Kauhsen

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Last updated: 17-August-2001


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• Willy takes over Renault 2J Formula 2 cars
It's one thing to want to copy someone else's ideas. But actually understanding what that idea is in order to copy it successfully is another kettle of fish altogether. With that in mind we bring you the story of one of the most misconceived outfits in Grand Prix history, the sad tale of the Kauhsen effort. In the early 1970s, Willibert Kauhsen had been a formidable sports car driver on his day. He had come 2nd at Le Mans with Gerard Larrousse, and in the mid-1970s he was able to mix it with the likes of sports car greats such as Jacky Ickx and Henri Pescarolo.

But Kauhsen had an ambition to go into team ownership, and it seemed as though he had bought himself into a winner when he purchased the Elf-Renault 2J Formula 2 machines. These cars had promised much in 1975, before well and truly delivering in 1976 at the hands of Michel Leclère and eventual champion Jean-Pierre Jabouille. For 1977, the cars were renamed Kauhsen Renaults, with Leclère back for more, joined by German Klaus Ludwig. When Leclère took pole for the first race at Silverstone, it seemed as though Kauhsen's foray into team ownership was off to a flyer.

How deceptive that was. The team started making modifications to the chassis from their base in Eschweiler, Germany, each time only making the car worse than before. Leclère plummeted down the grid, and even failed to qualify in some events. Ludwig recorded some results in the top ten before jumping ship, and his car was subsequently driven by the likes of José Dolhem, Vittorio Brambilla, and - would you believe it? - Alain Prost. Yet none of them could do anything with the now-hopeless machine either. Brambilla did claim a 3rd at Misano, but Prost finished two laps down on René Arnoux at Nogaro!

Something in the engineering stakes obviously hadn't been well understood. But, undaunted, Kauhsen wanted to go into F1 in 1978, and had his eyes on purchasing the Kojimas that had been used to good effect in the Japanese GPs of 1976 and 1977. The deal fell through, and so the German opted to build his own Formula One car instead for the 1979 season. He brought in designer Klaus Kapitza from Ford, and Porsche engineer Kurt Chabek, who in 1977 had also assisted with the TOJ Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars, so at least he had some experience with open-wheelers.

Brancatelli first tested the Kaushen F1 machine in 1978. Brancatelli first tested the Kaushen F1 machine in 1978.
• 5-speed gearbox, Cosworth power, leftover tyres
Professors Carl Cramer, Hans J. Gerhardt and Eduard Jäger from the University of Aachen were also on hand, but in terms of manufacturing it was always going to be a difficult task. This was especially since the team only had one metalworker in specialist aluminium, Herbert Schneider, and there were only three mechanics to construct the car: Philippe Leclercq, Klaus Kuhn, and Pierre Bigaré. Although it was an enthusiastic band of people, not a single one of them had had any experience in Formula 1 design, aerodynamics or construction.

The one thing which Kauhsen managed to get right was that ground effect would be the way of the future, as opposed to the wing cars which had been the norm in the mid-1970s, and to that end he got Kapitza to design a Lotus 79 look-alike, with the aid of the wind tunnel at the University of Aachen. But right from the start there were signs of trouble. Originally, Kauhsen wanted to use Alfa Romeo engines, considering his own success in Alfa sports cars, but when the Italian make decided to build their own Grand Prix car, the Kauhsen had to be redesigned to accommodate a Cosworth DFV.

Apart from that, the rest of the machine was a typical 'kit car' of the late 1970s. It had a Hewland FGA gearbox which only had five gears, even though some Cosworth-engined teams were already using 6-speed transmissions. ZF provided the differentials, Loebro the driveshafts, and KONI the shock absorbers. The team also had a contract to run Goodyear tyres, but since they were late on the deal, and since they could only afford to pay the American giant a paltry sum of money, they only received the leftover rubber that no-one else wanted.

Strangely, the prototype that eventually came out looked little like a Lotus 79, except for the cockpit area and roll cage! What was produced by the end of 1978 was a very short wheelbase contraption with a very forward rear wing. Originally tested by Italian driver Gianfranco Brancatelli, another major concern quickly emerged. In designing the ground effect aerodynamics, Kapitza and his cohorts had failed to take into account the 'pitch and dive' phenomenon of a car under braking, meaning that the variable front ride heights rendered the ground effects virtually void!

Patrick Neve at the wheel of the second Kauhsen prototype in early 1979. Patrick Neve at the wheel of the second Kauhsen prototype.
• Neve and Braca go through some testing times
Further modifications were called for, and a second prototype was thus produced, although its bulky appearance were no match for the smoother lines of the original. It was also longer than the original, having to accommodate a larger fuel tank since the previous tank was so small the car could never hope to complete a race distance. Patrick Neve was temporarily signed as the team's driver, bringing sponsorship money from Kinley which was meant to be enough for three chassis and six engines. The team now thought it could expand, and brought in Derrick Worthington as team manager.

Neve took the second prototype for a spin around Zolder, but was quickly disenchanted by the unpredictable characteristics of the car. Harald Ertl also tested at Hockenheim but crashed the car, claiming that the brakes had failed. An enraged Kauhsen discovered that an amateur cameraman had filmed the accident, and bought the reel from him for 100 DM just to prove the opposite to the bearded Austrian driver! At one stage Marc Surer was also a possibility for the seat, but it was quickly becoming apparent that the Kauhsen seat was one to avoid.

Neve tested again at Paul Ricard, but was some 6s off the pace. By now FISA was reluctant about allowing Kauhsen into the 1979 World Championship, not least because they had been unable to cash the cheque the team had given them in payment of the mandatory $30,000 entrance fee. Neve pulled out and his sponsors withdrew; Kauhsen turned around and blamed the sponsors for the team's financial problems; the sponsors responded by disassociating themselves with having ever had anything to do with the team! Finally, in January 1979, Brancatelli accepted the full-time drive with the team.

A new sponsor also emerged in the form of the Schors auto rental business, pledging 1.5 million DM, but with such fundamental design issues, it was no surprise that the team delayed its debut in the 1979 season until after the initial fly-away races. The Kauhsen finally made its racing debut at the Aurora F1 round at Zolder, with the car dubbed the WK004. After a nondescript performance from which the team learned little, Kauhsen eventually entered its first World Championship race at the Spanish GP, having finally paid the entrance fee.

Branca trying to get out of the pits on Kauhsen's debut at Jarama. Branca trying to get out of the pits on Kauhsen's debut at Jarama.
• Arturo takes over after 3 DNQs
Chabek promised further alterations, and when the team turned up in Spain it brought both the WK004 and a revised WK005. Either way, by now the car was a very different beast even from the original two prototypes. The rear wing was now mounted in the traditional position, and the whole chassis was now an incredible nine inches longer than when it started! It certainly was no Lotus 79 imitator, and with front wings now sprouting from the nosecone, it was clear that Kauhsen had given up trying to master ground effects, reverting to the wing car concept instead.

What's more, apart from their dodgy tyre contract, their late entry to the 1979 World Championship left them without a pit bay, and it was only with Bernie Ecclestone's help that they brokered a deal with Lotus to get half a pit garage. Brancatelli then had to try to qualify with old Goodyear race tyres rather than qualifiers, and he was the slowest of the 27 entries, when only 24 were allowed to start. His time of 1:23.24 was 8.74s slower than Jacques Laffite's Ligier on pole, and 3.94s and 2.78s respectively behind the times set by Derek Daly and Arturo Merzario, both of whom also failed to qualify.

After this debacle Chabek quit, but undaunted the team then fronted up to the Belgian GP at Zolder with the WK005. With money running short, especially after so many redesigns, Brancatelli's results got no better. The slowest of the 28 entrants after his clutch broke, he was over 13 seconds behind Laffite (who was again on pole), and 6.65s behind Daly ahead of him. The Kauhsen was 9s exactly adrift of Elio de Angelis in the Shadow, the 24th and last starter. With everything so dire, from results on the track to the design of the car to the team's finances, Kauhsen wisely gave up on his own cars.

At one stage he wanted to buy some used Lotus 79s, only to find that Mexican Hector Rebaque had first option on them for his team. So instead, Kauhsen quit completely, selling his cars to Merzario's team, whose own A2 chassis was proving equally execrable. The Kauhsen tub re-surfaced as the Merzario A4, but in Arturo's hands the car proved just as incapable of getting remotely near the grid. In one of the weirdest transactions in Grand Prix history, it was a case of one hopeless team purchasing another. But somehow such an ignominious end seemed fitting for an effort as woeful as Team Kauhsen's was.

Kauhsen's last appearance, at Zolder. Gianfranco was 13 seconds off pole. Kauhsen's last appearance, at Zolder. Gianfranco was 13 seconds off pole.

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