Kurt Thiim on the kick he gets from racing: “It goes right down into your feet; it’s like a drug”

14.
June 2018
Stuttgart

30 years of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport: Kurt Thiim contested nine DTM seasons (1988 - 1996) on behalf of the brand with the three-pointed star. The 1986 champion registered the fifth-most victories, claimed the fourth-most pole positions and scored the third-most points in the history of the series. As we look forward to what many consider to be the premier fixture of the season on the streets and boulevards of Nuremberg city centre, the two-time Norisring winner (1989, 1991) recalls his time in the DTM.

  • About racing: “I come from a very normal family in which I was one of four children. From my earliest days, I was mad about motorsport.”
  • About his time in the DTM: “To be honest, the years at Mercedes were the most beautiful of my life.”
  • About ‘wall hugging’: “There is a story about Singen: apparently, the team had to send people back to the factory to mill new wheel nuts because I’d used them all up...”

Kurt, when we consult the statistical records, we see that you are one of the most successful drivers in the history of the DTM. How important has the series been in your life?

Kurt Thiim: I have to say in all honesty that the years at Mercedes were the most beautiful of my life. It was exhausting and very tough at times, but it is hard to express in words the feeling you get from winning and being on top of the podium and the satisfaction you get for all the hard work you’ve done with the team. It goes right down into your feet; it’s like a drug. That’s how I felt about motor racing at the time. I come from a very normal family in which I was one of four children. From my earliest days, I was mad about motorsport.

What were the first steps you took in your motor racing career?

Kurt Thiim: I started off in go-kart racing and from there progressed through to kart and Formula 3 championship level. At some point, everything fell into place and I met Hans Werner Aufrecht, who offered me a place in his squad. Just imagine, I used to live in a mobile home in England and Italy. That was my life, because I had set my heart on motorsport. I wasn’t earning anything but my basic needs were being catered for by the team. And then I get a call from Hans Werner Aufrecht, and I think to myself: “Wow, I’m actually going to get paid for doing this? And they’ll give me a company car too?”

You arrived at Mercedes in 1988. That was quite unusual at the time, because you had already driven for BMW on the first three race weekends...

Kurt Thiim: In those days, there were almost 40 cars on the grid, and one of the team bosses offered me a cockpit for the Nürburgring. I drove the BMW for the first time on the Friday and immediately went on to win the first race. I then finished third in the second race. It was like going from nought to 300mph, like presenting a sort of business card. Perhaps that brought me to the attention of Hans Werner Aufrecht, and he made a mental note in case they needed a driver in the future.

You had a reputation in the DTM as being something of a tough nut. There was that time you crashed into the tyre wall at the Norisring and suffered a scaphoid fracture. Despite that, you still lined up for the second race.

Kurt Thiim: You get such an adrenaline rush that you don’t realise something like that has happened. Anyway, it wasn’t so bad. The two races after were much worse – that’s when I really felt the pain.

In 1986, you became DTM Champion with Rover. Does it sadden you in hindsight that you never quite achieved that with Mercedes?

Kurt Thiim: Yes, sure. We did everything we could. I was runner-up in 1992 with Zakspeed – that was a great season in which I was always up at the front. We tried our best, but it was not quite enough.

When you were competing in the series, they said that no-one hugged the wall as close as you. Was that your ‘special power’?

Kurt Thiim: It gave me a kick. I won twice at the Norisring and also twice at Singen. There is a story about Singen: apparently, the team had to send people back to the factory to mill new wheel nuts because I’d used them all up [chuckles]. The cars were solidly built then and stood up to rough handling. I don’t think that would be the case today.

What was your favourite track in the DTM?

Kurt Thiim: I used to like the street circuits. Of the foreign races, my favourite was Mugello; I have many fond memories of that place. But most of all, I always liked the tracks where I won.

You competed up to 1996 and witnessed many different eras. Which was the one you liked best?

Kurt Thiim: 1992, when I finished as runner-up. At Zakspeed, you felt like you were part of a family. There was obviously pressure, but everyone was relaxed about it. We had our act together, we were successful and were always at or near the front. If you’re riding along on the crest of a wave like that, it makes everything so much easier. But the biggest kick I got was from the 1994 C-Class; the car was perfect for me. It’s what enabled me to get six poles on twelve race weekends. Fantastic, I still dream of it [chuckles].

When you think back to all the guys you drove with, which team-mate do you remember most?

Kurt Thiim: Roland [Asch] – he was such a laugh, especially when he started talking in his Swabian dialect. And then there was Jörg van Ommen. In terms of character and approach, he is almost a carbon copy of me: open and honest. Sometimes, you had to be more careful with other people.

Who was your favourite opponent on the track?

Kurt Thiim: When the going got tough, I would say Bernd [Schneider]. Klaus [Ludwig] was a sly old fox; he didn’t need to be brutal. Bernd has always been a top driver who does not give you an inch.

There are a lot of amusing anecdotes from your time. Which one sticks in your memory most?

Kurt Thiim: One of the best stories is from Singen. I won the first race, but then in the second, the damn engine blew up on me while I was coming down the home straight in the lead. Two cars spun off on the same lap, and the race director then halted the race because of oil on the track. So there I am, feeling annoyed that I’ve had to retire only a few moments earlier, and then I hear over the loudspeaker that I’ve won anyway because the race has been stopped and the results of the penultimate lap stand...

The video recordings from your time show that there were many more women in the crowd. Did you drivers exert an even bigger attraction for women fans in those days?

Kurt Thiim: No, there were more families. Everyone went along and had fun. There were a lot more attractions and we mingled far more with the public. You walked right past the fans, which was quite enervating. After the race you were totally drained of energy – not just from the driving but also from all the peripheral activities. We spent a lot of time signing autographs and posing for photos with spectators. But that went down very well with the public over the years.

 

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