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Lauda, Linge, Clausecker and the ONS mobile track marshalling crew

Hans Clausecker was one of the first drivers in the ONS mobile track marshalling crew established by Herbert Linge in 1973. Over the course of 15 years, the old Porsche hand experienced many tragic moments, but was also right in the middle of the motorsport action, and learned a great deal about camaraderie, racing and legendary race tracks.

Nürburgring, 1 August 1976 – a date that Hans Clausecker will probably never forget for the rest of his life. Just like the images that the former Porsche employee still associates with this race day in the Eifel region. They are memories that have been etched into his mind: on the track between Breidscheid and Bergwerk, Niki Lauda lost control of his Formula 1 Ferrari. The car crashed into the rock, then into the barrier.

When Lauda’s race car goes up in flames, Hans Clausecker is sitting in his ONS-R car – a safety car equipped with a halon extinguishing system and with a doctor on board. And he is positioned just before the Breidscheid exit. A frantic call comes through on his radio: “Accident, accident – Hans, come as fast as you can, come as fast as you can!” Luckily, he immediately recognises the voice of his colleague Karl Schmidt, who is sitting on the embankment above the accident location with the radio ONS 25. Clausecker knows where he has to go, and drives off immediately in his 911 Carrera RSR 2.8 – not without danger while the race is still going on. When he arrives, Hans-Joachim Stuck is already waving to the other drivers to stop. Hans Clausecker now has to zig-zag his safety car through the parked Formula 1 cars. Time is of the essence. “When I approached the burning race car, Lauda was still sitting inside, bent over forwards, without his helmet,” says the 80 year-old Clausecker today, almost 45 years after the tragic accident. A tragic image that he will never forget.

The track marshals attempt desperately to get through the sea of flames. The race drivers Arturo Merzario and Brett Lunger finally succeed in pulling Lauda out of the inferno. “It was brutally hot there,” says Clausecker. The drivers were able to withstand the flames due to their fire-retardant race overalls, at least to some extent. “I immediately started to put out the fire on the burning vehicle with our extinguishing system. My race doctor took care of providing medical assistance to Lauda,” reports Clausecker.

The legendary ONS mobile track marshalling crew: in the front and middle Herbert Linge, in the back row on the right Hans Clausecker in front of a VW Variant. In the lower picture on the right, Hans Clausecker (center) and Herbert Linge (right) standing together at the Nürburgring for a briefing.

The premonitions of Herbert Linge

There were only seconds between Lauda’s accident and Clausecker’s arrival. A few minutes later, the ONS man sent the ambulance back the opposite direction through Breidscheid towards Adenau hospital. The fact that the Austrian Lauda survived in the end and became World Champion again just one year after the accident is without doubt also thanks to Herbert Linge – the founder of the ONS mobile track marshalling crew established in 1973 and one of the two R car drivers at the Formula 1 race at the Nürburgring alongside Clausecker on that day in August 1976. “Always when I think back to that day, I say to myself that Herbert Linge must have had clairvoyant capabilities at the time,” explains Clausecker. Because Linge had decided to position a radio marshal with a radio at the position ONS 25. In other words, exactly above the accident location. “Linge positioned Karl Schmidt there on his own. So the poor guy was sitting up there on his own at his position ONS 25 in the forest and was really mad about that. But it paid off.”

When everything was over, Clausecker says that he handed over the helmet and gloves of the three-times World Champion (1975, 1977, 1984) at the Ferrari pit, and you can feel that he is still emotionally affected by the tragic scenes at the Nürburgring in 1976. The former Porsche mechanic now shows us a picture that was taken on the Saturday afternoon after the practice session – in other words before the race. A historic picture with great significance: “Here we are standing together in the pit lane: Lauda, Linge, my race doctor and myself. Lauda asked Herbert Linge about all the things we had done, how many ONS cars were positioned around the track.” Lauda’s criticism: there was not the necessary visibility of all track sections at the Nürburgring, and there were still areas without radio reception on the long Nordschleife. “Perhaps that was the reason why Linge placed an additional radio marshal exactly there,” speculates Clausecker. “Linge always knew what he was doing.” Above all, Linge’s concept of the ONS mobile track marshalling crew had proven itself: track marshals with hand fire extinguishers and S vehicles positioned along the section were responsible for controlling the fire situation, while the fast R cars drove on the first dangerous lap with the race cars and then positioned themselves, engines running, at the start/finish line and halfway round the track. This meant that the R cars could be on the spot at any point on the track in a matter of seconds.

A historical shot shortly before the tragic accident: Niki Lauda discussing the safety measurements at the Nürburgring with Herbert Linge just before the race. Hans Clausecker (right, with his face forward) will be the first emergency vehicle on site a short time later with his ONS 911.

The start of the ONS mobile track marshalling crew

Porsche test driver Hans Clausecker joined the ONS mobile track marshalling crew in May 1973. This safety crew was the great lifetime achievement of Herbert Linge, a legendary Porsche race driver and then head of the test department in Weissach. He had already been disturbed by the safety gaps in motorsport for too long. Too many race drivers died in their burning cars because the track marshals did not arrive in time or were poorly equipped. His vision: a rapid-response fire service that could be at any place on a race track in 30 seconds.

At the start, Linge equipped the emergency vehicles himself, at home in his workshop. The first R car, a Porsche 914-6 GT, also came into being in Linge’s private garage in Weissach. The vehicle had originally been used in the Monte Carlo Rally. Herbert Linge converted the sports car into an ONS car on his own with the approval of Porsche. The companies Recaro and Shell joined in as sponsors and supported Linge’s plan.

The ONS mobile track marshalling crew was then officially founded in April 1973. The crew members at the start included Georg Bellof, father of the racing driver Stefan Bellof who later died in an accident. The R and S cars were stationed on the just-occupied test site in Weissach. “During the week, we employees in Weissach always refuelled the cars, washed them, checked a few minor things or replaced missing parts – usually on Tuesdays,” remembers Clausecker. “We simply did that in our free time after work then.” And the employees from the Weissach test department naturally also wanted to drive in the crew. “We were interested in this, and so we asked Linge whether we could not perhaps drive the S cars.”

At the start, these cars still included the VW Type 311 Estate. “Their engines were naturally hopelessly underpowered, and they were later replaced by more powerful cars,” says Clausecker, recalling the first races. The German car manufacturers then got on board with the ONS concept. “That was a really mixed group: VW, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. There was even an Alfa Romeo and a Datsun; all exotic cars.” Porsche provided the only two sports cars: the legendary 914-6 GT and a race-standard 911 Carrera RSR 2.8. The two Porsche cars were naturally used as R cars because they were the only cars capable of keeping up with the starting field. “We later built a 911 Turbo in Weissach for this purpose, and the 928 cars followed later. They also had much more space for the equipment.”

The early ONS mobile track marshalling cars: the green 911 Turbo, the red Carrera RSR 2.8 which Clausecker was driving during Lauda's accident and the first ONS car, the 914-6 GT that was converted by Herbert Linge and is still driven by Hans Clausecker today.

The first outing

In May 1973, Clausecker had his first ONS outing at the Hockenheimring – in an S car. The next outing followed two weeks later at the Nürburgring. “Our ONS Group South supported the ONS Group West at the Nürburgring.” Clausecker made up the S cars with his Weissach colleagues, and brought along the 914-6 GT as an R car. “I had the task of driving the GT to the Nürburgring. The race driver Michel Weber was down to drive that. So I parked the car, and went over to the S cars, as planned.” But then a radio message from Linge arrived saying that Clausecker should go back to the paddock. “Michel Weber is not coming, Clausecker – you are driving the R car,” announced director of operations Linge. “Do you trust yourself to drive the car?” he also asked. Well, Clausecker had enough Nürburgring experience as a test driver, had driven thousands of kilometres on the Ring as part of endurance testing and knew the track inside out. “Yes, of course I trust myself to do that, Mr. Linge,” answered Clausecker, and did not hesitate to take the opportunity that had been offered to him. “And that meant that I was already in an R car in only my second outing, and from then on I normally always drove the R cars together with Linge,” remembers Clausecker, looking back at the start of a journey of discovery in the world of motorsport that would continue for many years.

In the middle of the field

He can still remember his debut very well. “Of course I was nervous,” says Clausecker. “I knew the race track, but everything else was new.” He had prepared a trick for himself for the starts: “We were really heavy. Our R car had 90 kilos of halon in steel bottles on board to start with, as well as a co-driver, hydraulic cutters, spreaders and a doctor’s case. And when you drive off from zero, that is from a standing start, that places an unbelievable load on the clutch – and you also cannot keep up.” That is why Clausecker always positioned himself well behind the starting field. “You can see the display board from a distance: 30, 20, 10 seconds, and then the lights turn to red. And then I rolled up from the rear.” By the time the lights at the front turned to green, Clausecker was directly behind the field and had got up the necessary speed.

“We had to stay as close as possible behind the field, and reach our position as quickly as possible before the first cars approached from the rear again.” So the motto was to: drive as quickly as you could. “There was no quarter given,” says Clausecker, still in wonder today about the courageous laps he drove in the heavily loaded ONS 914 car. “I often thought when we drove through the bends from Kallenhard downhill towards Breidscheid on the Nürburgring, what if something breaks on the car due to the high payload …?”

On the race weekends, Clausecker and his ONS doctor were at and on the track right from the very first minute. The S cars had to be in their positions already before the practice sessions, and the R cars had the task of checking the track. “We were then already driving very fast, you couldn’t hang around,” he says with a smile on his face. “There was a very tight schedule and you only had a limited amount of time. That was naturally what we enjoyed most – and you had the track to yourself.” Clausecker adds that you simply had to familiarise yourself with the race circuits. “I did not know Le Mans. So I went to Jürgen Barth and said to him: ‘Jürgen, drive a few laps with me.’ After all, you have to know where you are going.”

Death – always on board

Clausecker becomes pensive when talking about the tragic moments of his job. His voice becomes lower, and you can feel and hear it. The otherwise so talkative man from Franconia then has to take a noticeably deep breath. “Unfortunately you were not always there because of damage to the cars. There were also serious cases that we had to attend. And it was important then to have the right doctor on board. My doctor was often Dr. Axel Mann. He loved driving fast, and we could rely on each other completely,” says Clausecker. “When you arrived at the race track for the first practice session on Saturday, you didn’t have to explain anything – and that was reassuring. Dr. Mann always said, if something happens, just stay at my side. And if I need something, then you just give it to me. You had to have strong nerves.” The race still continued in some cases or was at least not yet stopped. “We naturally always parked our cars so that we were protected. But ONS people also died because they were hit by race cars and fatally injured.”

Clausecker often came into contact with death. “In the Fuchsröhre at the Nürburgring, we once had to carry a Formula 3 driver who went down the embankment and into the forest back up onto the track. One driver went under the crash barrier in Saarlouis, and another drove into the wall at the Hockenheimring. There were quite a number of dramatic situations.” But there was also always a risk in the R car as well. At the hill climb at Schauinsland, his ONS doctor was so occupied with his radio that he forgot to announce the driving instructions for the track. “And he suddenly shouted ‘brake, brake!’” Clausecker was going too fast, and the bends followed each other too quickly. “There was an emergency exit before the bend, and I needed it. That would not have gone well.”

He is proud that in all the 15 years in the ONS crew he did not cause a scratch or damage to the cars. “Indeed, in my whole Porsche career, 46 years with countless kilometres, there was not a single accident, not a dent in the car.” A clean record.

After the 914-6 GT, 911 Carrera RSR 2.8 and the 911 Turbo the team in Weissach prepared two 928s. They had much more space for the equipment.

At home on race tracks all over the world

Clausecker started at Porsche in April 1959. In the test department, in the legendary Zuffenhausen “cage”. Here, a few employees normally handled orders for VW, but in between Clausecker and the rest of the team also worked on Porsche developments. The people who joined Linge in the ONS crew were mainly employees from chassis and prototype construction and from this department: Porsche employees who could drive cars – who could drive quickly; those who had done endurance testing as part of their everyday work and who could take the cars to their limits. Or who indulged their passion for racing privately, just like Clausecker, who took part in automobile tournaments and rallies in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria driving an NSU Prinz at the start of the 60s.

At work, Clausecker built the first mules for the new 911, the 914, 924 and 928 and did preliminary testing for the engine and chassis units. In the year when he joined the ONS, he drove the VW commission EA266 in an endurance test at the Nürburgring. This car was known internally at Porsche as 1866 and 1966 and had a horizontal underfloor engine. He built the only two 914 eight-cylinder models for Ferdinand Piëch and Ferry Porsche (see article).

Later he was responsible for tyre testing at Porsche together with colleague Günter Steckkönig. He converted a 928 into a race car together with Steckkönig and drove the “928-TRIGEMA” at the Nürburgring. In the following years, Clausecker passed on his knowledge at driving training sessions and Club events, among other things in the Strähle Motorsport team. With the Porsche Sport Driving School, he then travelled throughout Europe as an instructor for 15 years alongside his testing job.

Clausecker experienced the boom times of motorsport as an R car driver. He drove everything: from small hill climbs in the Northern Black Forest, at Eichstätt or Schauinsland, through motorcycle races and World Championship events at the Nürburgring, in Holland, Austria and France, right up to Formula 1 and the Le Mans series. “My first ONS season was 1973 and the last 1987, in other words 15 full years.” He stopped because his family suffered as a result. He was on the road almost every weekend. There was one period when he was in the R car on 24 weekends in a row. “At the start you want to be everywhere, but at some point you then cut back a little.” After all, working during the week and driving for the ONS crew at the weekend is a double burden. He later reduced his commitments to 15 races a year.

However, his favourite track has remained the Nürburgring with the Nordschleife. “There is no other race circuit that is more beautiful and varied: uphill, downhill, raised corners, hanging corners – a constant challenge.” Yes, Hans Clausecker really waxes lyrical about this circuit. “You can’t look out to the side for a second, because you will be distracted straight away.” A colleague once had an accident at Brünnchen and the car was up against the crash barrier. His excuse: he was only doing 80 on the speedometer. “I then asked my colleague Günter Steckkönig: tell me, did you ever have time to look at the speedometer there?” reports Clausecker. “He replied: ‘Never. I don’t even know how fast I am there.’” In other words, in some corners on the Nürburgring, looking at the speedometer and then back up again is already too much. “The Ring will not forgive you for that.”

The man from Franconia would not want to have missed out on his time in the ONS crew. “You were so close to the racing. We had access to all areas. No matter whether in the paddock or the pit lane, I was allowed to take photos everywhere. Purely out of professional interest I took many pictures of the chassis technology. After all, the vehicles were jacked up in front of the pits and without the body. I also took a lot of pictures of the drivers. They often sat on the pit walls during the lunch breaks. I knew many of the drivers personally: Stuck, Maas, Bellof, Winkelhock, Ludwig and many more.”

But that could also become a burden: if you lost someone on the track who you knew well. Clausecker remembered Markus Höttinger, who had a fatal accident on the Hockenheimring and where Clausecker and his doctor Axel Mann were first to arrive at the scene of the accident. “That really affects you deep down. When you lose someone you have really got along well with and you were not able to do anything to save them.” Clausecker and Mann were also first on the scene when Didier Pironi had a serious accident in Hockenheim. You had to be able to take a lot. “Yes, I could do that.” He did not just have to experience many accidents at first hand, but also had to watch them happen from close up. “Those are things that you never forget.”

What made him do it for so long? “The camaraderie,” replies Clausecker. “The work was exciting and we were all motorsport enthusiasts. We often sat together in the evenings. It was really a completely mixed group from many different backgrounds, but the team spirit was amazing! Fantastic experiences, funny remarks, we could laugh for hours. But above all, we were right at the front. We were right in the middle of the racing action.”

The 914-6 GT from Recaro

The 914-6 GT of the ONS mobile track marshalling crew, which Clausecker drove in his first outing in an R car and for many races afterwards, ended up in the hands of private collectors over the course of the years. It was later owned by the singer Jay Kay of the English band Jamiroquai, and was converted from ONS car to its original version as a Monte Carlo car. The former ONS sponsor Recaro acquired the car in 2014 and converted it back again. “Linge and I drove to the restorers and had our detailed pictures of the car with us so that they could see how it was equipped as an ONS car.”

In 2016 and 2018, Clausecker drove the Recaro ONS 914 in the Rossfeld Hill Climb. In 2019, Clausecker also took part in the Solitude Revival with the vehicle. The highlight of the event: the Herbert Linge Memorial Race. “I then suddenly had an idea: Herbert, do you know what we will do? We will both take part in your Linge Memorial Race with the ONS 914.” We quickly arranged this with the organiser, Porsche and Recaro and off we went. “We first drove behind the field, but they were too slow for my liking. And then I said to Linge: ‘Herbert, let’s drive a bit faster.’ And then we overtook a lot of the other cars, the car drove really well. Herbert Linge had to fight back the tears, because the spectators, track marshals, they all waved and gave us standing ovations.” A tribute to Herbert Linge and his ONS lifetime achievement. And what a picture it was: Herbert Linge, the founder of the ONS mobile track marshalling crew, with his driver of many years – with a combined age of 170 years - in “their” almost 50-year-old 914 GT. “We really gave the car a good outing,” says a delighted Clausecker. “And Linge then said to me at the end: ‘Hey, Clausecker, you still know how to put your foot down.’” 46 years after Linge asked him: Clausecker, do you trust yourself to drive that car? “Yes, of course.”