It is a tight course and – unsurprisingly – rather slippery. The car in front is drifting wildly this way and that, and it’s a hectic scene in the rear-view mirror as well. At this stage it’s all about keeping your nerve and not making any mistakes. However, the Raab family team and their group of friends from BMW Club Rothenburg already know the score, having been to the event before. The two E30 3 Series runners – a 318is and a 323i entered by the Raab family – were just the ticket, innate agility and compact dimensions allowing them to mix it at the sharp end of the field.
The Lungauring in Austria celebrates its big annual race at a time of year when most other motor sport venues have locked the doors – i.e. in early January. Cue an experience that would bring many drivers out in a cold sweat…but represents manna from heaven for plenty of others: a track covered in snow and ice. The treacherous, frozen surface places immense demands on the drivers, but engine power and other expensive technical gizmos are somewhat neutered in impact. It’s no surprise that tyres play a big role in this form of racing and all the cars use standard rubber (avoiding a tyres “arms race”). Spiked Vredesteins are the model on the menu – not the extreme version popular at winter rallies in Finland and Sweden, but the sort you used to be able to roll out on German roads. Grip and directional control are the big winners compared with winter tyres “sans spikes”.
The event has been organised by Histo Cup, Classica Automobile and the Lungauring, and the four-hour races spread over two days are contested in two classes (each with 30 entrants). The teams have to carry out three pit stops of at least two minutes in length, so driver changes aren’t a problem. The vintage machines – mostly from the 1970s and ‘80s – do battle on the first day, to be followed on day 2 by the younger contenders (built up to 1995).
Motor sport as a family affair. Team Raab and the BMW E30.
Heinz, Anja and Hannes Raab are no rookies, and their two BMW E30s – a blue 318is and a white 323i – exude a sense of thorough preparation. The light, slim ‘80s sedans are good-natured beasts and send their power through the rear wheels only, which makes them a fine choice for the occasion. Needless to say, they both sport limited-slip differentials, so engine power can be deployed as effectively as possible. The Raab family have joined forces with their friends from BMW Club Rothenburg to form the Raab-Classics team. Temperatures hovering around freezing mean conditions are perfect.
Forget the front drivers and AWD – this is one for the rear-wheel-drive club.
First up is the Oldtimer Trophy. Raab-Classics duly hustle their 323i through the field from fifth at the start, and pit stops and driver changes are negotiated without a hitch. But then comes the sinking feeling, when – with the finish line almost in sight and second position in the bag – an engine blow-out turns all the endeavour to wintry dust. Heinz, Anja and Hannes Raab, meanwhile, pilot their 318 into an outstanding fifth place. Hannes Raab, at 17 the team’s baby, leaves any youthful nerves at the start line and puts in a strong performance: not, it’s safe to say, an average day at the wheel when you’ve not long passed your test. The race is won by a rare and highly coveted 2002 ti from the host nation.
Raab-Classics and BMW Club Rothenburg returned the following morning fully re-motivated after their disappointment in race one. A 328i (E36) replaced the mortally wounded 323i, while a 528i (E34) also joined the fray alongside an all-female trio in a 318is that had survived day one intact. This time, retirements were conspicuous by their absence (and warmly welcomed) and the whole team did well, although none were able to claim the win. Never mind, there’s always next year – and you can be pretty sure Raab-Classics will be there once again.
As well as the spectacular “Wintermarathon” event, the Lungauring also hosts training and courses for anyone keen to polish their skills and style.