A last-minute call-up from SchnitzelAlm Racing saved Marek Böckmann from missing out on the 2021 season at the Nordschleife. The 24-year-old spent his whole winter trying to find a ride and just when all looked over, he found a ride with the GT4 newcomers from Bayern.
Instead of being stuck at home, the young German is in for a full VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) season in the team’s Mercedes-AMG GT4, and can now dream again of returning to GT3.
A snowy Eifel two weeks ago forced the cancellation of what should have been Böckmann’s first outing with SchnitzelAlm Racing. Not even a single full lap was in it before the red flag came out to put a halt to qualifying and eventually end the race weekend.
Regardless, the two incomplete laps through the daunting conditions that the Nordschleife offered were of value as each and every meter counts in SchnitzelAlm Racing’s quest to carry their BMW M240i Racing Cup championship-winning success over to GT4.
Böckmann relished the new experience.
“It’s always quite special to drive with a race car in the snow because you don’t get the opportunity so often,” the former GT3 pilot reflects on the snowed-out qualifying session for the 66. ADAC Westfalenfahrt.
“We knew there was snow coming so we went out as early as possible with our cars because we wanted to get a lap time in. If you have just 10 or 15 minutes of qualifying, it usually counts, so it’s always good for your qualifying position [to go out early].
“But the red flag came out before one single car could do a lap time.
“It was really tricky to drive. I just tried to do my best on the track and see how the car works because we didn’t have any experience with the GT4 cars under rainy conditions, especially in these cold temperatures when it’s always hard to get the tyres to work. I think we did a pretty good job on this.
“When it really started to snow, it got so slippery that it became undriveable. I had two or three moments where I almost lost the car.
“It was good that we went out and could collect some data and information and gain some experience with the new cars. It’s really important because we tried to use every minute we had available to drive.
“We also have a few drivers who are new on these cars, so they needed every minute they could get in the cars just to get comfortable with everything. And the more you drive, the more information you gain from the car.”
After a 2020 season that ended prematurely after the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in September, just getting back into the rhythm of things was equally valuable.
“It was also important for everybody to shake off the dust and get into the rhythm. Also for the mechanics, to practice their pitstops and everything – it isn’t just important for the drivers, it’s about the whole team, making sure that everybody knows exactly what to do so no one will make mistakes during the race. You have to work on every point.
“This counts for both the new teams and the bigger teams, especially after the long winter break.”
That winter break was especially long for the three-times Nürburgring 24 Hours class winner as he struggled to find a ride. Although the world of motorsports is not yet feeling the full brunt of the economic impact caused by the pandemic, its effects are seeping through.
Despite a successful season with Black Falcon in the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup MR, negotiations to continue for a third year stagnated in late February and as teams started their preparations for the new season, it looked like it was going to be a year to sit out.
“This year it was really hard. It already began last season: it was very hard to get any sponsorships, so we didn’t have a lot of budget for this year. There weren’t many driver spots left.
“It was the longest break for me; I hadn’t sat in a race car for like six months, which is really long.
“It’s tough as all the tracks are closed. There are no testing possibilities and no racing going on. I was just sitting at home and driving in my simulator, that was the best thing I could do all winter!
“And then I got the call from SchnitzelAlm Racing, from Günther [Aberer, GT4 team manager], to go testing with SchnitzelAlm and it worked out really well. They needed an experienced driver on the Nordschleife and everything went very quickly: we told them we’d like to work together this year and it worked out pretty well.
“It’s a GT4, not a GT3, and therefore the budget is really good, and I’m back with Mercedes.”
SchnitzelAlm Racing are coming into GT4 sport with little experience in motorsports, having made their debut just last year. The team, named after team owner Thomas Angerer’s chain of restaurants in the south of Germany, however, swept the BMW M240i Racing Cup and NLS Junior champions, leaving no doubt about their intentions in motorsports.
“I didn’t know too much about the team, to be honest,” Marek describes his initial impressions of the team before he joined them.
“Just from seeing their cars, I knew that they were really quick in their class – I think they won like everything last year at the Nürburgring!
“I also knew it would be a big step for them to get two GT4 cars because it’s first of all way quicker than the BMW. It’s not necessarily a more complicated car, but it’s a completely different car to get working with all the equipment and data because you just have to gain all the experience from zero.
“But with my experience with this car, I could really help the team and I think that also helped the team to just get fast really quickly at the Nürburgring.”
Together with Tim Neuser (2020 NLS BMW M240i Racing Cup champion) and Roland Froese (2020 Nürburgring 24 Hours BMW M240i Racing Cup class winner), Marek Böckmann will race the Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the SP10/GT4 class where he won the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2019 with Black Falcon.
“I have high expectations from everyone in the team. I also feel a bit responsible for how fast they will become because we are working quite closely. Roland, for example, he doesn’t have any experience in a GT4 car and did his first laps with the Mercedes on Friday [before NLS1], but he already made some big steps in the car which is nice to see for the next races.
“Everything depends on how well we’ll be working together, but I think we’ll have a good chance to fight for the title in the GT4 class and in the 24-hours race – that’s what I’m aiming for at the moment.”
With four seasons of experience at the Nürburgring and study-level knowledge of car engineering, Böckmann leads the charge for SchnitzelAlm Racing. Being the fastest driver in the team is not a game of egos, however, as he points out: it is all about teamwork and improving together.
“At the moment, I would say I am the fastest driver on the GT4 car, so everybody uses my data to improve.
“I also do a lot of setup work. When I suggest an idea for the setup, about what to change, my word is trusted.
“Everybody can use the same setup, we are completely open in this team; everybody gets access to all the data and setups.
“On Friday when I set the fastest lap of the day, we all sat together and analysed it, so everybody got to see where we have to improve.”
To underline how serious SchnitzelAlm Racing is about motorsports: none other than former HTP Motorsport team manager Günter Aberer has been hired to helm the GT4 project. A coup for the team as Aberer used to run one of the most competitive GT3 teams in international motorsports.
“First of all, Günter has a lot of experience in creating setups for these cars which is very, very important. He also has a calmness over him – it’s not very stressful to work in this team because he knows exactly what to do, how to time things. He is in control of everything within the team and everybody knows what they have to do. That’s quite often the point with new teams: it’s about remaining in control during stressful situations, and he knows how to manage those moments and how to keep the team together no matter what’s coming. This is very important, and you see that everything works out quite well.
“We’re a good mix of people, like Günter and young drivers like myself for example, who have the experience with this car and this combination is working out very well.
“For the drivers without a lot of experience, we’re pushing everything into their heads and try to make them quick! When I see the steps we took on Friday during the test, it worked out very well: we had no damage, everybody set good lap times.
“There is always room for improvement – not just for the team but also for myself – so we will see where we can improve for the second race of the season and try to get better at all those points.”
Looking ahead for himself, what does he hope to take away from the upcoming season?
“It’s hard to say at the moment,” Marek answers.
“Every season at the Nordschleife you learn something new. During the last two years, I’ve learned that you can never learn anything specifically; you learn from the situations which you cannot control – they just happen – and you have to try to take everything with you that you can from every race weekend. Even if it’s the same track, it’s always different.
“For example, I just drove my first lap in the snow. I had never done that before, but now I know how to react when this happens.
“Two years ago, there was a race where it was already snowing, and it took two laps before the race was stopped. During this time, we still had to push – you cannot just stop the car and expect a red flag to be waved, so you still have to drive as fast as you can without crashing. But you do need to anticipate what is coming, if there may or may not be a red flag, so you can inform the team and get the advantage as the team is better prepared in the pitlane.
“In general, I’ll try to become a better driver and try and learn to read situations on the track – this is the most important on the Nordschleife.”
From a results perspective, Böckmann is crystal clear: win everything.
“My personal goal would be to win the GT4 class championship and the class in the Nürburgring 24 Hours – I think this could be possible.
“And Marcel [Marchewicz, co-driver] and I are both born in ’96 so we still have the chance to win the Junior Trophy! We are like the two oldest drivers in the Junior Trophy but are still counted in the championship. So that also is a goal, but it will be hard to say if it’s possible because all classes in the championship participate in it and I don’t know how they’ll be scoring the points.
“We are aiming to be on the top of every championship that we can compete in.”
Switching teams and cars many times in the past few years wasn’t what Böckmann had in mind when he made his GT3 debut with GetSpeed Performance back in 2018, driving both their Porsche 991 GT3R and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in 2018 and 2019 before joining Black Falcon halfway through 2019 for campaigns in GT4 and SP-PRO.
Now with the ambitious SchnitzelAlm Racing, he hopes there is a path back to GT3 in the long term.
“I really would like to stay with a team for three years because when you change teams every year, you don’t know the people, it’s a different workflow, it’s never good for your own development. But the sport lives so fast and there’s so much change in such a short time, you cannot always control that as a driver. The best example would be the Drive to Survive documentary about Formula 1: they kick out Grosjean and Magnussen because the team needs money! It’s like that everywhere, not just there [in F1]; in GT3 sport it’s similar!
“With GetSpeed we had some really good results like a podium in the VLN championship. When that happened, I thought: OK, that’s it now, I’m getting the chance to get further and get more from GT3. And then the difficulties happened with the team. Everything broke down. I went from driving GT3 at the highest level to not having a driver seat for the next season.
“The last two and a half years were a real rollercoaster and then Corona didn’t make it better either.
“We are slowly getting back up on our feet. We’re now planning to work with SchnitzelAlm for a longer time and I hope it’ll work out this time. We’ll have to see how it ends!
“My goal is still to get back into a GT3 car. I was there already and I think I could show my potential. The goal is to get back there and fight for podiums in GT3, and with SchnitzelAlm, we have a very good opportunity for that because they really looked for the drivers that they have now. They wanted to have good driver pairings on the cars because they are also interested in winning championships and you never know, there might be a GT3 in the next one or two years, and then it’s always good for you as a driver when you’ve been there from the first minute and do all the development with the team.
“You grow together, and this is important in this sport.
“Even if it’s ‘only’ a GT4 car, I’m still very happy to have gotten a seat this year. Many drivers didn’t get the chance to drive something this year just because of the [COVID-19] situation.
“We are planning to do a lot with the GT4, and maybe GT3. As you see, even DTM is going GT3 now, so it’s taking over and there are so many connections due to these cars.
“When you’re in this business [of GT3 racing], you can get so many possibilities to drive and show what you can.
“I’m so excited for the future – the next two to three years – because I think a lot will happen, there will be a lot of changes.”
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