At first, everything went as planned: a punctual start on Saturday afternoon, five and a half hours of driving, but in pouring rain – no one really needs that at the beginning of June. And the team realised that they had not chosen the best tyres for this weather. And so, lap after lap, valuable seconds were lost. Not ideal, but there was still plenty of time to catch up. But then the fog rolled in. It got more and more dense until it was impossible to continue the race.
At 9:30 p.m., the race organisers raised the red flag, and the race was halted. Now there was nothing to do but wait, all night long. The planned restart was announced several times, and then cancelled again. “Of course, this puts a real damper on things,” says Volker Strycek.
The former Opel Motorsport boss is part of Olaf Beckmann’s team. At the 49th edition of the legendary 24-hour race on the Nürburgring, the Hamburg businessman had his no less legendary Opel Manta on the grid. The classic car has been taking part in Germany’s best-known endurance race since 1994 and has long since achieved iconic status. In fact, it passed the age limit for participation 17 years ago, but its fan community managed to get a special registration for the racing ray, which is still valid today.
The Manta actually used to be a rally car. In the early 1990s, the renowned Opel tuner Kissling Motorsport converted it into a long-distance racer as commissioned by Olaf Beckmann. Since then, its heart has been an 1800cc Opel four-cylinder engine, which was re-bored to two-litre displacement. The cylinder head with 16 valves comes from an Opel Kadett E GSi. The naturally aspirated engine delivers 255 hp.
The Nordschleife – the natural habitat of the racing ray
Its kerb weight of only 930 kilogrammes, sophisticated brake balance as well as very special features such as an individually designed front axle, rear wing from Porsche and mudguards from BMW – which, like the bonnet and doors, are made of carbon fibre – make the racing ray a unique specimen that has always felt right at home in the tight corners of the Nordschleife. The Beckmann Manta has now covered more than 100,000 kilometres on the Ring.
The team experienced just how much it is respected in the paddock during the 24-hour race in 2019. After a crash, the race was over for the Manta, but the team wanted to show the fans of the classic model that they did not need to worry about their star. The crew fixed it up in no time at all so that it was able to drive at least one last lap. And when it drove over the finish line, not only the spectators in the stands rose from their seats, but the teams in the pit lanes also stood, forming a ‘guard of honour’, and applauded. “These are moments that are just as moving as a victory,” says Volker Strycek. The recent euphoric reactions to the electrified Manta GSe ElektroMOD also show that the Manta still moves people. Wherever the iconic car appears, it stirs up emotions.
No Manta mania
without the foxtail
The Beckmann team had to cancel in 2020. “We were unable to get some spare parts that we urgently needed in time,” says the former Opel Motorsport boss. That made the fan community all the more eager for the comeback in 2021. “Weeks before the race, I started receiving ‘good luck and best wishes’ emails and text messages, even from people I didn’t know. I have no idea how they got my contact details.”
And that was despite the fact that the corona pandemic allowed hardly any spectators at the Ring in 2021 and the fans were only able to follow the live stream or the broadcast on “rtl Nitro”. Only 10,000 grandstand tickets went on sale. In normal times, up to 200,000 spectators camp out at the Nordschleife. Many of them arrive a week before the race.
The Manta friends then also always drop by the paddock. “Many bring their own foxtail and ask us to pin it to our antenna during the race,” grins the Ring veteran. A request that unfortunately cannot be granted because the antenna of this Manta has had its own foxtail for years, it is an essential part of the cult. Strycek: “No self-respecting sports photographer would take a picture of our car before the antenna with the foxtail is attached.”
If you’re not in top shape, you don’t stand a chance in the Manta
Anyone who thinks that the Beckmann Manta is only a mascot on the Ring among all the ultra-modern 600 hp cars in the GT3 class, as a curiosity, is very much mistaken. “We’re doing serious competitive sport here, just like everyone else,” Volker Strycek clarifies. “A simple observer cannot imagine the forces that act on the driver in this car. We drive puristically, without power steering. If you’re not in top shape, this Manta doesn’t give you a chance – not over such a distance.”
Are they the pensioner gang?
And: “We compete to win”. Not in the main field, of course, but in the special “SP3” class for vehicles with naturally aspirated engines and up to two-litre displacement. There, the main challenge was to hold their own against two modern Toyota Corolla Altis of a team from Thailand. “In the practice session, we steamrolled them,” says Strycek. The Toyota drivers were so impressed that they stopped by the Beckmann pit box after the practice laps and bowed to the aged racing ray. The Asian sense of honour is also expressed in motorsport.
So it’s no wonder that the wait for the restart wore on the nerves of the Beckmann team just as much as it did on those of all the other participants. Always with the worry in the back of their minds that the race might be cancelled altogether. Their years of experience made no difference, none of them had ever experienced anything like this before. For Volker Strycek it was the 43nd time on the grid at the Nürburgring. Together with his team colleagues, the 63-year-old has won more than 100 races.
Team boss Beckmann is 74 years old, Peter Hass celebrated his 65th birthday on the Saturday of the race, Jürgen Schulten is in his mid-fifties. Are the four of them also the oldest team in the field, the pensioner gang, so to speak? “Maybe, I’ve never asked,” says Strycek, shrugging his shoulders briefly. The race organiser did and came to the conclusion: with an average age of 63.5 years, the four drivers of the iconic Manta do indeed form the 24h council of elders.
Then, late in the morning, the all-clear was given: the race would continue at 12 noon, but after that it would only last three and a half hours. The 49th edition of the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring was to be the shortest in history. The Beckmann team was immediately fired up again: “We can still make it, despite the time loss the day before.” The Thai Toyota colleagues were in for a challenge.
Smooth running after the restart – until an angel appeared
After the restart, things went well at first. The lap times improved, the gap to the leaders of the “SP3” class was closing. But after one and a half hours it happened. Mercedes driver Maro Engel (Engel is angel in German), who still had a chance of winning the overall title with his AMG GT3, grazed the Manta driven by Jürgen Schulten. Both cars swerved off to the left and slid into the crash barrier. The race was over for them. “I misjudged the situation,” Maro Engel said later. “I thought he saw me. A classic misunderstanding on the Nordschleife.”
The Beckmann team was very disappointed. Visually, there was almost nothing to see on the Manta. Actually, only the left wheel suspension needed to be repaired. It would have been easier to quickly get the car back up and running for one last lap than it was in 2019 – but the crew decided against it this time. “We didn’t want to do it twice in a row, that would have looked too much like cheap showmanship.”
To a reunion in 2022 –
still in question
The Opel veteran has in the meantime regained his composure. “What the heck – our car was good, was fast, had good lap times, showed that it is still state-of-the-art in its class,” Strycek sums up. However, Volker Strycek does not want to give a guarantee that the Manta will compete at the Ring again in 2022. “We’ll have to wait and see what Olaf Beckmann decides.”
The team boss, who has always financed the Manta appearances out of his own pocket, is increasingly struggling with the general conditions. Not only are the factory cars getting more powerful, but the changing regulations are making it more and more difficult for vehicles like his Manta. This time, for example, 70 kilos had to be added for the car to be allowed in the “SP3” class – quite a lot for a car whose advantages in the curves are based on its 930-kilo lightness.
But the fans who will probably be back next year will hardly want to do without the iconic car with the foxtail. Volker Strycek is also aware of this: “People come because of it: they love their Manta.”