What’s in a name? Plenty if you consider the 20th edition of the Sport Auto Tuner Grand Prix was billed as the rather ordinary High Performance Event.
That certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as the GP, and isn’t as evocative as the original name for this German tuner event that’s become a legend among car enthusiasts around the world.
In fact, it’s probably the biggest event of its kind. German magazine Sport Auto invites many of the country’s leading tuners to participate in what is the most anticipated track day of the year. It takes place at the famous Hockenheimring, home to the German F1 GP and a great venue for this tuner shoot-out.
In the 20 years since it began, the event has grown from a private magazine test with 17 cars, to a public event with dozens of entrants and close to 30,000 spectators.
Lap times have also tumbled thanks to huge leaps in tire, suspension, engine and aerodynamic technology. Where lap times in 1992 were around 1min 15sec, today’s fastest cars were lapping in 1min 6sec territory, which is faster than some of the racecars from ’92!
The selection of entrants was more diverse and of higher quality than ever before, meaning the competition was again top notch. Unfortunately, some lap times were skewed by the inclusion of several amateur drivers who were clearly no match for the professional guns hired by larger tuning houses. Their biggest problem was getting out of the way of the faster cars!
More importantly, sanity had returned after the virtual free-for-all in 2011 that left many wondering about the future of this event. However, the organizers had reverted to the original rulebook, separating street-legal cars with TüV approval on every uprated part into Group A, while Group B was an open class allowing more extreme modifications. Both groups were then divided into 16 classes to give everybody a chance to prove themselves against similar machinery.
That said, dedicated track-day cars like the KTM X-Bow are eligible because they’re road-legal. Yet such specialized machinery is always going to be quicker than a modified road car on power-to-weight alone. When tuned, the low mass and high downforce allow them to bridge the gap between street cars and real racers.
So it was no surprise to discover the fastest lap time at the event was recorded by Reinhard Kofler driving the Hohenester HS350 KTM X-Bow in the Group A C11 “Funcars Turbo” class. The astonishing time of 1min 05.737sec was a significant improvement on his 2011 TGP-winning time of 1:07.216. What’s more, it was close to the pace of a race-spec Porsche Carrera RSR in Group B.
Interestingly, the times quoted are an average, rather than the fastest outright time of something like a Time Attack series. This encourages fast, consistent lapping and avoids counting a lap that might have involved some extravagant corner-cutting, for example.
Just like last year, AC Schnitzer dominated the C1 “Small Car” class. Driven by the company’s workshop chief and tame driver Manfred Wollgarten, he cut his best lap time by almost 3sec compared to 2011. Driving a new Mini JCW Coupe this year, his average lap time was 1min 11.647sec, making it the fastest Mini ever and putting it deep into M3 territory.
Remaining with front-wheel-drive, Markus Gedlich drove an impressive 1min 12.847sec average in his Rothe Motorsport Mk6 Golf R20 in the C2 class, followed by Michael Paatz in the Mathilda Racing Scirocco GT-R1 at 1:13.054.
There had been a couple of years when BMWs virtually disappeared from the GP, so it was good to see the Bavarians back, with four of the popular 1 Series M Coupes competing, as well as a supercharged M3, M3 GTS and M3 CSL in the C8 Coupe class.
Although Thomas Winkelhock, younger brother of touring car ace Joachim, piloted the CSL, the fastest BMW driver was Markus Gedlick in the Schirmer Race Engineering E92 M3. He turned a 1:10.578 lap, closely followed by teammate Andreas Weishaupt in the E92 M3 GTS, with 1:10.607 average.
Competition among the Mercedes-Benz specialists was again hotly contested, with Tuner GP regulars Hirsch and Vath setting the pace in Class C3-B. Mario Hirsch drove his 550hp C63 AMG sedan to a class win with a 1:11.648 average during his allotted laps. Second place went to Klaus Panchyrz in the Vath C63 AMG Black Series: mildly tuned to 560hp and with fully adjustable KW coilovers, he set a 1:13.484 average.
Väth’s second car in the class was a C63 AMG equipped with a Weistec supercharger conversion, Väth widebody and the same KW suspension. Its third entry was a venerable 190E 2.3-16 that featured in the “Youngtimer” class C16 in the previous two TGP events. With a healthy 288hp thanks to an original 2.5-16 Evo 2 air box, it was visibly quicker than before, but not as rapid as MTM’s ex-DTM Audi V8, which romped away from the other contestants in this class.
But it was the 670hp McLaren MP4-12C from Motoren-Technik-Mayer (MTM) that dominated the supercar class C15 Supersportler. Driven by Florian Gruber, it set a time of 1min 08.979sec, which was considerably quicker than the VOS McLaren, Hohenester Gumpert Apollo and VOS Lamborghini Murcielago in the same class.
Thanks to this year’s return to form, with the Tuner GP rule book addressing the uncertainly created last year, 2012 had the crowd cheering for their favourite cars, tuners and drivers thanks to some extremely close competition.
We’ll return to the Hockenheimring next year to see if more modifications to the McLaren MP4-12C can dethrone the KTM X-Bow, or whether there will be a new challenger like the Lamborghini Aventador to take its place.
The street-legal Hohenester KTM X-Bow set fastest time of the event with a 1:5.737 average lap