Kurt's story has been atypical by any measure. While always interested in speed,self propelled, two wheels or more,it was not until the ripe age of 24 that he embarked on what has become an impressive and very colorful racing career. Unlike most he did not start off in go-karts, rather singleseater Formula Renaults.
Prior to launching his career on four wheels, Kurt developed a keen sense of balance on two wheels, first on 50cc mopeds. Initially the 'moped thing' was out of pure necessity, getting to school everyday as there was no convenient form of transportation available to cover the 35 kms one-way journey to school. 'Laboring along at the legal 30 kph was an absolute bore', so being mechanically inclined he made successive improvements to his 2 speed Condor Puch, adding telescopic front suspension, softer compound oversize tires, different sprocket ratios and 'souping up' the engine with modified piston design, larger intake and carburetor (rigged with a makeshift choke in case he got stopped by the local police) eventually ending up with a bike that could cruise at 80 kph, a reference at the time for a Swiss registered moped.
During that time Kurt also taught himself how to drive a car, borrowing' his fathers 2.2l 911 S Porsche, mostly at night while 'Dad was off on business trips'! He demonstrated 'method to his madness' as he never ventured out on his own. Often his younger brother or a friend were along for the ride, looking out for traffic and reading out the speeds on the odometer so that 'I could focus on the driving'!! Kurt quickly acquired very good car control, never once dumping the car into a ditch!
One day his father decided it was time he learned to drive (he was 16 by then!) while in the South of France on holiday. 'With my brothers in the backseat I traded seats with my father and promptly sped away without instruction! Needless to say my Dad was speechless at this 'natural' talent! Thankfully both my brothers who were partners in crime, stayed silent so as not to give our secret away!!
Kurt's love for driving took a major turning point the day he decided to attend the famous French Winfield Elf racing school that had helped catapult several aspiring French race drivers such as Rene Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Patrick Depailler,Alain Prost into Formula 1 during the 70's. Pitted against 300 other hungry 'wannabe race drivers' Kurt worked his way to the top spot, winning the coveted final, Nov 5th 1979! Uniquely this final was judged by a panel of French Formula 1 drivers and French motoring journalists. This was after all the first time a foreigner had made it into the final beating out the other French rivals!! Winning the final basically opened the doors wide to a career in motor racing. For the following year the ' winner' was given the opportunity to compete in the French Formula Renault Championship, all expenses paid. A dream come true!!
In his first season he scored one 1st place, and finished the season 13th overall. Not too shabby for someone who had no previous racing experience! In 1981 he repeated a partial season with limited financial means, competing in 12 of 15 events where he scored an envious win at the famous 22 km long Nurburgring "Nordschleife" with an average speed of 162kph (lap time of 8:24 min). He also finished the season 6th overall in the French champioship. It should be noted that while the funding from the school was initially only for one year the school decided to fund him a second year following his win at the Nurburgring.
1982 he participated in a limited number of Formula 3 and FF 2000 events with mixed results due to limited financial means and non-competitive cars. Kurt decided to pause his motor racing, now working full time and having tied the knot with his Eleonore earlier that year. Extensive travel made it very difficult for him to pursue anything more than an occasional event.
From 1985 through to 1995 Kurt did manage to serve as an instructor for the Winfield racing school for corporate sales teams and single drivers (Dijon,Paul Ricard, Magny-Cours, Monthlery and Le Laquais) while working full time with Caterpillar. Kurt also instructed the drivers of the famous European Gentlemen's Trophy, a series run with 400 HP Venturi MVS racing machines, the forerunner to the BPR FIA championship. During 1995 he realized that driver instruction, while satisfying in its own ways could never replace being in the heat of the action so in 1996 Kurt took the bold step to try his hand at endurance racing and participated with Swiss team Pagotto in the 24 hrs of Daytona, going the full distance and finishing 16th in class (driving a total of 8 hours). That year he also participated in a Porsche cup race on the Monza race track finishing 7th.
In 1998 he entered the German GTM Championship with a 550 HP Corvette Stingray '65 finishing 1st at Zolder. 1999 with the same EMS team and car, he lead the Championship at mid season with a 1st at SPA, 2nd at Zolder, 3rd on the long course at Hockenheim. In his last race at Mugello, while leading the race ahead of a pack of GT40's and Jag E-types, he retired with an axle failure. Due to professional commitments Kurt did not compete in the remainder of the season, but still ended up 5th overall in the GTM championship.
In 2000 it was back to the 24 hours of Daytona with the Italian team MAC Racing, driving a factory prepared Porsche GT3-R. Engine problems in the 17th hour while running 12th in class cut the teams effort short, although they still managed to go the full distance ending 23rd in class. That same year Kurt also participated in the Hungarian event of the FIA Global GT series with Konrad Motorsports driving a Porsche 911 GT2 ,550 HP twin turbo machine. He shared the drive with Manfred Janusz finishing 9th and best of the privateers under extremely hot conditions (50 deg C track temps) and severely dehydrated!
In 2001 for his third participation at the 24 hour Daytona event he drove for Freisinger Motorsports. In very difficult conditions (wet and poor visibility) Kurt made a major contribution (driving two double stints of 3 hours each at night in the rain) to the teams 12th place finish in class and 18th overall. In 2002 he was back again at Daytona with MAC Racing. In spite of early race incident and a two hour pit stop in the early morning hours to replace an overheated engine (water pump) and driving three double stints, Kurt significantly contributed to an honorable finish 15th in class and 26th overall.
In 2003 and although Kurt missed out on the Rolex 24, he returned to the famous Nurburgring Norschleife after an absence of 22 years, recording a class win driving a BMW 320, campaigned by the Buschmann racing team.'I recall tackling the daunting 26 km track (now inclusive of the GP circuit) 22 years after my first win there wondering about memory recall of the 85 twists and turns. Amazingly it was all back in a flash!!!
2004 it was back to the Daytona Rolex 24 with Graham Nash Motorsports driving a GT3-RS. After qualifying 2nd in class, we led our class during a rain soaked race until an injector failure at 2 AM putting a premature end to our effort. As Kurt himself says "one of the most challenging wet weather events driving back to back stints with very poor visibility. Going the full distance would have been a true satisfaction!'
A sixth participation at the Daytona 24 hours was secured for 2005 with American team ASC Motorsports, campaigning a Corvette C5R. While the team and car were all new, team was able to go the full distance crossing the finishing line 18th in class in spite of rear suspension problems (rear tie-rod separation) and a burned out clutch midway through the race.
In 2006 it was Kurt's 7th attempt at the Rolex 24 hrs driving a Mazda RX8 450 HP rotary. While running 5th in class the differential failed. With no replacement parts the team had to pack it up early. Another good run at the 4 hr Barbarossa Cup in Germany with BMW M3, he was running 5th and gaining on the lead when the engine expired. Finally he managed a very honorable 10th place finish at the 24 hrs of Nurburgring again driving an M3 for team PRO-VLN.
2007 Kurt was back at the 24 hrs of Nurburgring with Marco Keller Motorsports in an M3. Although he qualified the car 2nd in class, team retired early due to a race incident.
2009 Kurt participated in his 11th long distance event with Sebastian Krell Motorsports. This time in an M3 the team qualified in 15th, running strong till 5:00 AM in 5th position before ending up 9th in class.
January 2011 after a two year hiatus (global melt down oblige!!) Kurt signed up for a new experience with the Dutch legend Cor Euser for the 24 hours of Dubai. In a 2L TD BMW he rallied the finish 5th in class, a feat after having suffered two mechanical incidents and spending over four hours in the pits. In June of that same year he competed for the 6th time in the 24 hrs of Nurburgring in an M3, SP-5 class with Lingmann Motorsports. Bad luck was to affect their nr. 1 driver. 3 hours into the race and running 4th he was shunted off the track by one of the factory entries causing serious damage and a 3 hour pit stop to make repairs. From then on it was smooth sailing to the end with a 7th place finish in class. Without that incident a podium finish was in the works!!
2012 saw him return to the 24 hours of Dubai with Team GC Automobiles running a Silhouette prototype (SP3 class). A fantastic handling car with a reliable team of drivers made for a great weekend with a 3rd place podium finish and 22nd overall out of 80 entries. At the 4 hours of VLN at the Ring he managed 1st place in the SP5 class with a 400 HP BMW Holinger M1. In the same car at the 24 hours of Nurburgring he scored his second class win in his 7th participation of this landmark event. An amazing scoring average for this grueling event.
In 2013 he ran for the third time in the 24 hours of Dubai, again with GC Automobiles however this time in the SP2 class with a 6.2l V8 putting out 550HP. While Kurt qualified the car in 6th place in class on the grid and ran without problems two of his co-drivers caused mayhem during the race with 3 self inflicted shunts causing a total of 10 hours in the pits. The team mechanics performed not one but three miracles during the night rebuilding the car on two separate occasions and keeping us running right up to the end. A 4th place finish in class was a bitter sweet result considering that the car had the potential for a class win. Our average lap times while we were on track were better than those of the eventual class winner.
Following Dubai the Nurburgring 24 hours was next on the agenda. A very wet race which was red flagged for 8 hours due to flooding and rain turned out to be one of the more treacherous races Kurt ever competed in. After qualifying 3rd in class and leading their class up until the 21st hour Kurt handed over to their lead driver for the final stint. 'At this precise moment we had half a lap lead over our nearest competitor! Fatigue, pressure and a very wet track conspired against our Nr. 2 driver as he kissed the guard rail at Hohe Acht. Luckily he still managed to limp back to the pits with a bent tie rod. After repairing the damage we were back in the running but by then had lost precious time finally ending up 3rd in class. A bitter sweet result considering we again had the potential for a class win.
For 2014 Kurt was back at the Dubai 24 hours for the 4th time with a new team, Italian team GDL Racing with a beautifully prepared 450 HP Porsche 997 Cup S car. The weekend started disastrously with three of his co-drivers each having serious incidents requiring extensive repairs. ' In the dying moments of the fourth and last qualifying session we finally clocked a few lap times putting us 53rd on the grid and at the back of our class!' Kurt started the race without incident and handed over to his first co-driver 4th in class and 21st overall. Up until midnight team stayed out of trouble, holding out 6th in class and 30th overall. ' During a freak 15 minute rain shower around midnight we were again very unlucky as we were hit from behind by another competitor out of control' causing extensive damage to the rear end and a 3 hours pit stop. The team of mechanics did a magnificient job getting the car back in running order however by that time a podium finish was out of reach. The rest of the event, which is the only endurance race to have 13 hours of darkness, was uneventful. We ended up 7th in class and 35th overall. It was still a great feeling to go the full distance as close to 50% of the 92 entrants did not make it to the end!!
For the 10th edition of the 24H of Dubai 2015 we saw a record number of 97 entries. The GC team came well prepared this year with a significantly upgraded SP2 car with more HP a paddle shift transmission and improved suspension set-up allowed us to use the full range of power available without having to over expend ourselves. Excactly the way one wants a car to be set up for a 24 hour race.
After an uneventful start from row 7 we very quickly worked our way into the lead managing to stay with the pace of the top class, running a cool 1st in class, eventually 17th overall with a ten lap lead over our next competitor by about 1:00AM. I was one lap from the end of my midnight stint, powering out of one of the slowest turns on the track next to slower entry to my left and a Porsche RSR to my right when all hell broke out. The Porsche lost grip and our car was sandwiched in the middle. In a split second the outcome of our race was decided....my front end was damaged, loosing the front right wheel , rim, hub, brakes and brake line. I managed to limp back to the pits. 45 minutes later we were back in the running in P3. Until 4:00 AM everything was looking good again having managed to get back into P2 when bad luck struck again in the same turn and in the same manner with our Nr. 3 driver!! This time it took over two an half hours to get us back on track as we had to wait an agonizing 45 minutes for the track officials to find our ' missing wheel assembly' for the team to complete the repair not having enough spares!!!
Needless to say a very dissappointing end to the race!! That having been said we all felt pretty good about ourselves and the teams overall performance. With a bit of better luck next time a strong podium finish is in the cards!!
As the saying goes... " To finish first you first have to finish" !!
Kurt's passion for speed burns as strong as ever!!!
Racing CV Kurt Thiel
Birthdate: July 3, 1955, Germany
Height: 1,80 m
Weight: 78 kgs