Cars have replaced guns as the big boy's toy of choice, the tuners are the fastest draw in town and they gather at the Tuner Grand Prix at Hockenheim each and every year to duel it out until one is left.
There was a time when men duelled in the street over matters of honour, with nothing more serious than a discourteous glance often inspiring a bloody gun-battle the following morn. Now in the civilized world there are still glimpses of this somewhat backward competitive behaviour, but there's less blood to mop up. Cars have replaced guns as the big boy's toy of choice, the tuners are the fastest draw in town and they gather at the Tuner Grand Prix at Hockenheim each and every year to duel it out until one is left. And once again, when the smoke cleared this year Cargraphic stood tall. The company run by brothers Michael and Thomas Schnarr has made the event their own - winning the GT class for three consecutive years. With just two months to develop the Dunlop-backed 997 GT3 RS that replaced the all-conquering 996 it was a nervous time as Marc Basseng took to the track. The Sport Auto-backed event is a time attack and following free practice the drivers get just 30 minutes to put in a hot lap. With 10 separate classes there are intriguing battles to be had between hot hatches, diesels, high-powered GTs and even SUVs with brave drivers drifting two tonnes of metal on the ragged edge of adhesion round the Sachs Kurve. It's an almighty sight watching a Cayenne on opposite lock with smoke pouring from the tyres, and SpeedART driver and SEAT Cupra Cup competitor Fredy Barth showed a gigantic set to win that battle by 0.9s. But the GT class provides the true heavyweight battles that everyone comes to see. And Cargraphic won with ease. It helps to have an FIA GT driver at the wheel who calmly knocks off the tenths, but by half way through the session the event was a foregone conclusion. Basseng was racing himself and finished with a three second margin of victory - a lifetime in modern motorsport. "We came here looking for something under 1m9 and that's exactly what we've got," said Michael. "All our partners have done an amazing job and we are so happy, but there's more to come from this car - we're still learning it after all." This should have been a devastating blow for the opposition, but it wasn't. Bizarrely everyone knew Cargraphic was bringing its racebred GT3 RS conversion, and the likes of TechArt still came with a much heavier, slower Porsche Turbo knowing they would get blown off the map by Basseng. "We are the fastest Turbo," explained Ralph Niese, our friend at TechArt after half an hour of watching Frank Schmickler push their 997 GT Street to the very limit. "Maybe the crowds don't appreciate what is going on, but the people that buy the cars see that our Turbo is the fastest by a clear 1.6s and we'll do business as a result." MTM, too, didn't care that its RS4 Clubsport was destroyed to the tune of seven seconds by the Donkervoort in the Open Class, which it was forced to enter thanks to a lack of rear seats eliminating it from the limousine duel that would have been a banker. They were the fastest Audi and their RS4 wiped the floor with a Lotus Exige, three heavily tuned Mitsubishi Evos and even a 997 GT3. And their A6 finished dangerously close to a Schnitzer-tuned BMW 335 in the diesel class despite the extra weight and less sporting nature of the base car. The folks with the money remember such things. You'd think that every tuner would want a piece of this action. Intriguingly, though, many stayed away. Some, like Ruf, are keen to distance themselves from the tuning fraternity. Others, knowing their wares would be wiped off the map simply stayed away, preferring to avoid direct comparisons and having to explain their case after the event. It was Bill Ford who coined the phrase: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday." The only problem is that manufacturer-led motorsport has gone so far beyond the cars we drive in the street that it has become nothing more than a brand building exercise. Anyone with a big enough bank balance could walk into the Tuner Grand Prix garage, lay a pile of cash on the table, strip off the numbers and drive it home. Winning is a surefire guarantee that the phone will ring off the hook for weeks and Cargraphic's smiles may have been simple elation, or they may have been thinking about the money flowing in. "This event is fantastic for business because it's one of the only real times the tuners come together to put our cars head-to-head," he said. "You cannot underestimate the difference this makes to sales." Cargraphic will do fantastic business after taking victory in the GT and Coupe/Cabriolet class with the GT3 RSC3.8 based on a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet in a result that is publicised around the world. The whole crowd will remember the sound of the MTM-tuned Audi S1 rally car that turned out to wow the crowds for a demonstration. Sounding dangerously like the Millennium Falcon, the S1 was a blast from the past and a brutal work of art. Cargraphic bought its GT3 RSR race car for some hot demonstration laps. And when the fun was over with the Tuner GP itself, there was still plenty of action in the Sport Auto Drift Challenge. Now this had been nothing more than a circus sideshow in previous years, with the same drivers and cars coming out to let it all hang loose after the serious business. But not this year. Drifting now has a foothold in Europe and the competitors are taking it seriously. It's a surreal feeling, too, watching an aging BMW M3 and Toyota Corolla clean up and blow ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬200,000 supercars off the track in the hands of drifting pros. Irishman Darren McNamara took the top honours with the Corolla, followed by Dutchman Remmo Niezen in his M3 and competitors came from as far afield as America and Japan to show their skills on the Hockenheimring with special tyres that trailed red smoke. So the drifting is taking off, but the Tuner GP is the main event. The big guns came out, Cargraphic stood tall when the smoke cleared and they'll all be back next year to go to war. You should be there, we willÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦