Danke

Danke919

The first encounter with Spa was all rainy and cold, and breathtakingly beautiful. Back then I had no clue about endurance racing and I maybe knew two or three names in the paddock. And I didn’t come to Spa in 2014 because of the WEC, not even because of Mark Webber, I came there because of Spa. And I fell in love with Spa, but not just her, I fell in love with the WEC and with the Porsche Team.

It’s been four years of emotional roller coaster, four years of dying nerve cells, four years of making memories, four years of looking forward tos. It’s been for years of falling in love. It’s been four years of Brendon’s bright smiles, of Mark’s cheeky comments, of Timo radiating happiness, of Neel’s incredible kindness. It’s been four years in which Mark, Timo, Brendon, Neel, André, Marc, Romain, Earl, Nick, Rich, Jan, Holger, Verena, Kyle, Jeromy, Fritz, Andreas and all the people I don’t know by name have been making me a happier person.

It has been an honour to support Porsche, to share the elation of winning and the heartbreak of losing, to live through the horrors of Saõ Paulo and Silverstone and to be able to congratulate the Team in person. It has been an honour, and these four years will stay in my heart as happy memories, and the only thing on I can say is Danke.

Danke für alles.

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When I’m gone

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A forest path between Nürburg and Quiddelbach:  the sky is a gentle shade of orange with a soft hint of purple, framed in the dark lace of the pine trees. Wild raspberries growing along the path on top of the hill, the undergrowth turning into wilder ferny looking stuff along the little brook further down the road.

There is no one around, just some birds in the trees, the deer that were there in the early morning are no longer there.  It feels good when with every gasp for breath you get a mouthful of air that smells like grass and pine-trees and sunset. And there is no one to ask you why the hell you are crying, no need for censorship. You just sit on the grass and let yourself be – happy because it happened, sad because it’s gone. Maybe for good.

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Cup of skill, pound of determination, a pinch of luck and sprinkle of miracle

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This really has happened, hasn’t it? It wasn’t all a dream, was it? Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber won the 24h of Le Mans. They won this crazy ruthless race. If it were fiction, one would say the scriptwriter overdid it. The reality of it will take a while to set in.

Apparently there is nothing that tastes better than Veltins Pils. Maybe the cold water offered by the Porsche staff to the fans gathered around their garages after the podium ceremony. Singing along to “We are the champions” and “Auf uns”, getting to actually touch the constructor’s trophy – it’s surreal.

It was such a privilege to see the team celebrate, to celebrate with them. It was an absolute honour to congratulate Timo in person – all soaked in champagne and wrapped in the wreath, exhausted but so incredibly happy. He is the hero. Knowing it was him in the car for that crucial last stint, was somehow calming. You can rely on Timo to do things like that, to keep cool in the boiling cockpit at 330 kmh, fighting for the win, that seemed impossible after every other LMP1 car has broken down. Timo is the hero – not the least because when he heard that, first thing he said was “Brendon and Earl are.”

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Schönes Zuhause

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“Schönes Zuhause” (“nice home”) in a crisp Swiss accent greeted us on Friday. Another memory into the incredible collection of things that we will never forget. Another insider joke. Another piece of the puzzle that makes Spa-Francorchamps feel like a home in the racing Wonderland.

They say home is where Wi-Fi connects automatically. When we arrived at our place for the weekend, my phone did just that.

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is her usual incredible self: with unpredictable temper and irresistible curves. The red, yellow, anthracite, and deep green – the palette of the most amazing painter.

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Back to the Wonderland

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Everyone has their own wonderland. Mine involves tarmac laid in strange patterns and cars going in circles. I really needed this visit to my personal wonderland. I missed it over the winter.

The sound of the Gibsons – and as you may imagine we are not talking guitars here – is the best thing to clear your head: loud, high pitch, powerful. The by now familiar symphony of WEC classes on track is something I have been missing so much. It’s my dear soundtrack of the happy unreality I longed for so badly.

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A very personal “Thank you”

Yesterday at work, when I was writing a post in an internal community and started to type the last name of the addressed person, the system made a suggestion with a very famous name of of an ex-racing driver. For a second I caught myself thinking that one day Mark Webber will probably have a corporate email address and a department code, PAG for Porsche and ELR for their racing department (if I’m not mistaken).

Today Porsche announced that Mark will retire from racing at the end of the season. Crying smileys were quite literal, and I can now make a good use of the half full (or half empty) bottle of good German white wine. It’s an end of an era in racing, yes, but it makes me incredibly sad on a very personal level.

Actually, in a weird way I have Mark to thank for my current job. Back in 2014 I sent an application for an internship to a car company. I had finance as major in my business studies, and a car company was never going to be a natural addressee for me. I gave it a go an a couple of weeks later I found myself at an interview with their Strategy department. It went okay-ish, but the fact that I had no clue about the automotive industry was quite apparent, which the manager sort of highlighted and said that they needed someone with passion for the industry. I said something like “Well I won’t claim that I know every single model of your company, but congratulations on the podium in Saõ-Paulo this weekend, it was great to see A. on the podium in his last race.” Then the manager asked me, whether I believed it would make strategically sense for the brand to enter F1, and this question more or less saved my arse, since I knew the facts about the workings of FIA- FOM and the teams, some figures about Mercedes investments in the whole topic, and could build a nice argument, why it would be a rubbish idea. A week later they called me and said I had the placement. Half a year later they recommended me to another department. On October, 1st I celebrated my first year at the company, a week later I was at my first meeting with two members of the board.

The thing is, that race I mentioned was a pure horror. That first Porsche win in WEC has cost me more nerve cells than all the racing altogether. I remember crying till morning, and feeling terrified out of my mind. The 6h of Saõ-Paulo 2014 was one of the worst and the best races I have ever watched. Thank you, Mark for that wave from the stretcher, it got my heart going again.

I still remember Spa 2014, Mark’s second race for Porsche. I was so bloody happy to get Mark’s autograph. It was a black an white picture of Mark leaving, with his yellow-blue-Aussie-flag coloured helmet in his hand, now one of my best friends has the original and I have four more autographs on the pictures and a flag spread around my room.

I have seen Mark win, twice. I have spent hours watching his 919 Porsche in the garage with issues. I got a high-five from him after his win at the Nürburgring in 2016 and an air-kiss at Le Mans when it was raining like crazy and me and my friend were waving – well attempting to wave – 1×1,5 m flags at the scrutineering at Place de la Republique in Le Mans. Thank you, Mark, for that. It meant a lot.

Mark is an incredible character – inspiring, honest, strong. The racing world will miss him. I personally will miss him in racing, and will stay infinitely grateful for what he did – unknowingly – for me personally.

Thank you, Mark. Thank you so much.

The bottle of sweet wine from Rhein-Hessen is almost empty, and I am really in need of something to fill the emptiness in my heart left with Mark’s retirement from racing.

Eifelsucht.

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“Are you waiting for Mark?” asks Brendon. “He’s flown away already.”

Trees look like black lace on the smoky sky, sun has sat already, the grandstands are empty. The teams dissemble their equipment. Dunlop and Michelin have packed before the end of the race, the trucks start moving, and in a matter of minutes you almost get lost.

“I hope you had a good weekend,” says Brendon with a tired smile and heads towards their hospitality.

Did we have a good weekend? “Mega!” as Mark said, giving me a high five after the race.

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24h.

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Le Mans 24 Hours. I doubt there is anything in this world that comes close to it. It’s mythic, it’s unique, it’s a whirlwind of emotions, it’s on the limit and beyond. It’s on every racing fan’s bucket list, and having crossed it off the list once, I have instantly put it back on it, because there is not much that comes close to the atmosphere of this magnificent event. The racing melts into the town, floods into the narrow streets, with the prototypes rolling down the Avenue Général de Gaulle into the Place de la République on Sunday afternoon for the scrutineering, plaques with the handprints of the drivers who have written their names into the history books set between the cobbled stones at the Place Saint-Nicolas.

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Spa. Simply Perfect Atmosphere.

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Porsche 919 Hybrid passing by the LMP2 of G-Drive racing during the Free Practice on Thursday 05.05.2016

You close your eyes and listen: the birds singing, the wind rustling through the lacy tops of the old pines, the tiny river with an infamous name flowing along the stones overgrown with moss… this peace and quiet makes you forget about time. But once the lights go green and the sound of the engines enweaves neatly into the calm timelessness of the Ardenne countryside every thousandth of a second counts. It was my third time at the WEC 6h of Spa-Francorchamps, and it was magic.

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Live the passion

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When you stand under the podium in Monza the world ceases to exist, in some weird way you cease to exist, you become part of that energy, you breath with it, you scream with it, and you cannot quite believe that this can be real.

Monza wasn’t really planned for me three weeks before the race, but it suddenly came on the radar, when stuff got sorted out in the real life. I have always wanted to go to Monza, and it was not really about the event, it was more about the circuit. God she is beautiful! For a while before I started going to races, I didn’t quite get all the old-school-circuit kind of talk. I think after being to Spa twice and now having visited Monza, I begin to understand what people mean. There’s something about it, that I personally cannot put into words. Sheer realisation of the history of the place is enough for it to be breathtaking, but what comes on top, is the incredible energy the fans bring to the circuit. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you are a bit of a Ferrari fan.

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