Warming the tyres for the rolling start along Dottinger Hohe I get a good look at our main rival for the 2.0-litre class win. The #519 car is a new Toyota GT86, prepared by the factory race shop TMG in the red/white national livery of Toyota Suisse Racing. Behind is another in the same spec, #517, piloted by celebrity hot-shoe Tim Schrick. That is actually the ‘works’ car, bearing TMG livery, both pulled from a single-make series and into the popular 2.0-litre class.
As we accelerate down the straight it’s obvious the next few laps won’t be easy. There’s a brief delusional moment where the quick-to-warm Yokohama tyres fool me into thinking I can overtake the Swiss GT86. But as we head out on to the Nordschleife I get my first taste of racing a 160hp MX-5 in a grid of 200hp cars. As the circuit opens out it feels like we just brought a knife to a gun fight.
The GT86 ahead pulls a gap, slipstreams the six-cylinder BMW ahead and moves to overtake. My heart drops. The little Mazda is flat out already and everybody is pulling away.
After about 30 minutes of racing the GT86 is actually out of sight on all but the longest of straights,
the goal of pacing him seeming hopelessly optimistic.
But then some luck.
There’s a breakdown on the 1.6-mile long Dottinger Hohe straight and the double yellow flags are waved just as the Toyota arrives. We all file patiently through the 60km/h limit and close back up nicely. I’ve seen some pretty crazy things over these eight laps, from locked-up BMWs hitting the wall, to a Porsche Cayman being punted by a VW Scirocco. But presented with the GT86 slowing down, and imagining the driver seeing that pesky Mazda back in his mirrors? Well, that makes me all warm inside.
When the Toyota ahead finally pits I’m ecstatic. Knowing he’d have to pit earlier now’s my chance to really push but it’s a messy lap, with 60km/h speed limits and accidents to avoid. And lingering doubts about the steering – on the video you’ll see more power steering fluid going in, this being the source of the smoke.
My boss Ralph Beck takes over and emerges in front of the Toyota. Over the middle stint of the race changes places again with the GT86 several times. But with that extra economy and smart driving we enter the final stint still ahead of both the Toyotas, the official TMG car having caught up.
Fredy Lienhard is the final driver and, as the most experienced of the three-man team, the only worry is whether the little Mazda will make it, knowing the Toyotas would need to pit again and we already have a minute in hand.
The lap times look good. But in the final few minutes Fredy confirms the power steering is now completely dead. In my mind’s eye I picture the belt wrapping around the power steering pump and also the alternator. Then the Mazda would have only battery power to complete the race.
Team chief Tom Lennackers and Fredy decide to turn off the radio. All accessories that could drain the battery are off.
And now, sitting here with my laptop on my knee, I can relive any moment of that day and the world is better. Plus we all have a trophy. And that’s awesome.
Special thanks to the hundreds of fans and supporters who helped me get into this race. It really wouldn’t have been possible without you!