Thursday, May 03, 2007

Stefan Bellof

A question was raised on the Ten-Tenths sportscar forum the other day about people's favourite Porsche sportscar teams. This got me thinking about all those great Group C teams of the 1980s, like Kremer, Brun, Joest and Obermaier who ably backed up the factory team from 1983 onwards. So I hopped over to the site that has a fantastic archive of photos and entry lists from sportscar races, and started browsing through their Group C archives.

So many great cars and evocative liveries and so many great names. One driver in particular stood out as I looked over the entry lists, the late Stefan Bellof. There are very few drivers in the world who would be more deserving of the unfortunate title of "greatest talent lost before his time".

There was no doubt that he was one of the fastest drivers of his generation, winning the German FF1600 title and nearly winning German F3 despite only competing for half a season. He had a tremendously competitive year in Formula 2 before being drafted into the Tyrrell Formula 1 team. Even though the car was perhaps the slowest in the entire field, the young German managed to give Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell a run for their money when the rain fell at Monaco in 1984 and levelled the playing field. He even scored two points finishes in 1985, grabbing a staggering 4th place at the US Grand Prix. It was widely believed that he had signed for Ferrari for the 1986 season, and I personally feel that that would have been the catapult to stardom for him. It's quite possible that he could have ended up alongside Senna or Prost in the McLaren team in '88 or '89. Who would have owned the title of "most successful German F1 driver of the 20th century" had Bellof lived?

His sportscar career was equally spectacular. Although he failed to finish during both his outings at Le Mans, he clinched the 1984 World Endurance Championship ahead of illustrious factory Porsche team-mates such as Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass. He won numerous races and showed that raw natural talent that team managers dream about.

In 1985 the factory Porsche team replaced him with Hans-Joachim Stuck, perhaps knowing that his Formula 1 commitments would make it more difficult to focus on his sportscar career. He had a number of outings for the privateer Brun outfit and it was in a Brun Porsche that he lost his life at Spa-Francorchamps on September 1st, 1985. His car was slower than the factory machines, but his sheer speed found him dicing for position with Jacky Ickx's Rothmans Porsche 962. Impatience got the better of him, and he collided with the other car at the brutally fast Eau Rouge corner, taking both cars into the armco where they caught fire. He was pronounced dead one hour later.

I tend to think of the loss of Bellof in the same way as I think of Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. All had huge talent, and all had so much more to give to the world.

All were 27, too.

**LAST MINUTE EDIT**: I forgot to mention when I posted this yesterday that Stefan Bellof holds the record for the fastest EVER lap around the Nurburgring's Nordschleife circuit, set in a Porsche 956 in 1984. The fact that the 23-year old record still stands today is incredible...

1 comment:

Declan Brennan - said...

I couldn't agree more. he could well have been the greatest ever and certainly a match for Senna.