‘Track inspection’ – between fascination and horror
At the beginning, it’s just a gentle buzz crawling up the hill. But the intensity increases quickly and within seconds, the buzz mutates into an ominous, bloodcurdling thunder that keeps on getting louder – to then die away all of a sudden. When Mike Rockenfeller and his Audi corner the 90° turn with gurgling engine, I begin to get aware that I’m just in the centre of the noise hurricane. When Rockenfeller puts the pedal on the metal of his green and yellow 500bhp RS 5, I am just six metres away from him. The thunder is truly frightening and my presentiment is confirmed. The DTM driver accelerates on along the long straight and I start to get doubts. Suddenly, the idea to walk around the Red Bull Ring next to the track doesn’t seem to have been such a good idea. And a few minutes later, when Jamie Green comes around the corner, my heart sinks into my boots.
A short time prior to the first DTM practice session, I accompany a photographer to take a closer look at his work places during a DTM weekend. The first stage is executed in a shuttle. I let my eyes wander: the red and white kerbs to the left, and to the right…? A Porsche Carrera Cup vehicle is thundering past us! “Are you serious…?! What the hell are we doing right on the track during a practice session?!?!” Hectic. Horror stricken I turn my eyes to every direction – and calm down again. Yes, we are on the track – but only on an alternative section to the long straight between turn one and turn two. During the DTM weekend, this section is solely used by shuttles and emergency vehicles.
In the meantime, we have arrived at the finish of stage one and the DTM practice session has begun. I am standing behind the tyre walls at the exit of the ‘Remus-Kurve’. I can se the major part of the Red Bull Ring, I’m standing some six metres away from the track and the vision is obstructed by absolutely nothing. The view is beyond fantastic and the sound is deafening. “I arguably couldn’t get any closer,” I say to myself while watching Pascal Wehrlein accelerating out of the corner. But I’m wrong, very wrong. All of a sudden, the colour orange is the only thing I still can see. The distance between me and the Audi of Jamie Green amounts to the tyre wall and just a few more centimetres. The Briton missed the brake spot in the ‘Remus-Kurve’ and needed every single centimetre of the run-off area for smoothing his mistake out. What a shock – and my face says it all. My companion smiles: “Things like this can happen to you at any time if you are staying right at the track. But I haven been shooting motor racing for more than 20 years, now, and I never was harmed in any way.” Indeed: in the entire DTM history, no driver, spectator or anybody else involved was killed in an accident.
With a proper dose of respect but firm tread I continue my hike. A short time later the incident already is forgotten. Augusto Farfus, Christian Vietoris, Maxime Martin and the likes are charging at 240kph over the crest of the long straight. High by the speed, I’m standing for several minutes below the huge iron bull – one of the trademarks of the Red Bull Ring. Impressed I watch the drivers cornering the fast infield turns apparently effortlessly at about 190kph. I stroll on. Short before the end of my ‘track inspection’, Mattias Ekström thunders through the double right-hander that takes the drivers back to the home straight. Sparks are flying and for a moment it seems as if the Audi’s rear is going to swerve. I breathe in with a hissing noise and am convinced: “That was that. Now he’s going to lose it!” But the Swede just lifts the throttle for a moment, continues his lap obviously unimpressed and once again shows me the massive forces the drivers have to cope with. Forces that obviously represent a bigger problem for me on my inspection lap than for the DTM drivers in their cockpits.