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Zakspeed founder Erich Zakowski passes away at age 89

Erich Zakowski, founder of the Zakspeed tuning concern and Formula 1 team, has died at the age of 89.

Jonathan Palmer, Zakspeed 861 with team owner Erich Zakowski

Jonathan Palmer, Zakspeed 861 with team owner Erich Zakowski

Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Far more successful in touring cars, GTs and sportscars Zakspeed had a disappointing five-year spell in Grand Prix racing from 1985 to 1989, logging a single points finish.

After WW2 Zakowski’s family moved from Prussia and eventually settled in the town of Niederzissen, not far from the Nurburgring, where he trained as a mechanic and set up his own garage and eventually racing team.

From the start Zakspeed was closely associated with Ford, running touring and GT cars in Germany and elsewhere. The organisation achieved huge success in the DRM – a forerunner of the DTM – with its outlandish Capris, while also competing in IMSA with Mustangs.

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Zakspeed’s Ford links reached a peak in sportscar racing with the works Ford C100, which was supposed to be the successor to the legendary GT40, with designer Len Bailey providing a direct link between the projects.

First seen at the 1981 Brands Hatch 1000kms and later reworked by Tony Southgate, the car achieved little, despite being raced by contemporary F1 drivers Marc Surer and Manfred Winkelhock and Zakspeed regular Klaus Ludwig.

After Ford ended its official involvement in the sportscar project Zakspeed continued to run a development of the car under its own name.

The company took a different direction when it entered F1 in 1985 with an ambitious project that included its own 1.5-litre turbo engine while continuing to run with some success in the DTM.

Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher's manager and Erich Zakowski, former Zakspeed Team Principal

Photo by: Sutton Images

Willi Weber, Michael Schumacher's manager and Erich Zakowski, former Zakspeed Team Principal

Initially, the F1 team ran a single entry for Jonathan Palmer, who was plagued by reliability issues. After he was injured in a sportscar accident at Spa the Englishman was replaced by Christian Danner late in the season.

In 1986 Palmer was joined by Dutchman Huub Rothengatter as Zakspeed expanded to two cars. Reliability continued to be an Achilles heel, and neither driver could better an eighth place.

For 1987, Palmer was replaced by Martin Brundle while Danner returned to drive the second car. By now the package was more competitive, helped by other smaller teams migrating to atmo engines as the transition from turbos began.

Brundle scored what would be the team’s only points with fifth place in a high attrition race at Imola, and also finished seventh in Monaco.

There was a change of line-up for 1988 with German comingman Bernd Schneider joined by veteran Piercarlo Ghinzani. Most teams had already switched to atmo power, and the now restricted Zakspeed turbo was uncompetitive, and the cars frequently failed to qualify.

With turbos outlawed Zakspeed for 1989 Aguri Suzuki replaced Ghinzani and came with a supply of Yamaha atmo V8s. The team had slipped into the pre-qualifying group, and over the whole season Suzuki never made the main field, and Schneider did so only twice. That poor performance led to a withdrawal from F1 at the end of the season.

Subsequently, Zakowski handed the company reins to son Peter, a successful racer in his own right, who continued to field Zakspeed entries in a wide variety of championships.

Erich Zakowski, Zakspeed Team Principal and Martin Brundle

Photo by: Sutton Images

Erich Zakowski, Zakspeed Team Principal and Martin Brundle

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