The Lord of the Ring: Frank Stippler

Frank Stippler has more experience than any other Audi Sport driver on the Nürburgring. From 2004 to 2019, the German covered approximately 375,000 kilometres on the legendary German race track. He has twice won the Nürburgring 24 Hours in the Audi R8 LMS. As a test driver, Stippler developed this high-performance sports car from Audi Sport customer racing on the “Green Hell” from the very beginning and also numerous models from the S and RS model series from Audi.

06/17/2020 Reading Time: 5 min

Frank Stippler in an Audi R8 LMS
Frank Stippler

RING DEBUT WITH PAPA

Frank Stippler completed his first laps on the Nürburgring in 1979, when he was four years old. At the time, the “Ring,” as drivers and fans call the famous circuit in the Eifel, consisted solely of the Nordschleife. This layout is 22.8 kilometres long. In 1983, it was shortened to 20.8 kilometres, when the additional new Grand Prix circuit was built. Frank Stippler is a proud co-driver on his ring debut. “My dad bought an Alfa Romeo Bertone in 1975, the year I was born,” says Frank Stippler. “As a development engineer, Papa improved the engine and other things over time. From relatively early on, I joined him during his on-track testing at the Nürburgring.”

The first time that “Stippi” is behind the wheel on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife is after his 18th birthday in 1993. His car: A Fiat Panda, which he has taken over from his mother after getting his driver’s licence. “This car had an 850-cubic engine, an incredible 34 HP, or 25 kW, and a top speed of 120 km/h,” the German remembers exactly. Although the budget of the young car mechanic from Bad Münstereifel near Cologne is tight, he masters the 73 Nordschleife corners in the shortest possible time, as if he would be able do it in his sleep.

Stippler’s learning method: “At that time, I could only afford tourist tickets for a maximum of seven to ten real laps during my regular trips to the ‘Ring.’ Then in the evening, shortly before falling asleep, I continued to go around the Nordschleife, whilst lying in bed with my eyes closed, doing this until I virtually managed the exact same lap times as before on the track. I have mentally recapitulated and saved all of the corners and the braking, shifting and accelerating points a few hundred times.”

As a 15-year-old, Frank Stippler began restoring a classic Alfa Romeo himself and prepared it for historic races. At 18, shortly after his first practical Nürburgring driving lessons, he entered historic motorsport. Soon after, he also started in current touring and sports cars. After training as a car mechanic, the racing talent adds a degree in mechanical engineering. In 2003, “Stippi” was particularly successful professionally and athletically: he achieved his engineering diploma, won the Germany classification of the Porsche Carrera Cup and won his second championship title in the international Porsche Supercup.

Audi R8 LMS on the racetrack
Abt-Audi TT-R on the racetrack

RING WORK AS AUDI FACTORY DRIVER

With three accolades, engineer and double champion, Stippler is appointed as one of the Audi factory drivers in 2004: “In addition to my first racing assignments, I was involved in the further development of the Abt-Audi TT-R, taking the DTM car that was designed for sprint races and adapting it to be an endurance racing car, especially at the Nürburgring. “In particular, the engine, gearbox and drive shafts had to be reinforced appropriately for the increased load. At his first 24-hour Nürburgring race for Audi in 2004, he finished fourth in the optimized Abt-Audi TT-R.

The newly minted engineer and experienced Nürburgring specialist won over his new employer straight away: Frank Stippler is not only able to drive a car extremely fast, but he can also sense and describe every reaction of that car. Audi engineers and customer teams soon said: “If Stippi notes anything on the car, we should take a closer look at it.” The 1.91-metre newcomer is now also increasingly involved with vehicles part of the S and RS model series from Audi and puts the finishing touches to these sporty production models at the Nürburgring, before they are launched on the market. With its demanding layout, the compression in the “Fuchsröhre” section, the impacts in the “carousel” or the jump over “Pflanzgarten” section, for example, the Nordschleife part of the Nürburgring is the maximum lifespan load simulation for any car, the ultimate reliability test.

Frank Stippler at the Audi R8 LMS presentation

This is how Stippler continues to grow in his dual role as a racing and development driver. After two years in the DTM for Audi, he then concentrated on GT racing and found another dream job with the brand with the four rings: “From 2008, I was involved in the development of the new Audi R8 LMS customer racing project.” This spectacular GT racing car with a 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 engine in front of the rear axle also takes decisive development steps in practice with Frank Stippler at the wheel on the Nürburgring.

“It’s a very, very long way until everything works perfectly on a racing car, when the entire package, consisting of the chassis, engine, gearbox and tires, is absolutely flawless and very fast against extremely tight competition,” says Stippler. This concluded particularly successfully for Audi in this case: Since its sales launch in 2009, the Audi R8 LMS has won numerous races and titles worldwide – five victories in the Nürburgring 24 Hours alone. The successful model from Audi Sport customer racing is now available in three different versions, namely GT2, GT3 and GT4, and is therefore an extremely versatile customer racing model.

At night during the 24h Nürburgring
Nürburgring Nordschleife map on an Audi R8 LMS door

KEY RING FINDINGS

Frank Stippler has driven a total of 375,000 kilometres in tests and races for Audi at the Nürburgring – 300,000 kilometres in production models, 75,000 kilometres in racing cars. Nevertheless, he still enjoys every lap of the “Green Hell”: “The fascinating thing about the Nordschleife is that it basically only consists of key points. On its almost 21 kilometres, this track is very fluid to drive in one go. This is unique and is what makes it so special for me.” The fastest sections of the track around the medieval Nürburg castle ruins are his favourite ones. “Corners like ‘Flugplatz’ and ‘Schwedenkreuz,’ which can just be driven at full speed, depending on the downforce of your car,” explains the Lord of the Ring.

Frank Stippler in an Audi RS Q8

The right balance between courage and caution must be found by Frank Stippler in the racing car, as well as in the production models at the Nürburgring. Because: “Even when testing road cars from Audi, we go full speed,” he says. This is the only way, according to Stippler, that the final few weak points of the years of pre-development work of a production vehicle can be identified and ironed out. For each new RS model, there are at least 8,000 kilometres of endurance tests on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. That easily corresponds to a car’s entire lifetime. “It is crucial that I drive on the limit, and yet, also very sensitively. To be able to feel everything that I do not yet consider correct, and to be able to put it on paper in a way that is also understandable for my colleagues from the technical department,” says the development engineer and racing professional.

On board each pre-series model, Frank Stippler’s “Ring” testing always includes a number of highly sensitive measuring devices. But, the driving experience of the test driver remains a very decisive factor. “From all the information gathered, those responsible at Audi are ultimately looking for the best possible final compromise for handling, chassis hardness, differential, transmission and gearshift settings and for all other vehicle aspects. So that our customers always get a car that offers the highest level of safety and reliability, even under the most demanding conditions, and that makes every journey a delightful experience,” explains Stippler.

Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

UNFORGETTABLE “RING” PROJECTS

For Frank Stippler, his most important Nürburgring project as a racing driver is, and remains, the Audi R8 LMS – especially its GT3 variant. From the very beginning, he played a key role in shaping this high-performance sports car, which is now in its second generation. With that, he clinched his most important “Ring” victories so far in the 24-hour races of 2012 and 2019. “I remember the 2012 victory most deeply, because it was the first for Audi in the Nürburgring 24 Hours. We fought for this for a long time, had been close to the biggest trophy several times in the previous years, before it then slipped away from us,” emphasizes Stippler.

 

Frank Stippler in an Audi RS Q8

In the road cars, he is particularly impressed by these successfully completed “Ring” projects: “Firstly, the new Audi RS Q8 with hybrid technology, with which we beat the existing Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for SUV-type vehicles by twelve seconds in the autumn of 2019. On the other hand, the current fourth-generation RS 4, in which we have developed one of the most harmonious, homogeneous vehicles overall. For me personally, the Audi A4 RS Avant is the best production car in the world,” summarizes Stippler.

RS Q8: Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

RS 4 Avant: Fuel consumption, combined*: 9.2 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 211–210 g/km

RS Q8: Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

RS 4 Avant: Fuel consumption, combined*: 9.2 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 211–210 g/km

Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

Fuel consumption, combined*: 12.1 l/100kmCO₂ emissions, combined*: 277–276 g/km

Frank Stippler

“RING” ADVICE

After more than 15 years of intensive Nürburgring experience working for Audi, the “Green Hell” can still surprise even Frank Stippler. “So far, I’ve been lucky, but with the fast-changing rain showers that are typical of the Eifel region, even so much knowledge of the track is of little use to you,” he says, adding: “Within a lap, that being within seven or eight minutes, it is often the case that you cannot see where it might have begun raining for a moment. This is because the rainwater, especially on the Nordschleife with its countless different colours of asphalt surfaces, is often indistinguishable from reflections and shadows.”

For everyone who wants to drive privately on the Nordschleife, he recommends that they should always respect this very special circuit as much as possible.

FRANK
STIPPLER

Frank Stippler
Frank Stippler in an Audi R8 LMS
Dries Vanthoor, Pierre Kaffer, Frédéric Vervisch, Frank Stippler

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