F ormel-1-Impresario Bernie Ecclestone is often referred to as the ringmaster. That may be true. But anyone who has fallen asleep on the sofa with the often lengthy air acts of the alleged premier class will at best mistake the aged Brit with the mushroom hairstyle for the boss of a flea circus. A look outside the box or over the fence of the fortress-like secured Grand Prix paddock would open up new horizons for the GP crowd.
60 meter wide jumps
The stadiums have been setting up for three years Super Trucks (SST) set new standards in terms of entertainment, action and show. In specially built stadiums, but also on real racetracks, a dozen pickups are jumping around to compete. Not an air act - more of a world class circus. 'The cars have 600 hp, 90 centimeter high wheels and more than half a meter of suspension travel. They jump up to four meters high and 60 meters wide,' says Robby Gordon, without changing a face. As if this were the easiest thing in the world.
Gordon, 47, is the inventor, chief technician, organizer and ringmaster of the SST. The American also sits in the cockpit of the powerful jumping racing car himself, and if need be, he also helps with the construction of the track and posts any concrete barriers with a forklift. He personally checks whether the four-meter-high jump ramp made of heaped earth meets the requirements. A quarter of an hour before the first spectators are let in, Gordon is still curving over the slope with heavy equipment. Improvisation is the trump card at the SST.
Gladiators on the hill
'Do you want to drive yourself afterwards? ', Gordon asks the auto motor und sport man shortly before the show in the large parking lot behind the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Reluctant answer: 'Yes, uh, gladly. But I don't really know, I've never driven a car like this.' Gordon does not accept this objection: “No problem!” He neighs. 'You have the best teacher there is - me! Just come by again later.'
But before an SST layman can dabble in the pickup, it's show time. 4,000 or 5,000 fans have come to Las Vegas. Most of them are probably live at the big SST show for the first time. Because you rarely see so many ahhs and ohhs and yeahs and open mouths at a sports event. People can hardly believe their eyes when the gladiatorsjump over the jumps of modern times. Sometimes two people next to each other, sometimes three. Usually within a millimeter of distance, so that the person jumping behind seems to land on the loading area of the vehicle in front.
A good view to the front is obviously not particularly important to the SST drivers. After contact with the enemy, the hood on Scotty Steele's truck came off and from then on stood straight up so that the driver could no longer see anything. But this in no way prevented him from continuing to accelerate. 'No problem', growls Gordon in the style of the ever bad-tempered football teacher Huub Stevens. 'The boys know where it's going. The route isn't particularly long.'
Checks like ice hockey
When the SST racers hit the ground, they are hardly less terrifying. The favorable power-to-weight ratio ensures appealing longitudinal dynamics: 600 hp have to struggle with a curb weight of just 1,360 kilos.
The lateral inclination in the curves is absolutely crazy: the pickups sway like the Citroën 2CV in old Louis-de-France Funès joke films. 45 degrees incline - the roll is not far sideways. 'But then the grip is best,' interjects Gordon. Because the downstroke on the front axle is a little tight, the inside front wheel hangs freely in the air. It almost looks as if the SST wants to wave its bike to the audience, just like Flipper does with its front fin in the Seaworld dolphin show.
18-year-old beats off-road luminary
'Our cars don't like asphalt that much,' reveals Sheldon Creed. The 18-year-old managed the feat of wrestling off-road luminary Gordon in the final sprint of the championship. Creed's recipe for winning the title: 'If you want to be fast, you have to hold back. Those who drift too wildly are slow.' And the list in the curves? 'Yes, that looks pretty unsettling from the outside. But it's not that bad from the inside.'
The races are not particularly long: ten minutes, then a short break. Time for fans to refuel at the beer bar. The SST riders are now debating the last heat in the paddock. And amicably. As with ice hockey, body checks are part of the SST - no need to worry. The SST is a playground for guys who take the bull by the horns. Rodeo on four wheels, just more comfortable. In contrast to bucking bulls, the SST racers have a lot of suspension travel. And thanks to the mooring with six-point harnesses, you can't tumble down either. A proper rollover, on the other hand, is the order of the day. But even after the roughest triple somersaults, the wild riders can usually go on. The technology of the SST cars is apparently indestructible. 'Our series has been around for three years,' says Gordon. 'During this time we haven't had a single injured person.'
In a way, Gordon lives up to most of the stereotypes about Americans: he's loud. He's almost always in a good mood. He's always mercilessly optimistic. He always has pragmatic solutions ready. And whimsical sayings anyway. Gordon has spoken of his cars in sadomasochistic jargon: 'You can whip and torture these cars. You can squeeze them properly. The boys can get into their crates and nothing will break.'
In Robby Gordon won his long racing career with almost everything that has four wheels: with Indy cars and NASCAR stock cars, but above all with the powerful, almost 1,000 hp trophy trucks at the desert races on the Baja California. He sees his hitherto unsuccessful hunt for victory in the Dakar rally almost as a national mission. Given the tightly packed racing calendar, it's all the more amazing that Gordon found the energy, budget, and time to create this series from scratch. Equal opportunities are particularly important to him. 'For me, the driver should be the decisive factor. You don't get that often in motorsport.'
The SST is not available for sale. All cars belong to Robby Gordon. He rents them out at a fixed price. 'The ten-race season costs $ 225,000,' he says. 'Most of the accidental damage is already included, in other words, sheet metal and stickers. If something really happens - no problem. We'll quickly replace a few parts. And we go on.'
Jelly on wheels
Self-experiment in a 600 hp pickup: A Stadium Super Truck is a strange mixture of a wild Mustang and a stubborn donkey.
What is the most important thing about an SST? 'I ask. We are standing in the gigantic empty parking lot of the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas and Robby Gordon takes a deep breath: 'The car likes to drift. But if you try to drive the SST like a normal racing car, it develops terrible understeer. You have to force the car in the right direction while braking. '
Second gear goes up to 170 km /h
Aha. Into the cockpit. As with a NASCAR racing car, there are no doors. You slip through the side window. You also have to do without a windscreen. Good way. Fresh air from the front dries the sweat faster. Although the SST racers are pretty much are compact, you sit very comfortably behind the large steering wheel. Two coarse iron bars in the center console are used to control the handbrake and the three-speed automatic transmission. 'The second reaches 105 miles, or 170 km /h. You don't need the third one here, 'says Gordon.
The rumbling V8 sound is reminiscent of NASCAR warhorses. The acceleration, however, is a bit disappointing. 600 hp and not even 1,400 kilos - but it's rather leisurely Thing. But what is it? A brief twitch of the steering wheel - and the SST is twitchingto the side threateningly. Okay, lesson one has been learned: the SST reacts extremely nervously to even the smallest movements of the steering wheel. Straight ahead? A foreign word for the small pickup. Unfortunately, it only shows a tough tendency to drive straight ahead when you want to master a curve. Then, as Gordon predicted, he slides offside.
It's good that the parking lot is huge. It's bad that light poles are standing around. Next corner, next attempt: a little less speed, but briefly pulling the handbrake - that is apparently the species-appropriate handling of the SST. The car actually starts to follow the planned radius. However, with a frightening slant. The front wheel hangs in the air, 20, 30 centimeters above the ground. John, the photographer, is thrilled. Shortly afterwards, Gordon is beaming too. But mainly because he gets the car back in one piece.