The 1976 German Grand Prix was a dark day in motorsport history. However thanks to the ingenuity of one racing pioneer, the life of a fellow racer was likely saved.
A horrific crash just before the Bergwerk turn left Austrian driver, Niki Lauda with horrific burns to his head, toxic damage to his lungs and left him in a coma. It also spelled the end of Formula 1 racing at the Nurburgring in its Nordschleife configuration.
Study these photos with morbid fascination and, like us, you’ll probably notice the bright “Emergency Orange” Porsche 911 that appears to have just arrived on the scene.
Photographs of the scene from a different angle reveal a hose snaking from the luggage compartment, which appears to be fitted with a foam fire suppression kit. This particular 911 is not some token Pace Car, it is in fact a high-speed Fire Engine.
Racing at the Nurburgring presented one major safety concern above all other tracks. One single lap of the Nordschleife was 14.1 miles long. In comparison, a lap of the Silverstone F1 circuit is 3.6 miles long. Silverstone, like most other circuits, benefits from a network of infield roads, allowing emergency services to quickly access a particular point of the track. The Nordschleife doesn’t have an infield as such, its simply dense forest, thus earning it the moniker “The Green Hell” from Jackie Stewart.
This meant that when things went wrong on the Nordschleife, it could be a long time before help arrived. Minutes are the difference between life and death in racing accidents.
Enter Herbert Linge, a former Porsche factory driver who recognised the need for rapid emergency response at circuits like the Nordschleife. Using the unique rear-engined configuration of the Porsche, Linge utilised the front luggage compartment of the 911 to carry fire fighting equipment.
Herbert Linge, having himself been a driver in an era of motor racing where fatalities was commonplace, sought to make the sport safer and restore confidence as cars became quicker.
Linge founded the ONS-Staffel (now known as the Deutscher Motor Sport Bund-Staffel) in Autumn 1972. The first response vehicle was based on the mid-engined Porsche 914.
Linge’s organisation focused on developing two tiers of cars.
R-Wagen: This was to be the first responder car, typically a Porsche with fire/rescue and medical equipment on-board. These were to be piloted by a former race driver and an advance trauma doctor or fire fighter would ride in the passenger seat.
S-Wagen: These were saloon or estate cars, similarly equipped to the R-Wagen. They were positioned at several spots around the circuit with the objective being to reach any particular spot on the circuit within 30 seconds.
Racer turned life saver
Linge’s racing career was not be sniffed at either. Plucked from obscurity as an apprentice mechanic at Porsche’s Weissach plant, he quickly established himself as a very succesful factory driver and even went on to head up the R&D facility at Weissach. He competed in the prestigious Mille Miglia, amongst other events.
Linge even managed to worm his way into the production of Steve McQueen’s epic production, LeMans. Driving one of the main character’s rival cars in a sequence where McQueens overtakes to claim the race lead. Linge was instructed by McQueen himself not to lift off, that he was a quick enough driver and he would pass Linge himself, thus making for a more authentic shot. After a week of takes, Linge was instructed to ease off the gas and allow McQueen to pass him. They got the shot, but at the expense of the pride of a Hollywood icon.
His contribution to Porsche racing is a comparatively small one, but his impact on the safety culture of motor sport is immeasurable.