What could have been: Germany's best hope of Indycar success?

When a rising talent on the fringes of Formula 1 turned down a chance to race in IndyCar, with it went one of the best prospects of a German driver getting a foothold in US open-wheel racing. But today, he has no regrets about his decision to pursue a career in manufacturer-based sportscar and touring car contests

What could have been: Germany's best hope of Indycar success?

It’s a curious historical anomaly that of the many international superstars that have made their mark on Indycar racing, German drivers have made a negligible impression.

If we discount German-born Dominic Dobson’s third place at Michigan in 1994, Timo Glock is the only driver to emerge through the German motorsport ladder to score a podium – that coming against a relatively thin Champ Car field at Montreal in 2005 - and he only spent one season Stateside before returning to Europe.

German sportscar aces Andre Lotterer and Lucas Luhr have been limited to one-offs, while Michael Krumm lasted only two races into 2001 at Dale Coyne Racing before the money ran out. Christian Danner and Arnd Meier, the only drivers that could feasibly called series regulars, were largely forgettable in the 1990s.

Yet the complexion of the discussion could have been very different had sportscar and tin-top ace Jorg Muller taken the leap to IndyCar, instead of the American Le Mans Series.

Fresh from completing his unique street circuit triple crown at Pau on his way to the 1996 International Formula 3000 title, Muller tested for Bettenhausen at Sebring in a shootout that also featured future Le Mans legends Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish - both also established at F3000 level - as well as a little-known Canadian, Patrick Carpentier.

PLUS: The Monaco win that started another triple crown 

To the surprise of many, it was the latter-named Toyota Atlantic champion who got the drive while Muller, unhappy with the feel of the brakes but not permitted to make set-up changes, ended up in the wall.

Carpentier beat established international stars to Bettenhausen Indycar seat for 1997

Carpentier beat established international stars to Bettenhausen Indycar seat for 1997

Photo by: Motorsport Images

But he says this test had no bearing on his decision not to take a drive with an unnamed team for 1998 - after spending 1997 as an Arrows Formula 1 tester - having been distinctly unimpressed when he turned up for a test at the Homestead oval.

“They put me some soft foam on the side of my seat and said, ‘Can you drive like that?’” says Muller, still a regular in NLS races on the Nordschleife, who is entered in two cars for Walkenhorst Motorsport in this weekend's Nurburgring 24 Hours.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going 400km/h on an oval every little bit is so important that you don’t risk your life with some soft foam on the side’, I was sitting like a brick in that car! So I called [manager] Dr [Helmut] Marko and said, ‘I’m coming home, I’m not doing that.’”

Instead he joined Porsche for 1998, finishing second at that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. Having previously driven super tourers for BMW in 1995 and 1996, Muller returned to the Munich brand for 1999 – winning at Sebring alongside Kristensen and JJ Lehto, and only missed out at Le Mans when a freak mechanical failure caused Lehto to crash while comfortably in the lead.

“I never wanted to fill a field, I wanted to win races and fight with other competitors, but it has to be somehow professional and my experiences there were not that good” Jorg Muller

Muller also turned down an offer to join Bettenhausen for 2001 – that year, compatriot Marcel Tiemann was also slated to join the grid with Zakspeed, for the 1996 Monaco F3 Grand Prix winner's deal to fall flat before the season started – and won the ALMS GT title for BMW instead.

Returning to Europe in 2002, he became a stalwart of BMW's Super 2000 touring car programme – finishing runner-up in the 2002 European Touring Car Championship and the 2006 World Touring Car Championship – and subsequently in the marque’s GT programmes, including as the lead development driver for its outgoing M6 GT3.

Muller maintains he has no regrets that he didn’t try racing Indycars for himself.

“I drove in America for a few years in the American Le Mans Series and I really liked the country, but the chances I got [in Indycar] were not professional enough for me to go there,” he says.

Jorg Muller won 2001 American Le Mans Series crown with M3 GTR

Jorg Muller won 2001 American Le Mans Series crown with M3 GTR

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“I never wanted to fill a field, I wanted to win races and fight with other competitors, but it has to be somehow professional and my experiences there were not that good.”

It’s not the only ‘what if’ in Muller’s career either. He chose a testing berth at Arrows ahead of McLaren for 1997, correctly surmising that it was unlikely to lead to a race seat with a team that had Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard on long-term deals.

“It was written in the contract with Arrows that I’m going to get a drive in the year after,” says Muller, “but there you can see how much worth a contract in Formula 1 is…”

But had he joined McLaren, might he have found his way into a Mercedes CLK GT-R that won the FIA GT series in 1997 and 1998, instead of the Porsche that was often left trailing in its wake? Might it have led to a long-term career with the Silver Arrows, instead of rejoining BMW?

“It’s too many ifs,” says Muller. “If you can tell me the numbers of lotto for tomorrow, I would play lotto today!

“I had a good time with Arrows, I was a team-mate of Damon Hill and I did a lot of testing with Bridgestone. I was there when Damon nearly won the race in Hungary with the Arrows with the tyres I tested, so that’s a lot of good stuff I think.

“There are no regrets at all. I enjoyed every time I sat in a race car. I never drove a Formula 1 race, but I’ve had a fantastic career.”

Jorg Muller, WTCC Imola 2008

Jorg Muller, WTCC Imola 2008

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments
O’Ward not "fast enough” to win Indy 500
Previous article

O’Ward not "fast enough” to win Indy 500

Next article

Daly: Indy 500 lead stint "proved we belong up there"

Daly: Indy 500 lead stint "proved we belong up there"
How Ericsson achieved Indy immortality as Ganassi's main man stumbled Plus

How Ericsson achieved Indy immortality as Ganassi's main man stumbled

Chip Ganassi Racing team was strong again in the Indianapolis 500, with poleman Scott Dixon and reigning champion Alex Palou leading almost three quarters of the race between them. But when dominator Dixon was penalised for pitlane speeding, ex-Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson stepped up to score the biggest win of his career and seize the IndyCar points lead

IndyCar
May 30, 2022
Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021 Plus

Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021

In an enthralling 2021 IndyCar campaign, the series bounced back from its COVID-19 truncated year prior and Alex Palou defeated both the established order and his fellow young guns to clinch a maiden title. It capped a remarkable season with plenty of standout performers

IndyCar
Nov 21, 2021
How F1's other IndyCar exile finally unlocked his potential Plus

How F1's other IndyCar exile finally unlocked his potential

Romain Grosjean's swashbuckling rookie year in IndyCar captured the imagination of many in 2021. But another ex-Formula 1 driver whose potential was masked by five years of toil in, at best, middling machinery also enjoyed a breakout year in 2021 - winning twice and finishing sixth in points. Here's how Marcus Ericsson finally delivered on his promise

IndyCar
Nov 16, 2021
How Ganassi's relentless new champion outfoxed IndyCar's best Plus

How Ganassi's relentless new champion outfoxed IndyCar's best

IndyCar sophomore Alex Palou stunned by overcoming team-mate Scott Dixon and the rest of a white-hot field in 2021. He was consistently fast and crucially showed a level head, rebounding well from setbacks to put himself in a near unassailable position entering the final round

IndyCar
Nov 4, 2021
Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up? Plus

Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

Despite appearing to have an IndyCar job for life with Meyer Shank Racing, Jack Harvey’s departure and move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sparked plenty of debate. However, Harvey's and RLL's combined strengths could prove to be a winning combination - if they get the balance right

IndyCar
Oct 17, 2021
Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing IndyCar win Plus

Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing IndyCar win

Saturday 16 October marks the 10th anniversary of Dan Wheldon’s death. David Malsher-Lopez pays tribute, then asks Wheldon’s race engineer from 2011, Todd Malloy, to recall that magical second victory at the Indianapolis 500

IndyCar
Oct 16, 2021
Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting Plus

Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting

Kyle Kirkwood, the record-setting junior formula driver, sealed the Indy Lights championship last weekend. But despite an absurdly strong junior career and scholarship money, his next move is far from clear

IndyCar
Oct 6, 2021
Why IndyCar title glory is just the start for Ganassi's new star Plus

Why IndyCar title glory is just the start for Ganassi's new star

Newly-crowned IndyCar champion Alex Palou has been lauded as a complete driver and veteran-like in only his second season. The 24-year-old is still in the early days of his career, but the parallels are there for all to see with his six-time champion Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate who has been CGR's team leader since 2014

IndyCar
Sep 28, 2021