing cars, the suspension will be set up stiffer for a dry track, and this will really throw everything out.

Epcp_1011_22_o+tuner_grand_prix+porsche_911 Photo 16/40   |   Class 14 Winner:

Because it has lots of corners, Hockenheim's Club Circuit is a handling rather than power circuit. We have seen a standard-engine 380-hp Porsche GT3 vanquish 600+ hp Porsche GT2s here before.

Unless it rains, all-wheel drive is not necessarily an advantage, like front-wheel drivers, all-wheel-drive cars often understeer too much in the many tight corners. Against the clock on a racetrack, this negates their ability to lay down huge amounts of power effectively on the exit of a bend.

However, at the end of the day, you have to put circuit lap times in context, and a car that's quick on a racetrack will likely not be super quick on a bumpy public road. In fact, on a wet bumpy public road, it might well be slower than the standard article.

Epcp_1011_23_o+tuner_grand_prix+audis Photo 17/40   |   Class 16 Winner:

In terms of marques, while BMWs have always figured heavily in the Drift Challenge, the cars have not been represented in the Tuner GP itself since 2006. This is a very strange state of affairs since the M3 can be a very effective track-day tool.

This also means that Porsches tended to dominate the GT Class, vying for overall victory as well. While Ferraris and Lamborghinis have appeared sporadically, they do not seem to be in with a fighting chance here.

Epcp_1011_27_o+tuner_grand_prix+yes_turbo Photo 18/40   |   Class 17 Winner:
Maik Freudenstein GmbH & Co. KG

Over the years, we've also seen tuners come and go, whether or not they leave a winning mark. Until this year, the big names in Porsche tuning were the top dogs in this event.

From the early years, Gemballa and TechArt went head-to-head each year, swapping victories with almost monotonous regularity. Then in 2006, Uwe Gemballa did not field an entry, stating that the huge amount of orders he had to fulfill meant his workshop could not afford the distraction. Gemballa has never returned.

Up until 2005, victory in the GT and Open Classes was usually down to either Gemballa or TechArt. However, in 2005, a rain-swept Hockenheim produced a new winner, Cargraphic, whose 435-hp GT3 RSC 3.8 was better able to deploy its power than the more powerful turbocharged 911s.

Epcp_1011_35_o+tuner_grand_prix+mercedes_sl Photo 25/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Just to prove the point that the superior-handling GT3-based car is also faster in the dry, the same Cargraphic car, again piloted by Marc Basseng, won in 2006 too.

Cargraphic continued its winning streak until 2008, when their car was pipped to First place by the TechArt GT Street S. To their chagrin, history repeated itself in 2009 when the GT Street RS, again driven by Jorg Hardt, the 1999 German Formula Ford 1800 Champion, and Carrera Cup regular, won again.

Until the 2009 event, a fastest lap was the clincher for a class, or overall, win. The major change in 2009 was the averaging of five flying laps for the contestants' representative time, thus putting consistent speed ahead of one blinding lap.

Epcp_1011_36_o+tuner_grand_prix+ktm_x_bow Photo 26/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Anyone who saw Hardt drive the 700-hp GT Street RS witnessed an exercise in restraint and consistency behind the wheel. He was line perfect, and smooth on throttle and steering to the point where the car looked quick but rather unspectacular. The timing clocks said otherwise, and his 1:08.037 average with a best lap of 1:07.709 in the 700-hp GT2-based Porsche on street legal rubber was simply awesome.

But in 2010, for the first time a Porsche did not win the Tuner GP. TechArt didn't enter because they had nothing new to field and felt that entering the same car again would be pointless. In their absence, Cargraphic felt they would not have a worthy opponent and so did not come either.

So victory went to the 318-hp MTM X-Bow, driven by MTM mechanic and German Seat Cupra ace Florian Gruber. Proving that light weight and an advanced chassis can beat much more powerful but heavier cars, Gruber turned in a stunning 1:07.080 average and a 1:06.705 fastest lap, making this the quickest road-legal car in the event's history.

Epcp_1011_37_o+tuner_grand_prix+ktm_x_bow Photo 27/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

The afternoon sees track action of a quite different kind with the Drift Challenge. Drifting is a very popular motorsport in Japan and England, and the drivers in the Drift Challenge come from all over Europe. As noted, BMWs are a favorite make for the entrants here and you'll see M3s from the original E30 to the latest E92 taking part.

Three years ago, the organizers decided to make things a bit livelier with the winners of the first round tandem drifting as a pair. This drew even bigger applause from the crowd.

One of the best drifters is Werner Gusenbauer, who actually runs the drift school at Hockenheim. Werner always drives the MKB drift car. This used to be a CL 55 AMG, but for the last two years it has been a CLK 63 AMG. Indeed, as we saw from exhibition drifts from the Geiger Corvette and Arden Jaguar XKR Cabriolet, a big, torquey V8 makes drifting so much easier!

Epcp_1011_38_o+tuner_grand_prix+audi_rs_6 Photo 28/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

The Sport Auto Tuner GP and Drift Challenge is a great day out for car enthusiasts, where you can see road cars driven to their limits and beyond. They can also walk the pit lane and speak to real people without the hassle you get with the officialdom at FIA races. It's a car lover's heaven.

Class Winners

Epcp_1011_33_o+tuner_grand_prix+victory_lane Photo 35/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 1 Winner:
Schäfer Clubsport GmbH & Co. KG
Category: Kleinwagen
Driver: Hannes Mahler
Average Lap: 1:14.910
Fastest Lap: 1:14.836

Class 2 Winner:
Rothe Motorsport
Category: Kompactwagen
Car: VW Golf VI R20
Driver: Markus Gedlich
Average Lap: 1:11.013
Fastest Lap: 1:10.758

Class 3 Winner:
Väth Automobiltechnik GmbH
Category: Limousine, nat. aspirated
Car: Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
Driver: Andreas Gülden
Average Lap: 1:12.660
Fastest Lap: 1:12.377

Epcp_1011_34_o+tuner_grand_prix+line_up Photo 36/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 4 Winner:
Category: Limousine, forced induction
Car: Mitsubishi Evolution X
Driver: Alexander Wutzke
Average Lap: 1:11.521
Fastest Lap: 1:11.291

Class 5 Winner:
Wendland Motorentechnik GmbH
Category: Diesel to 2.0L
Car: VW Polo TDI
Driver: Timo Kluck
Average Lap: 1:15.098
Fastest Lap: 1:14.952

Class 6 Winner:
MTM Motoren Technik Mayer GmbH
Category: Diesel over 2.0L
Car: Audi A5 3.0 TDI
Driver: Florian Gruber
Average Lap: 1:15.652
Fastest Lap: 1:15.309

Epcp_1011_42_o+tuner_grand_prix+porsche_911 Photo 37/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 7 Winner:
MTM Motoren Technik Mayer GmbH
Category: SUV
Car: Audi Q5 3.0 TDI
Driver: Florian Gruber
Average Lap: 1:21.657
Fastest Lap: 1:20.303

Class 11 Winner:
MTM Motoren Technik Mayer GmbH
Category: Funcars
Car: KTM X-Bow
Driver: Florian Gruber
Average Lap: 1:07.080
Fastest Lap: 1:06.705

Epcp_1011_41_o+tuner_grand_prix+ktm Photo 38/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 12 Winner:
Wendland Motorentechnik GmbH
Category: GT, naturally aspirated
Car: Porsche GT3 RS
Driver: Timo Kluck
Average Lap: 1:09.805
Fastest Lap: 1:09.609

Class 13 Winner: GmbH
Category: GT, forced induction
Car: Chevrolet Corvette
Driver: Patrick Simon
Average Lap: 1:09.784
Fastest Lap: 1:09.416

Epcp_1011_40_o+tuner_grand_prix+audi_r8 Photo 39/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 14 Winner:
Category: Open
Car: Porsche GT3 RS
Driver: Frank Neugebauer
Average Lap: 1:10.626
Fastest Lap: 1:10.226

Class 16 Winner:
Category: Youngtimer
Car: Audi TT
Driver: Ruedi Jost
Average Lap: 1:12.806
Fastest Lap: 1:12.480

Epcp_1011_39_o+tuner_grand_prix+porsche_911 Photo 40/40   |   2010 Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix - Tuner Wars

Class 17 Winner:
Maik Freudenstein GmbH & Co. KG
Category: Cabrio
Car: YES 3.2 turbo
Driver: Wolfgang Weber
Average Lap: 1:14.587
Fastest Lap: 1:14.377

By Ian Kuah
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