Wednesday 24 August 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of Yore II - AVUS, Berlin

Discussions on various aspects bring us a perspective that never would have entered our minds by itself. Talking about tracks that previously hosted is one such thing. In the second part of this series, focus is on a city, that previously hosted Olympic Games, has songs written over it, and till date remains as one of the popular destinations tourists visit, whenever they enter Germany.

Berlin, among other things, does have a rich tradition in motorsports. It all started in the late 1920’s when the first German Grand Prix was held in 1926. It was a proud moment as many of the German car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche etc and other sports cars participated.

AVUS (Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungs-Straße) located near the South-western districts of Berlin was known for its unique track characteristics. With two long straight roads connected by hairpins, AVUS underwent a lot of changes in order to sustain the competition from Nurburgring (which started hosting from 1927) and in an effort to make it as world’s fastest track. One such change is heavily documented and talked about is that of the addition of ‘North Curve’, a 43 degree banking made of bricks, was termed ‘Wall of Death’, by most race observers.

The long straights enticed the drivers to go full throttle and it is here the German motor racing legend Hermann Lang recorded the fastest race speed (260 km/h) and this was a record until the technological advancements at the Indy racing went a notch higher three decades later; than the record set by Lang in 1938.

With World War II and the ramifications of the same forced the circuit authorities to cut its length to 8.3 km from the original 19 km long circuit; Berlin Wall at the proximity of the circuit being one of the reasons to reduce the distance.
After hosting a successful non-championship race in 1954, AVUS made its entry in Formula One in 1959 as hosts of the annual German Grand Prix. Tony Brooks, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill (all Ferrari drivers) were on the podium. The race weekend saw the death of a supports car driver Jean Behra, when he lost control of his car at North curve. His death turned out to be a bad publicity to the track was deemed ‘unsafe’ according to International regulations, as a result of which in 1967, the notorious North curve was dismantled.
Safety of the drivers and of the motor racing fraternity is of the essence. Back in those days, life threatening accidents were accepted as – ‘Motor Racing Incidents’. But the awareness and the death of racing stalwarts in the latter years sent a strong message to the governing bodies to either increase the safety aspects of the car, or choose circuits that can reduce if not eliminate the terrible accidents.

AVUS never got an opportunity to participate in a Formula One season in the following seasons. It hosted several Formula 3, Touring car championships before the curtains came down in 1999.

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