ATS Rial Racing
ATS Rial Racing is a German Formula One team active in the Formula One Rejects Microprose Grand Prix Series from the 2012 season onwards.
The team was formed in response to Sir Bernard Shekelslike's call for more teams to join the F1RMGP series, as well as being due to the departure of Ferrari. Sensing a chance to have a laugh at a small and potentially uncompetitive team's expense, Sir Bernard invited the notoriously irascible Günther Schmidt to join the F1RMGP circus. Schmidt, team boss of Auto Technisches Spezialzubehör (usually known as ATS) from 1977 to 1984 and then of Rial Racing from 1988 to 1989, had died in 2005 - but had had it written into his will than should re-animation technology ever exist, he would quite like to be revived and have another crack at motorsport. Sir Bernard was only too happy to oblige, loaded Schmidt into the F1RMGP Hologram Projection Unit and there he was, ready for the 2012 season. Schmidt united his two former alloy wheel brands under the banner of the same F1RMGP team - even though they were in direct competition with each other. A deal was signed with Cosworth to supply the team with 3.5-litre V8 engines, although how a car was built to take it remains something of a mystery.
Schmidt signed two of his former Rial drivers, Pierre-Henri Raphanel (transferred from the Monteverdi team) and Volker Weidler. The car was ugly; the need to fuse the liveries of the two former F1 teams resulted in a clash between the yellow and brown of ATS and the blue-with-a-hint-of-white of Rial - a "Blue Ferrari" it was most definitely not. Fortunately for everyone who valued their eyesight, the car was also so painfully slow that it was the fourth race meeting of the season, around the twisty streets of Monaco, before the team cleared the qualifying hurdle. Volker Weidler was the lucky driver, dragging the reticent chassis to 21st on the grid - the lack of power was not so much of a problem here. Unfortunately for all concerned, Weidler's engine exploded after ten laps. The ATS Rial cars would not be seen again on the Saturday afternoon until the Hungarian race, suffering five successing double-DNQs in the intervening period. At the Hungaroring, in what had already been a strange weekend that benefitted the smaller teams (Stefan managed to get one car onto the grid, amazingly, whereas F1 Rejects' Jean-Denis Délétraz did not), Pierre-Henri Raphanel qualified 18th, and brought the car to the chequered flag in that position, two laps down but ahead of Enrico Bertaggia in the EuroBrun and SAC's Pedro Chaves. Volker Weidler waved his team-mate home; Günther Schmidt was overjoyed, and by that I mean less explosively angry than usual, but it would not last. Both cars failed to qualify for the next two races, so the team's next appearance in a race was at Estoril, where Raphanel just edged out Bruno Giacomelli in the Life for the final grid slot. His race would only last two laps before the engine screamed that enough was enough, such had been his effort just to haul the car onto the grid. Another double-DNQ followed in Barcelona, including an ignominious performance at Monza where Weidler was over two seconds slower than the car second-to-last in qualifying, and the team briefly considered not taking the final two flyaway races. But, hoping against the odds that something good might come of it, the team flew to Japan anyway, and to their surprise, Volker Weidler qualified in 26th place by nine thousandths of a second to consign an incensed Philippe Alliot to a Saturday afternoon spent sitting in the Prost garage. His race lasted all of three laps before his gearbox jammed in first gear and he was forced to retire. Neither car made the grid in Adelaide.
All in all, the season was an unmitigated failure, with only four race starts out of a potential 32, and usually both cars would be somewhere near the bottom of the time sheets. However, only once was an ATS Rial absolutely stone dead last - that being Volker Weidler's Monza disaster, and with that faint glimmer of hope for the future, Günther Schmidt decided to enter the 2013 F1RMGP season.
With Cosworth pulling out of F1RMGP completely for the 2013 season, ATS Rial were left without an engine supplier. Testing of the ARC-4 at Hockenheim started with a Cosworth salvaged from one of the ARC-3s, and the car was so dramatically slow that it pushed Günther Schmidt's blood pressure (well, T-count, actually, but it's much the same thing) to breaking point. This would ultimately be to the team's advantage. Driving back to Fußgönheim in a furious rage, Schmidt crashed his expensive Mercedes into the back of a Volkswagen Golf VR6, which was written off. Somehow, he managed to buy the destroyed Golf, rip out its engine and deconstruct it, then attempt to design a new F1-spec engine by taking photographs of the Volkswagen engine while in pieces, enlarge the pictures in a photocopier, and build a similar engine of larger capacity using the photocopies as a guide. No engineer would touch such a silly idea with a barge pole, so Schmidt settled with buying a couple of reconditioned VR6 engines in the original 2.9-litre spec, then shamelessly copying Volkswagen's twincharging concept - a small supercharger to boost the engine at low revs, then a larger turbocharger that cuts in at the point the supercharger runs out of puff. Usefully, the team obtained some extra sponsorhip from Aral.
So, the novel idea of using a tweaked road car engine in a Formula One car... did it work? Not exactly, as the ATS Rials failed to qualify for the first four races of the season. They were closer to making the grade than they had been at this point in the 2012 season - Raphanel being the fastest non-qualifier in San Marino - but the team was still all at sea. Monaco was where they finally made their breakthrough, Raphanel doing a fine job to qualify 21st, just behind Jacques Villeneuve in the equally hapless Stefan, and with several faster cars behind him. Despite the usual string of strange occurrences at Monaco (Pedro Chaves winning the race being the freakiest of freak occurrences), Raphanel finished last, the only car to be lapped three times - but at least he brought the car home, undamaged amongst the usual carnage. Normal service was unfortunately resumed for the next three races, with the team packing up and going home on the Friday evening, though Weidler did get very close in Magny-Cours, missing the grid by a mere four hundredths of a second; it all went wrong at Silverstone, Raphanel being dead last except for the two cars who did not set a qualifying time, one of which was Weidler. At Hockenheim, though, Raphanel managed 16th place in qualifying, utterly amazing given that the circuit requires power above all else which ATS Rial do not have much of, though the team may have turned up the boost on the turbo. Unfortunately, he could only manage 23rd place - ahead of Piercarlo Ghinzani in the Osella at least. Hungary saw ATS Rial on the grid for a second race in succession, again with the car in 16th place, but this time it was Weidler, making his first appearance in a race in 2013 - again, with the help of a bit of tweaking of the turbo. The race was wet, but this was the least of Weidler's problems, as the extra boost strained his gearbox to breaking point after 19 laps and the German had to retire. The team would have to wait through another two races of non-qualification before their finest hour...
It came at a wet race in Portugal. On the Friday, qualifying had been bone dry and Raphanel barely scraped onto the grid, taking last place and dumping Fairuz Fauzy out the race in the process. On race day, when the rain came bucketing down in torrents, Raphanel was calm and steady, not spectcaularly fast, but as car after car crashed out in front of him, he ended the race eighth - only one lap down, with Viking Racing's Þorvaldur Einarsson not all that far ahead for good measure. Those four points were Raphanel's first in F1RMGP (including the season he spent with Monteverdi) and ATS Rial's first; it jumped them ahead of the far superior DAMS in the Constructors' Championship. Two further races followed in which the team had to pack up and vanish after qualifying, but at the final race in Australia, they cleared another milestone; both cars qualified for the race, at the 32nd time of asking. Raphanel qualified 23rd and finished a creditable 13th, but the star of the show was Volker Weidler; a sterling qualifying performance saw him reach the heady heights of 12th place, then he managed to hold off a blizzard of faster cars behind him, as others dropped out in front, to snatch tenth place and another point. Stéphane Sarrazin finished 11th for DAMS, and had he taken the point instead, that would have put DAMS ahead of ATS Rial on countback. As it was, ATS Rial took 13th in the Constructors' Championship, ahead of DAMS and Minardi, as well as five further teams who did not score at all.
In the 2013 Silly Season, the new Société Prost-Arnoux Motorsport team, formed from a merger of Prost and DAMS, pulled off what some saw as an amazing deal, Peugeot upgrading from the old mid-1990s F1-spec 3.0-litre V10s to a 3.7-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel, as used in the 908 Le Mans Prototype from 2011. Peugeot's Le Mans rivals, Audi, would not take this lying down and immediately announced their intention to compete in F1RMGP, bringing their diesel engine from the R18 with them – the same capacity, but in a single-turbo V6 layout. Unfortunately for them, their desire for an all-German entry was hindered from the start as ATS Rial were the only squad available to them. Nevertheless, Audi arrived, installed the engine in an old ARC-3, and tested for a day until the chassis broke under the strain. That it annihilated the pathetic times set in the 2012 season was a huge boost for the team. Pierre-Henri Raphanel was rewarded for his efforts dragging the team's previous two crapboxes to some amazing results... with the sack, for not being German, and in was brought Joachim Winkelhock from AGS; Raphanel obligingly moved the other way to what he suspected would be a more competitive drive. Soon, the new ARC-5 was built, resplendent in Audi silver with enough of the team's previous blue (now metallic) with flashes of the yellow and brown to remind them of the painful days gone by. Testing at Valencia was inconclusive; sometimes, Winkelhock would trouble the top ten, sometimes, they'd both be in the "DNQ places", slower than 26th. Weidler never once elevated himself into the top half of the table. The unpredictability of the new car and particularly the bizarre power delivery of the new diesel engine would take some getting used to...
...which Winkelhock soon did, and Weidler didn't. It had been unheard of for any one ATS Rial to qualify for two races in succession up to now, but Winkelhock took the starting grid for the first six races of the season. Even so, the unpredictability was never far away; Winkelhock started dead last at Interlagos, but a sensational fifth at Mexico City, then back to 22nd at Montreal – seven places behind Weidler, who had not qualified for the first two races. Winkelhock was at least semi-consistent in those first three races, finishing 16th at Interlagos and 20th at Montreal, sandwiched by a crash at Mexico City as he pushed too hard to get back to the front – he'd almost led at the start before being barged off by Luca Badoer. So no points for him, but incredibly, Weidler pulled a fast one on him, scoring the team's first points of the year at Montreal with seventh place – also the team's best-ever result, and the six points were more than they'd scored in the whole of the previous two seasons. Weidler, inexplicably, would then sink to another DNQ at Imola, before picking himself up yet again to take eighth round the streets of Monaco. Their score was now into double figures. Winkelhock, meanwhile, had slumped to take an unmotivated 21st at Imola, and 17th at Monaco, hindered by engine failure towards the end of the race. The Andorran-flagged race at Barcelona was a wash-out; Weidler again failed to make the Friday cut and Winkelhock retired early with further engine failure, after only three laps. Smokin' Jo's day finally came at Magny-Cours, though – powering his way up to fifth on the grid (Weidler even managed 15th), he held the position for the race and single-handedly doubled the team's points score for the season. Ninth place, 20 points, they were doing better than they dared to dream... right until it all came crashing down at Silverstone, where both drivers were caught out by schizophrenic weather, and both failed to qualify; Weidler was only six tenths faster than Plamen Kralev in the fiendishly slow David Price. Redemption of sorts came the next day in the Grand Reversal, where the ATS Rial drivers found themselves trading places with Smokin' Jo's old team, AGS, who hadn't been covering themselves in glory and were lying eleventh in the table. The previously ousted Pierre-Henri Raphanel, so far failing miserably at AGS, reminded his old team what he could be capable of on the right day, taking 12th on the grid, with Gabriele Tarquini finding the diesel power rather tricky to handle, lining up 18th. ATS Rial's regular drivers were having a field day, Weidler taking 11th in Raphanel's regular car, and Winkelhock taking a sensational second for his old team, only four tenths off pole. In the race, Raphanel drove better than he had all year and finished sixth – pity for him this was a non-championship race! - while Tarquini took twelfth, the last driver on the lead lap. Over at AGS, Weidler was showing Raphanel what could be dine in his regular car, finishing eighth, while Winkelhock's blitzing qualifying performance came to nothing, retiring after 29 laps with engine failure – which was AGS' problem now, not his.
Back in their regular mounts, the German drivers had a blast at their home Grand Prix, Weidler almost troubling the top ten in qualifying, with Winkelhock in a mysterious 18th, possibly due to a misfire. That misfire wasn't sorted out in the race, and Winkelhock ended up 13th, while Weidler said "anything you can do, I can do as well" (in German), and took a fine fifth place, matching the team's best ever result that Winkelhock had posted in France. Their German qualifying positions were effectively reversed in Belgium, but in the end that mattered little as Weidler shot through the field to chase his more experienced team-mate to the end of the race and they finished seventh and eighth, scoring the team's first ever double points finish. A lot of Liebfraumilch was cracked open in the garage afterwards. Heroes, though, became zeroes as the team did not get to participate in the crazy Hungarian race at all, both drivers crashing to DNQs - and raising the ire of their team boss to nuclear levels on race day when the many retirements could have seen them score a hatful of points; instead, Philippe Alliot took fifth for SPAM and brought them back to 20 points in the Battle Of The Diesels... against ATS Rial's 40, so it was not such a disaster for the Germans. Unfortunately, for Weidler, he would not score again for the remainder of the season, even though the team would have three more strong races – those being the next three at Monza, Estoril and Jerez. Where Winkelhock was on top, at Monza and Jerez, he would score a further twelve points for the team, coming seventh both times; when Weidler was on top, at Estoril, he would blot his copybook horribly, ramming the leading Viking of Þorvaldur Einarsson off the road as he was lapped and sending them both into retirement. To say the Icelander was irritated was an understatement, as it stopped him taking the Drivers' Championship that day.
Winkelhock's efforts at those two races were instrumental in the inter-diesel battle; going into the last two flyaway races, ATS Rial had 52 points and SPAM only 22. SPAM's best result had been Philippe Alliot's fifth in Hungary; he was staring down the barrel of having to score two third places to overtake the Germans, with team-mate Stéphane Sarrazin having been rather dismal for most of the season. The Germans had plenty of reason to be smug, but complacency could have got the better of them at the last minute. Weidler failed to qualify for both the last two races of the season – but so did Sarrazin at Suzuka. As both Winkelhock and Alliot retired from the race, crashing in the very wet conditions, the gap remained at 30 points. At the last race in Australia, the battle was settled in ATS Rial's favour on the Friday; Sarrazin failed to qualify, and as Alliot could not score 30 points by himself, SPAM could not overhaul ATS Rial in the championship. The extra significance was that the threat of having to prequalify in the 2015 season for finishing outside the top ten; come race day, EuroBrun were the only team mathematically capable of knocking ATS Rial out of tenth. ATS Rial had only one car in the race, EuroBrun had two, but with their best results being three sixths over the course of the year, it would take a miracle to gain the 25 points (minimum) they needed to snatch that tenth place. In the end, though ATS Rial did not score, Winkelhock finishing 21st and last, EuroBrun could only manage four points as Enrico Bertaggia took eighth, while Claudio Langes was nowhere. Alliot, though, showed what might just possibly have been, storming to second place and SPAM's first-ever podium. Even so, the season ended with ATS Rial on 52 points, taking tenth in the Constructors' Championship and escaping prequalifying for 2015, while SPAM (11th, 40 points) and EuroBrun (12th, 31 points) would be subjected to the early morning eliminator.
Audi's decision, by and large, was vindicated. Obviously they wouldn't be happy until they were top of the tree, at they had at least beaten their diesel-powered rivals, and if anyone had said at the end of the 2013 season that there would be prequalifying in 2015, everyone at every end of the pit lane would have put down ATS Rial as a team who would have to participate and fall foul of it almost every time. That they will not even be required to participate in motor racing's answer to Russian Roulette might see them have both cars on the grid at every race in 2015. And who could have predicted that?
Complete F1RMGP results
Bold indicates pole position. F1RMGP does not keep a record of fastest laps.
|2012||ARC-3||Ford Cosworth 3.5l V8
|USA||BRA||SMR||MON||CAN||MEX||FRA||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||POR||ESP||JPN||AUS||NC||0||28||18th × 1|
|9 Pierre-Henri Raphanel||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||18||DNQ||DNQ||Ret||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ|
|10 Volker Weidler||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||Ret||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||Ret||DNQ|
|2013||ARC-4||Volkswagen 2.9l VR6
|USA||MEX||BRA||SMR||MON||CAN||FRA||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||POR||ESP||JPN||AUS||13th||5||26||8th × 1|
|37 Pierre-Henri Raphanel||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||18||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||23||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||8||DNQ||DNQ||13|
|38 Volker Weidler||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||Ret||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||DNQ||10|
|2014||ARC-5||Audi 3.7l V6 diesel
|BRA||MEX||CAN||SMR||MON||AND||FRA||GBR||GER||BEL||HUN||ITA||POR||ESP||JPN||AUS||10th||52||10||5th × 2|
|21 Joachim Winkelhock||16||Ret||20||21||17||Ret||5||DNQ||13||7||DNQ||7||19||7||Ret||21|
|22 Volker Weidler||DNQ||DNQ||7||DNQ||8||DNQ||12||DNQ||5||8||DNQ||13||Ret||14||DNQ||DNQ|