Driver at the limit – the European Truck Racing Championship
On course with Norbert in Spielberg – on the road with the team from Tankpool24 Racing.
The acceleration presses Norbert's body into the racing seat – the Actros leaves the pit lane. Shift gear – third gear. Just before the starting bend, his body falls forward into the seat belt – and then the speed immediately presses him back into the seat again. Full speed ahead up to the second bend, fourth gear. The 1.050 horsepower push the racing Actros uphill. In the Jochen Rindt bend the first drops of sweat are running underneath his racing suit. It's not just the heat in the cab – the thrill of it all is helping too. His pulse races. What power! Norbert is now fully concentrated on the next bend, his head and body are repeatedly thrown side to side in the racing seat. And again and again, there is that feeling: the truck might fly out of the damn bend at any minute.
And that is even though tomorrow is when things will really get serious. "Then we will know where we are," says Norbert Kiss, racing truck driver for the Tankpool24 team. And then adds as an explanation: "That's Spielberg. Here the starting position is extremely important because the course is only 2.1 kilometres long." Norbert, who has taken off his helmet, wipes his face with his balaclava. The brake overpressure causes the truck behind him to whistle loudly. Coolant from the brakes flows onto the tarmac and across the box. The racing truck consumes twice as much water as diesel on the track.
At this point the Tankpool24 racing team are already feeling the weight of two full days of work in their bones: on the Thursday before the race, the team arrived at the Red Bull Ring in Austrian Spielberg. From then on the cordless screwdrivers hum. "You know the routines inside out, even if the last race in Le Mans was seven months ago," says team manager Markus Bauer. He undoes the tension belt which is fastened to the racing truck's rear wheel. The engine of the truck bearing the number 24 roars. The 772 kW of the OM 460 drone through the paddock. The first fans, walking through between the boxes look in the direction of the Actros with respect. Slowly, the truck rolls down the ramp of the trailer. Hours pass before the team box is standing and the tools and spare parts are where they belong. The mechanics work until 11.00 p.m.: The Actros's turbo charger needs to be replaced.
The race in Spielberg is the season opener. Markus Bauer: "We completely cleared out the trailer at the end of last season. If everything is not there, we have a problem." After all, the team is 600 kilometres from its homebase in Nürtingen. "This is also one of the moments of suspense when the season starts." The suspense revolving around whether the two Tankpool24 trucks will be able to keep up with the fastest trucks during this round is just as great if not greater. Both of them were fitted with new engines during the winter. A displacement of 12,800 cc, 5,500 Nm torque. The two six-cylinder in-line engines are impressive, enthroned behind the cabs – but the competition never sleeps.
In a racing truck for six years.
Norbert travels to the race from his home in Hungary. He has been in the racing business for twelve years. First in touring cars and later in trucks. "Racing with trucks fascinated me immediately. Now I have been doing it for six years," he says, knocking on the side panelling of his Actros from above. He has already won the European Championship title twice.
During the season the team meets up regularly. A race is held every few weeks. In winter they have fewer meeting dates. "What the team achieves here and the rest of the year for us is sensational. You need to remember that they all have regular jobs too," says Norbert. He then gets into the Actros and discusses the new features with mechanic Stefan Honens.
He can now make a living from racing. In recent years, he has won over several sponsors. Team manager Markus Bauer: "With regard to sponsors, the whole team has made great progress in the last two years. Of course that means that we have to deliver."
16 people work for the team and all of them sacrifice their leisure time for this passion. Markus, for example, is head of sales for Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles and has been involved in the European Truck Racing Championship for 20 years.
Norbert is standing in front of the truck and is discussing the optimum tuning of the truck with André Kursim, the second driver in the team, and Stefan. No one is pleased about the rain that is just starting. During the training runs everyone was using old tyres; there was no need to coax every last little bit out of the truck. "In this weather and with a torque of 5,500 Nm – that could be fun," says Markus. He grins crookedly and glances at the smoking rear wheels. In the end the race management centre cancels the final warm-up. The track is just too wet.
"What the team achieves here for us is sensational"
Norbert Kiss, driver at Tankpool24 Racing
Straight to a speed of 100.
Time training the next day: "Norbi, is everything OK?" Small talk is no problem for "Norbi" as everyone calls him here. Just not now. Now the 32-year old is concentrating on the upcoming race, and only on that. He takes his helmet from behind one of the rear wheel covers, puts it on and leans his head back and energetically fastens the fastener. Whilst he pulls on his racing gloves, he walks in the direction of the cab – and answers the question: by sticking up his right thumb.
Stefan, who maintains radio contact with Norbert throughout the race, gives him the steering wheel. The engine roars. Thumbs up again. Norbert sets off – at first, carefully through the pit lane. Second gear, acceleration before the starting bend. Third gear, fourth gear. He is over 100 immediately. Before the second bend he brakes hard and then presses down the accelerator pedal again. Speed 160. The speed of the trucks is throttled at this speed. Jochen Rindt bend, RedBull-Mobile bend – and the 2.1 kilometres are completed. "That went well," he says after he has driven a few more rounds.
In the end Norbert gets the eighth starting position. The four ahead of him were only minimally faster. He completed his fastest round in just over 65 seconds.
"Everything is good," says Markus. "We can keep up with the speed here. That was what we wanted to know. But we're not right at the front, which is a pity. But only when we're a whole second slower do we seriously need to change something. We were just unlucky with this starting position." In the end, Norbert wins 16 points and is in the main part of the field. So everything is good for the season. It looks like Norbert can be absolutely confident.
Photos: Bernhard Huber
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau