“I was fighting hard with the other Caymans—there was some pushing and shoving going on—and then there was a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. He was blocking and doing stupid stuff in the braking zone and we made slight contact. It was all very hectic, with the battles and then the red flag.
“When I got out of the car in the paddock I went over to ask what he was doing. As I walked away from his car, I realised: ‘Wait a minute… We are champions.’”
Two massive accidents ended the seventh VLN race of the season before the four hours of racing were up, causing confusion as timing and scoring was corrected and cars were stranded on the other side of the race track. What Moritz Kranz hadn’t realised in the ensuing chaos, was that he had just taken the title in the Cayman GT4 Trophy, VLN’s one-make class for Porsche Cayman GT4 machinery.
Another two races were still to be contested, eventually bringing the Mühlner Motorsport Porsche Cayman GT4 of Moritz Kranz and his teammates Alex Schula and Hamza Owega to a win-tally of six, leaving the competition far behind in the final standings.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Moritz Kranz recalls the day he was crowned champion. “It was my first major title and it took a long time to get my hands on a trophy that showed what I am capable of as a driver. I slept very well that night.”
The road to success led Kranz via GetSpeed Performance, who gave him his very first full-season campaign in 2016, to Mühlner Motorsport. Renate-Carola and Bernhard Mühlner had let their eye fall on the 30-year-old German after his showcase of speed and competitiveness in the Porsche Cayman GT4 Trophy during the cup class’ maiden year. Despite several crashes borne out of overeagerness to prove himself, the German-Belgian team leaders were sufficiently impressed.
“I had some good talks with them by the end of last year and their offer which included racing in the United States made quite clear to me that this was the right package. It’s a very experienced team and with the experience they have in ADAC GT Masters, the FIA GT1 World Championship, Porsche Supercup and so on, I knew that this was the best chance to develop myself.
“At the same time, I had to take this opportunity. At the end of last year things didn’t go so well, but Bernhard and Renate-Carola believed in me and my abilities as a driver. Together with their experience, it really made sense.”
On a cold and wet day in March, Kranz took his first measure of strength during the VLN Probe- und Einstelltag. The traditional test day before the start of the VLN season brought many teams to the Eifel to try out their new cars and drivers.
Seven days later, the team celebrated its first victory en route to the Cayman championship title.
“Based on last year, I knew where I was standing as a driver in terms of speed in the Cayman cup. I knew where Hamza was and the level he’s at and where he could improve. With Alex, I knew that he is a very good driver.
“I already had a feeling from the first test day on that we had a strong line-up and we had a good chance to fight for the title.
“Then, after the first race that we already won, I knew it would still be tough. But, that we were up there with a pole position, fastest lap and the win showed that the speed was there. From the beginning of the season I knew that we’d play a big role.”
With an endless string of podium finishes throughout the nine races of the season, Mühlner conquered the title early on. Pivotal in the race for the championship, Kranz says, was the third race of the year.
In the first Nürburgring race since the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, the Teichmann Racing Porsche Cayman GT4, hunted down by Kranz, made a mistake in the closing stages of the race while lapping a slower BMW 235i Racing Cup, handing the victory to Kranz and his teammates.
“We lost some time in the pits when we were blocked by a competitor, by one of their other cars. I went into the final stint with 15 or 20 seconds behind the leading car. For the first few laps, due to a long yellow zone, the gap stayed like that. Then, when the track went green again, I gained 5 seconds per lap and got close to him. Under the pressure, he made a mistake and crashed.
“That was already their second DNF this season and then it became clear to us where the season was going. We didn’t have any retirements up to that point and there would be no throw-away results in the Cayman cup this year, so I realised it may be decisive. It turned out it was.”
In his time racing, Kranz always had to mainly rely on talent and speed. Those, however, only get you so far. Winning the Cayman championship is his new currency.
“It’s quite an important title for my career because it’s my first one. I always knew that I’m a fast driver, but no one cares when you’re just saying that. Now, I have a title and a lot of race wins to prove that I am.
“During the season I had to decide between racing in Asia or VLN. We had a lot of discussions and in the end I decided to race in VLN to be able to fight for the title and maybe catch the attention of Manthey and Porsche.”
With the championship title getting closer and closer, Mühler Motorsport sat down with Kranz to discuss plans for 2018.
“Already in June or July I got the first questions [from other teams] for next season. However, around the same time I sat down with Bernhard Mühlner in Road America and talked with him about next year. He offered me to drive the Porsche GT3 Cup in 2018. He said: ‘Stay with us and be our factory driver from 2018 onwards.’
“We hadn’t won the title yet, but the performance I had shown up to that point in the season helped me in the negotiations and made it possible to secure next season quite early and it became easier to concentrate on the current season.”
It was at that same weekend at Road America where Kranz put down a stellar performance in front of the American public. As part of Mühlner Motorsport’s American squad, Kranz and fellow Nordschleife revelation Gabriele Piana teamed up for the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge. In a race cut short due to approaching thunderstorms, Kranz worked his way through the field to reach second place when the race was halted. It was a spectacular result, but it wouldn’t stand: A penalty for overtaking under yellow cost the team silver.
“I guess you can say that I left my mark at Road America, I performed well.
“Even now, we’re still unhappy with the decision that was made. We didn’t get the result we should’ve taken, but it is what it is.
“The stewards said we had overtaken under yellow, but we could prove with the onboard footage that, in our opinion, this wasn’t true.
“Instead of a second place, I drove the car from P8 to P2 in the first stint and ended up P9 because of the penalty. We weren’t happy, but it’s part of racing.”
Back in Europe, out of the blue another opportunity presented itself: British tuner Litchfield Motors needed a driver for a couple of test runs at Spa-Francorchamps and the Nürburgring for the development of their Nissan GT-R LM1 RS. That’s where the close-knit Nürburgring community came in.
“I got a call from Jochen of Frozenspeed who told me Litchfield was looking for a fast driver to help them develop the car on the Nordschleife. I got the call on Wednesday and on Friday I went to Spa to do some testing and get a first feel of the car. On Monday we went out onto the Nordschleife to start collecting data, do the set-up, engine mapping and so on.”
Capable of unleashing up to 1100bhp through all four wheels, the finely-tuned and modified yet road-legal GT-R is unlike anything Kranz had ever driven before.
“You can really feel the aerodynamics kick in. When you’re coming out of Bergwerk where you have basically no grip and you’re on semi-slicks and the car is sliding, and then you come up to Kesselchen and you’re building up speed and already doing 240 before the fast lefthander, you really start to feel the aerodynamics pushing down the car and you get so much grip. It’s a pretty awesome car.
“The car also has so much horsepower. The fastest before going into Flugplatz was about 255 kilometres per hour, that might be even faster than a GT3 does. That was really addictive.
“It was my first time in a right-hand drive, so I had to get used to it. You clip a curb here and there because you have to adapt, but it took just a few moments before getting used to the position as well as the power and then it’s all fun.”
Having gotten the handle of the Japanese beast, the team went to work with the final goal of going for a sub-7 minute lap time on the Nordschleife—an achievement for another day, however.
“I was driving faster than the team might have expected—faster in terms of what they thought we could achieve on that day in terms of lap times.
“The thing is, it was a track day with a lot of small road cars. When you’re flying into Schwedenkreuz doing 280 and there’s a road car doing 180, you have to back off and make sure nothing happens as it’s just a track day.
“On the one hand you’re pushing, on the other hand you also have to keep it safe. It’s also about giving the team good feedback on the balance of the car and engine response as it’s turbo-charged, so it needs to have good drivability. I think the test helped them a lot to develop the car over the winter.”
Coming soon: Part two of our interview with Moritz Kranz, in which he talks about how he got started in motorsports and we look ahead to his 2018 VLN season with Mühlner Motorsport in the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.