One team, two marques, many successes From their base in the Belgian Ardennes, just a stone's throw away from the Grand Prix circuit at Spa-Francorchamps, the Muehlner Motorsport team can look back on one of the most successful seasons in...
One team, two marques, many successes
From their base in the Belgian Ardennes, just a stone's throw away from the Grand Prix circuit at Spa-Francorchamps, the Muehlner Motorsport team can look back on one of the most successful seasons in their history. Alongside their wide ranging touring car project with Volvo, 2004 saw the introduction of a GT programme with Porsche. The end result: 14 wins, 6 seconds and 3 third places, so a total of 23 podiums to be celebrated.
The final decision to also run two Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars was only taken in February as negotiations with partners, sponsors and drivers dragged on longer than intended. Notwithstanding the delayed start to the programme, by the beginning of the season there were two separate team infrastructures in place, both for the car preparation at the team base and for running them at the circuit. "The additional activities in GT racing with Porsche are important for the future. However, our first priority was that the existing touring car project with Volvo should not suffer as a result of the broadening of our activities. That's why we went down the route of a separate workshop, with everything new from tools & equipment through to personnel; two completely separate departments. It wasn't easy, but our on- track successes prove that we were able to do it," confirmed team boss Bernhard Muehlner.
The further development of the Volvo S60 over the winter paid for itself from the very start of the season: the first race was promptly won. A further 8 wins followed so that of 10 rounds of the German Endurance Championship ("Deutsche Langstrecken-Meisterschaft") a Volvo S60 from Muehlner Motorsport crossed the line first nine times. Just one win went astray after a change of alternator during the race pushed Ulli Andree down to 2nd place. This enormous achievement brought with it the runners-up position in the championship. "The complicated points system gives points on the basis of the number of starters in each class. Furthermore, only the best 8 results from 10 are counted, we have two dropped scores. As our class of "Specials up to 2500cc" has fewer competitors than the production car class, we never expected to be in with a chance of winning the championship. After winning our class in 2003, we were able to repeat that in 2004, also winning our group for all specials cars. To be runners- up in the overall championship is the icing on the cake, though I confess to being a little disappointed that we have more points than the champions but due to the dropped scores rule are not allowed to count them all" explained the team boss.
At the Nurburgring 24hrs the Volvo S60, piloted by Ulli Andree, Heinz-Josef Bermes, Andreas Middendorf and Jorg Seidel, had the measure of everything in the "specials 2500cc" class. Following the success in 2003, 2004 saw them again win their class and, with 12th overall the Volvo was once again the best front wheel drive car in the field.
The Porsche activities were also very succesful. Heinz-Josef Bermes, who has now been driving for the team for a decade, first in Opel, then Volvo and now, in 2004, in both Volvo and Porsche, shared a Porsche with Thomas Koll and recorded a 2nd place in only their second race. In their third race the pairing started from pole and took the chequered flag in first place, only to be served a time penalty for supposedly overtaking under yellow flags, thereby losing their first win for a Muehlner Porsche.
That first win came however at the Spa 24hrs where the two Muehlner Porsches scored an historic 1-2. Vanina Ickx, Jean-Francois Hemroulle and Peter Wyss in one car and Heinz-Josef Bermes, Helmut Reis and Kurt Thiim in the other left all their competitors in the shade and finished 10th and 11th overall. The basis of this fabulous result was the good preparation of the cars and superb pitwork. With each car requiring only 17 pitstops and being stationary for less time than any other cars in the field, the Muehlner team won the special award for minimum pit time.
In the German Endurance Championship the wins now also started to follow. Koll and Bermes (supported in the 6hrs by Jurgen Gockel) won 3 times on the trot, each time winning not only their class but also the group for all Cup cars.
"We're very satisfied with our first season of running Porsches. We've shown everyone in both qualifying and race from the first round onwards that we're a force to be reckoned with. It didn't take long for the wins to start coming," said Bernhard Muehlner positively.
The evening following the final round of the German Endurance Championship saw the thoroughly successful season celebrated until the early hours. But there is an old German expression "After the season is before the season" and, following this rule, the preparations for 2005 are already underway.
"Next year we want to continue our thoroughly succesful relationship with Volvo. We've demonstrated in the last three years what we are capable of and hope that we can reckon with Volvo's continued support for a fourth year. Whether we run the S60 or the new S40 is mainly a question of the available budget," said team boss Bernhard Muehlner, giving a glimpse of the team's immediate future "and we would love to continue and extend our Porsche activities. We have serious enquiries to contest other championships. We will in any case be at our home race, the Spa 24hrs. Possibly with a real surprise."