Most fans’ attention is quickly drawn to a few eye-catching names – there is a TV presenter and a World Cup-winning footballer – but for the most part these are people with jobs. They hold a wide variety of roles, but all have major responsibilities away from racing.
So, on the Friday before a Blancpain GT Series event, they will be in the office, leaving at the last possible moment to arrive at the circuit and sign on with the other drivers. On a Monday morning they’re back at their desk, maybe still faintly smelling of podium champagne.
They are not headline-makers, but their passion for the sport more than matches that found among the Pro contenders.
Among their number is Henry Walkenhorst, the owner and driver of Am Cup squad Walkenhorst Motorsport. This year the German team are fielding their #36 BMW M6 GT3 in the Endurance Cup, with the boss on driving duties throughout the campaign.
Though there is a business side to his involvement, this is also a passion project for Walkenhorst. Blancpain GT Series commitments stretch to just five weekends a year, plus a limited amount of testing. While he competes elsewhere as well, Henry’s chief responsibility is with the car dealership that bears his family’s name.
The business is headquartered in Melle, a city in the German state of Lower Saxony, and was first established in 1959 by Henry’s grandfather, Friedrich. He was followed by Henry’s father, the late Harro F. Walkenhorst, while Henry himself has been part of the management for some 30 years.
His active involvement in motor racing came rather later, however. Like many drivers competing in the Am Cup class, it was not until he had established himself professionally that Henry could begin competing at such a high level.
“I’m a car dealer,” he explains. “We have 10 outlets and from Monday to Friday I am in the office selling cars. I have to work like anyone else!
“The motorsport side is its own company with 10 or 12 people working there. They do their job and, while it’s my company, it’s not my responsibility to prepare the cars or get them [to the circuit].
“I’ve always been a great fan of motorsport,” he continues. “I was born with cars, because for 65 years my family have been car dealers. So I have had a lot of contact with them, and then my father competed in rallying. In my younger years, I had a lot of chances to see racing, both on TV and in person.”
Nevertheless, it was just a decade ago that he began competing seriously, moving up the sports car ranks before arriving in the Blancpain GT Series last season.
“I’ve been directly involved with motorsport for 10 years now, so since 2008,” he says. “I began in Renault Clio Cup, then moved on to BMWs. After that it was an M3 GT4 and then a Z4 GT3, which was my first GT3 car. For the past two years I have been racing a BMW M6 GT3.”
The Walkenhorst Motorsport squad first arrived in the Blancpain GT Series in 2017 with a two-car Endurance Cup effort. Their #35 M6 was entered in the Pro class, switching to Pro-Am for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, while Henry’s #36 machine ran in the Am Cup.
The #36 would enjoy an impressive first year in the series. The car only actually started three races, but it finished all of them on the podium. This included third at Silverstone, runner-up at Paul Ricard and, most memorably of all, a third-place Am Cup finish at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
This year they are fielding the #36 BMW M6 GT3 throughout the Endurance campaign. Alongside Pro squad Rowe Racing, the Walkenhorst team is one of two outfits representing the BMW brand in the Endurance Cup.
This is no accident. Henry’s dealerships are particularly well known for selling BMW models. While they also market Renault, Nissan and others, it is the Bavarian marque with which they are most closely associated.
“In our dealerships we sell a lot of sportscars – the BMW M Series, Renault RS – and a lot of people see what we are doing [in motorsport],” says Walkenhorst.
The logic works. If a company is associated with racing sports cars at the weekend, they are likely to have a better understanding of high-performance vehicles. If they race the very same machines that they sell, the connection is strengthened even further.
“Racing with the BMW means we’re linked to the brand, which is important, and it is a wonderful car. It’s not always so easy to drive, but it’s very good!” adds Henry.
It is well established that participation in motorsport and sales by dealers are linked. There is even a saying for it: win on Sunday, sell on Monday.
Walkenhorst seems happy to keep it that way, too, sounding upbeat about his team’s on-going involvement with motorsport.
“The Blancpain GT Series is very good for us,” he concludes. “Firstly, you can race as an Am with the respect of your competitors. It also gives us a good platform to show off the cars and to put on events for our clients. And finally, it is a very professional series that races at excellent circuits.”
From Monza to Silverstone and of course Spa, the desire to race at iconic venues is part of the passion that inspires Am Cup competitors to compete. They may feel the effects on a Monday morning, but it is all worth it.