Great Drive: 2010 Audi R8 5.2 V10 - Shooting Star Bernd Rosemeyer

Don Sherman
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Martyn Goddard
#Audi, #R8

The 'Ring was a beehive of activity on the cool spring day we arrived to retrace Rosemeyer's steps. The Südschleife is no more - that area was reconstructed as a new (and neutered) grand prix circuit in 1984 - but both the legendary Nordschleife and the garages once used by the silver arrows teams endure. Unfortunately, a hospitality tent was sprawled over the paddock, and manufacturers were testing on the Nordschleife. We did score a consolation prize in a spectator area adjacent to the Eschbach and Brünnchen bends when two camouflaged Audi R8s zoomed into view. A convertible wailed past our camera with what sounded like V-8 power, followed by a coupe in hot pursuit with ten - or possibly more - cylinders flogged hard.

Three weeks before his epic return to the 'Ring, Rosemeyer made his driving debut at the AVUS course (Automobil-Verkehrs- und übungs-Strasse, or auto traffic and practice street) located near Berlin. Essentially two six-mile straights connected by a hairpin at one end and a sweeping bend at the other, this public-road-cum-racetrack hosted the first German Grand Prix in 1926. Since AVUS races ran under Formula Libre rules - with no displacement or weight limits - manufacturers fitted larger engines and streamlining for more speed.

Sealed inside his closed-cockpit Auto Union B-type, Rosemeyer battled the sleek Mercedes-Benz streamliners and twin-engine Alfa Romeos until tire failure forced his retirement. He had to wait two full years for vindication. After skipping the 1936 season, AVUS organizers constructed the breathtaking North Curve with a 43-degree banking. A crowd of 380,000 spectators, including Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, watched Rosemeyer and his rivals whistle down the long straights at more than 220 mph. Soaked with oil in the eight-lap final, Rosemeyer finished fourth after a stop for fresh tires, but his most memorable achievement was the 173-mph fastest lap he posted. That speed wasn't topped on any closed course until Indy cars visited Monza for the Race of Two Worlds in 1957.

Although AVUS hosted Formula 1 events in the 1950s, a German touring car series in the 1990s, and a farewell event in 1999, speeding is staunchly discouraged on this section of the autobahn, which today carries traffic into and out of Berlin. The spectator stands remain as a historical monument, and the cylindrical tower - constructed in 1936 as a restaurant and race control center - is now part of the Avus Motel.

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