Feature Article

Lausitzring nears completion, fighting hard to win CART date against England
Mark Cipolloni
April 18,  2000
Note:  This article was originally printed on 7th Gear.com when I worked with those fine folks

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For the past 10 years, Germany's recrowned capital, Berlin, has been Europe's largest construction site.  Reinventing itself as East and West blend into one, the sprawling metropolis is a delightful mix of bold architecture and attitude, energy and élan.  Berlin is once again the flagship of Germany.

As construction moves at a fast pace in Berlin, the same fast-paced construction is going on 54 miles to the south.  On August 20th, the 2.0 mile Lausitzring oval in Germany will be opened. Initially a shoe-in for a CART date, the first oval race-track in Germany now has competition in England, where the new Rockingham track also wants to put on a Champ Car race.  Their biggest hurdle -  CART team owner Jerry Forsythe - also a member of the CART Board - has a 10% share in the 1½ mile British oval track. (Editor's Note: Jerry Forsythe has told us that he will not be allowed to vote on this decision).  Who will get the date is anyone's guess at this point, but Andrew Craig promises a decision within 30 days.

We have learned that the Lausitzring had an opportunity to sign a contract with CART even before Rockingham was in the picture, but for various reasons we are told, did not do so.  Only after Forsythe's Rockingham track came into play with an offer, did Germany then come back to CART with a new President and CEO, Hans-Jörg Fischer, and with a higher counter-offer and a brand new entertainment concept.

So here we are today, with two good offers and, as yet, no decision by CART.  We decided to take a closer look at the Lausitzring to see if the facility was as good as advertised.  They say the Germans don't do anything 2nd rate. Judging by what we see, they don't.   As you read, I strongly urge you to click on the images to see a larger view.  The larger view gives you a much better idea just how grandiose this facility is.  These photos were taken between January and March, 2000.  Construction is even further along now.

Main Grandstand, S/F line, garages and suites.  Note how steep the grandstands are so all spectators can see the action, even directly in front of them.

Click on images to see enlargement

It's still months to go before the its opening, but "full speed ahead" is the order of business.  The race-track is due to have its Grand Opening on the third weekend in August, with a gigantic show and racing cars of all sorts.

Right now, some 800 workers are hard at work each day trying to make the opening date - a mammoth undertaking, because the giant building site looks like total confusion made up of mud, concrete, sand, asphalt and glass.

Main Grandstand and Paddock area.  Note the lower grandstand which runs the full length of the main straight and most of the Speedway, it has an overall capacity of 60,000.  The lower grandstand is interrupted only by the standing grandstand on the backstraight which has a capacity for 30,000 standees in a tiered format.
Click on images to see enlargement

 Lausitzring, which touts itself as the most modern racetrack in Europe, will then hold its first race the first weekend in September, when it hosts the DTM, the German touring-car Masters. The site still looks more like a tank-training ground than a sporting arena, but the building work is going ahead at a furious pace. "It will all be ready here in September", says Hans-Jörg Fischer, President and CEO of the Lausitzring, with unconcealed pride. But until the lights on the start and finish straight go green for the first time in earnest, there is still much earth to be moved. There will be 40 km of access roads (about 24 miles), connecting strips, and banking for the lower grandstands. There will be space for 40,000 cars to park on the 1,425 acre site. "In spite of the large area, we want to keep all the footpaths as short as possible. This is why we located the car parking lots directly behind the grandstands. We want to become the spectator-friendliest track in Europe" said Hans-Jörg Fischer.

The Lausitzring is four tracks in one.  The tri-oval (R) is where CART would race
Click on images to see enlargement

Unless a CART race would be a bigger draw than even we can imagine, a lack of seating will hardly be a problem at the Lausitzring. The grandstands seat 120,000 and 10,000 seats are under cover.  "The main grandstand is the largest in Europe", says Hans-Jörg Fischer.   "It is over 1,200 feet long, over 120 feet high.  That is supplemented by lower grandstands that extend around turn 3 and along the full length of the main straight.

Hans-Werner Aufrecht, President of the International Touring Car Racing Club (ITR), and responsible for the new DTM (German Touring Car Masters), recently had a good look at the $150 million project. "The whole thing is stupendous", enthused the DTM boss. "What particularly impresses me is the spectator-friendliness. Right behind the grandstands, for example, are any number of parking places," something European race fans are unaccustomed to at existing race tracks.  On September 3rd, the sixth DTM race of the 2000 season,  is expected to draw fans to the Lausitzring. Aufrecht went on to say, "now the challenge is ours to fill the grandstands". 

In the pit area alone, 3,200 m³ of concrete was used. With 55 garages, it is unique in Europe. So far, more than 3 million cubic meters of earth have been moved, and every two minutes another truck delivers more tons of building materials. The race control tower is standing already, as is the enormous main grandstand. It can clearly be seen from the A13 Motorway, marking the Lausitzring.

Spectator comfort is written in capital letters here: "viewing is unique," Fischer enthuses, "from 95% of the seats, you can see every foot of the oval." If they come, the Champ Cars will be reaching 380 kph (about 230 mph) on the straights.

Hans-Jörg Fischer approaches his job with the drive of a workaholic. He wears himself out to balance the best concepts with convincing presentation. "We won't be content merely to be the #1 racetrack in Europe", he stresses. "The Lausitzring has got what it takes". Fischer intends to attract two international top events to the Lausitzring in 2001; one, a motorcycle Grand Prix, and the other a Champ Car series which he hopes will take place in May 2001, or possibly in the fall.

NASCAR, the IRL and Formula 1 are under discussion too. The Lausitzring is but 90km south of Berlin, and 60km north of Dresden, near Senftenberg, and thus has fantastic demographics. 20 million Germans, Poles and Czechs live within a 120 mile radius.

Timing and scoring, F-1 style garages, and pitlane
Click on images to see enlargement

Fischer presented the Lausitzring plans to Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone last September. Fischer gained all his racetrack management skills at Nürburgring from 1995 to 1999.  He hopes to eventually lure the F-1 circus to his track.

"We don't just want to be the number one racetrack in Europe" says Hans-Jörg Fischer, President and CEO.

But it's not only the DTM touring cars which are set to attract the fans.  The Lausitzring will also be laid out as a two-mile superspeedway for Champ car- and NASCAR-series races. Within the oval, with its banked curves, there is the Grand Prix circuit, which will meet Formula 1 standards, and which can be adapted for cars or motorcycles. Of particular interest for 24-hour racing and for industrial material and endurance tests is the long-distance course of 11.3 km, incorporating the Grand Prix circuit.

As far as road access is concerned, provisions are also ideal. The Lausitzring has its very own interchange on the A13 Berlin-Dresden Motorway. "The European courses are no criteria for us", says Fischer, "we are oriented towards the USA. On race-days, the paddock will reek of hamburgers, and the fans in the grandstands will have buckets of popcorn at their sides" is his view of the future.

But the Lausitzring track won't just be busy on race weekends. Just as at the Nürburgring, it will be possible to drive the circuit in one's own car, or to be piloted around the course in a "Race-taxi". Also the huge event areas offer the best of surroundings for open-air concerts á la Rock am Ring, and a modern driver safety center is attached to the circuit. There is, however, one thing that won't be ready this year.  The 150-room 4-star hotel will not be ready until summer, 2001, just in time for the CART race if the track is awarded a date. 

Just how impressive is this facility?  The so-called "Race control" in the start-and-finish building, will have comprehensive track-monitoring equipment. There will be 19 cameras around the track, each with a 360° operating range, to allow viewing of every corner of the track and to display the images on 28 monitors, and 20 video-recorders recording continuously. If an accident should happen anywhere, the seven sets of race control lights can be activated almost instantaneously. The F-1. track in Sepang, Malaysia, has this same equipment.

From the information we have right now, the Lausitzring appears to be much more of a major racing facility than it's competition in England.  It is also much further ahead in construction.  Whether CART races there is not for us to decide, but to let such a grand facility such as this pass them by, and possibly lay dormant seems downright ludicrous.

Mr. Fischer thinks he can get 60,000 fans there the first year, about 50% of the seating capacity.  He also thinks a full-house of 120,000 fans is not impossible within a few years.  Going against the track is it's somewhat remote location...a little like Michigan with not an abundant amount of nearby hotels, and no German drivers in the series.  Getting them there and keeping them entertained would appear to be somewhat of a challenge.  Until you begin to look a little closer.

Can the Lausitzring eventually draw 120,000 people?  Mr. Fischer thinks he can, or the Germans would not be bidding over $4 million a year just in sanctioning fees.  In the USA, CART competes against many sports.  In eastern Europe, there is much less competition for motorsports.  Eastern Europe is a large untapped market of sports starved fans, especially auto racing, who just in the last 10 years, have emerged from communist suppression.   20 million Germans, Poles and Czechs live within a 120 mile radius.  Bringing a little bit of America into their backyard might just bring them out in droves, initially just out of curiosity. The close competition seen in CART will keep them coming back.   And of course, there is no reason why western Europeans won't make the trek to the race as well.  If the number of fans that show up at both German F-1 races is any indication, there is a good bet CART would soon be playing to a packed house in a few short years, assuming Mr. Fischer's group does an effective marketing campaign. 

So there you have it - - the Lausitzring story.  Will CART be racing there in 2001?  Time will tell.  About 30 days worth. 

How to get there
It has its own exit on the A 13 Motorway, 50 km north of Dresden; the racetrack is 300 meters from the Motorway exit.


Information from the Tourist Office at 
The Lausitzring, Hauptstrasse 1a,
01993 Schipkau, Tel: 03575/463600,
Fax: 03575/463619

Information on the circuit
Lausitzring GmbH,
Headquarter Berlin
Brandenburgische Str. 78/79,
10713 Berlin,
Tel: 030/86483402


Photos and and some information contained in this article were supplied courtesy of the Lausitzring

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