1970: ALPINA wins the European Touring Car Championship

Interview with Günther Huber

1970 – a legendary season in ALPINA racing history. Exactly 50 years ago, the ALPINA racing team secured its first ever overall win of the European Touring Car Championship. Our interviewee today was instrumental in that win: Austrian racing driver Günther Huber, who amassed countless points for BMW at the steering wheel of the BMW ALPINA 2800 CS on racetracks throughout Europe with the ALPINA racing team.

Mr Huber, how did it come about that you joined the ALPINA racing team in 1967?

In the summer of 1967, I received a letter from Burkard Bovensiepen. ALPINA intended to take part in the Marathon de la Route, the 84-hour race held on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring. It simply said “Please let us know if you would be interested”.

Of course, the ALPINA boss knew very well that I had already gained some experience of the Nürburgring in Formula Vee. I had already completed around 150 practice laps on the Nordschleife, clinched my first win on the track in 1966 and I also had a great deal of success there in the 1967 European Formula Vee Championship. Furthermore, Burkard Bovensiepen also knew me as a technician, as a master car mechanic and engineer in automobile construction. Such a technical background was highly sought-after in those days and could be very useful for a racing driver – which was confirmed time and time again in both Formula Vee and touring car racing.

The two factors that probably prompted the ALPINA boss to request my involvement back then were that I was well-trained and had the necessary technical expertise. Then, in September 1967, I was on the starting grid in the 2002 ti for my first race with ALPINA for the Eifel Cup Race on the Südschleife.

What was the day-to-day life of a racing driver like in the 1960s/70s?

Those were totally different times. It wasn’t all about big money. As a racing driver, you were happy if you could get hold of a car and compete in the race. The possibility of a win was our motivation.

Before a race, I would usually receive a telegram containing precise instructions about where I would have to show up and when. There were no luxurious paddocks like you have nowadays. Rather, there were distinct hierarchies: Mr Bovensiepen was the boss and determined where things were heading. We always addressed each other formally over the years, which was nothing unusual at the time. Our relationship was always based on mutual respect.

We had a practice session with a subsequent briefing before each race. You couldn’t afford to do extensive test sessions on the race tracks in those days, as they are common now. That was another reason why Mr Bovensiepen sought out experienced racing drivers. Incidentally, he had a real knack for recruiting the talents from Formula Vee for his racing team. Whether Marko or Lauda – the fastest Austrians in Formula Vee all drove for him despite the small budget! You can’t compare it with today, nowadays drivers are signed up, no matter what they cost. Greater consideration was given to the technical level in those days and since we had already advanced the professionalisation of Formula Vee, it was the ideal talent pool for Bovensiepen. ALPINA provided us with technically perfect cars and we had absolute faith in the technical equipment. And that’s how we were able to land several victories with ALPINA – even without a big budget or many training opportunities.

During your time at ALPINA, you achieved wins with both the 2002 ti and the 2800 CS. From the perspective of a racing driver, what makes these models so fascinating for you?

I started with the 2002 – a small, lightweight car that you could drift beautifully around the corners and that very much reminded me of the racing cars from Formula Vee. We spent a lot of time drifting on the rear axle in that car.

The 2800 Coupé, on the other hand, was a completely different class. A significantly heavier car that you could handle in a very neutral way. It was wonderful to drive! Experts used to smirk about what they dubbed the “heavyweight” on the race track – criticism that Burkard Bovensiepen readily accepted with a sense of humour. Following our victory in the 300-km race on the Nürburgring in 1970, he published an advertisement titled “Heavyweight Champion”. It said: “As far as weight is concerned, we are by far the champions.” and finally summed up with “Despite its heavy weight, this car is good for best practice times and overall wins.” The 2800 Coupé was truly a phenomenon, a real revelation in terms of performance and what you could do with the car. Especially on the Nürburgring!

However, you achieved your most legendary coup with the BMW ALPINA 2800 CS on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, together with your teammate Helmut Kelleners…

Yes, the Spa 24 Hours in 1970. For me personally, it was the most special victory during my time with ALPINA. Those were the days: two drivers for 24 hours! Between us, we negotiated a distance of approximately 4.000 km in a single day. There wasn’t even a third driver standing by in reserve. So we knew what was in store for us: 24 hours on duty – all with virtually no sleep and notwithstanding one or two muscle cramps. But Kelleners and I were a well-oiled team. We could rely on each other 100 percent.

Two weeks before this race, one of my rims broke in the 6-hour race on the Nürburgring and I flew into the bushes. It was clear to Kelleners and me that we would have to drive in a way that would conserve the material. The tyres and the differential of the 2800 CS tended to overheat very easily. Anything can happen over 24 hours. The primary objective was always to get the car to the finish line with the best possible ranking. So we couldn’t push the Coupé to its absolute limits, but 99 percent certainly provided enough speed and fun.

But then there was a problem with the electronics during the night. It was a heart-stopping moment that actually would have meant it was all over for our racing team. The power in the car suddenly failed completely in the dip at Eau Rouge. But this is where my technical background paid off. Before the car came to a halt, I had the presence of mind to reach out to my right for a safety switch for the power circuit and realised that the switch had popped out. So I kept the switch pressed down while I was driving – for nearly 7 kilometres – until I made it to the pit and the mechanics could fix the problem. For 24 hours, we had a tense fight with Alfa Romeo and Mazda and were overall winners with a lead of nearly four minutes. It was an incomparable feeling that still gives me goosebumps today, 50 years later.

About Günther Huber

Günther Huber was born in 1942 in St. Pölten, Austria, and came into contact with motorsports early on in life. As an 8-year-old, he entered his first race in his home town in a “miniature racing machine” built for him by his father. Training to become a master car mechanic and engineering studies in automobile construction followed. From 1966, Huber enjoyed countless successes in Formula Vee, before focussing his attention on touring car racing from 1967 and landing numerous wins for Burkard Bovensiepen’s team in the BMW ALPINA 2002 ti and 2800 CS. Huber retired from racing in 1971, but remains connected to motorsports to this day. As an honorary member of Historische Formel Vau Europa e.V. and team manager of Huber Racing, he remains an enduring presence in the paddocks of Formula Vee together with his sons.