The VLN was introduced in 1977, so it will now start its 40th season. There is no other championship in automobile racing with such a long history, with the exception of the Formula 1 and NASCAR.
It is of course understood that last year’s season was definitely not one of the best within the VLN; the tragic accident in the first race, the discussions going back and forth around the eligibility of the fastest cars, the slow zones, the decrease in the number of participants – there were a lot of explosive issues and discussions, quarrelling and resentment in 2015.
The framework conditions under which the season 2016 shall improve have now been created and the signs are really positive: The adopted changes in the technical and sporting regulations are good reason for optimism, the entry list makes us look forward to an exciting seasons – definitely not only me.
Too often during the last months, however, I had to read the phrase on the social media platforms: “Everything was better in the past.” I can even understand this from the perspective of one or another team, considering that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get together the budget for a complete season in the VLN.
The fact that the VLN has grown enormously in terms of popularity and that it is definitely not a “carnival event” (in the words of Mr. Aufrecht some time ago) since long, encourages the manufacturers to take great efforts for competing in the VLN at the Eifel track. At the same time, the top teams of the earlier years such as Manthey, Zakspeed, Land or Alzen are however still there to fight for a day victory. Even the private teams like Twin Busch, Walkenhorst or Alzen were able to score overall wins in 2015. And the VLN Champions of the last three years, the Groneck brothers and the Derscheid-Team, underline and provide evidence that you can well have success in the VLN even with a relatively restricted budget and as a genuine private team.
So “Everything was better in the past” is hence not true. Not on the track and certainly not for the fans. It is certainly true that it had really been something special to see an Olaf Manthey in the Ford Escort RS 2000 or Wolfgang Offermann in the Opel Ascona 400 drifting around the circuit; it was due to the less sophisticated suspension units in that time that racing used to be much more spectacular. On the other hand, in the old times the fans had to wait until Tuesday to read in “MOTORSPORT aktuell” who had been the winner of the race.
Today, much more information is delivered to them in a much shorter time. Livestream, liveticker and result lists through the internet, DVB-T transmission and the traditional Ring-radio on 87,7 kHz provides current and real-time information whether the fans are listening around the track or remote.
And there is still the open paddocks with the drivers close to the fans. I myself have never experienced a driver, whether fully profession or amateur driver, who would not be available for a fan to answer a question, to give an autograph or to take a selfie. One of the main concerns in the VLN is to be close to the spectators and this is why I can only advice all the fans to get a closer view to the action going on in the pit lane during the brakes between practice and the race.
So let us look forward to a very promising season 2016 at the most beautiful race track of the world.
Oliver Martini, son of racing legend Willi Martini, is the track commentator at the VLN endurance racing championship and a genuine institution in the Eifel.