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e4TESTIVAL | Image: emodrom / K. Chaparro

At the beginning of the year, emodrom GmbH met with politics and business at the Hockenheimring to talk about the future of Baden circuit. “Measuring instead of motorsport” has caused a lot of trouble in the motorsport world in recent weeks. This headline made waves all the way to South America and Australia. We spoke to Thomas Reister, Head of emodrom GmbH, about the background of this message and the future of the world-famous racetrack.

Mr. Reister, thank you for taking time and to speak to about the future of Hockenheimring. First: “Measure instead of motorsport” – the news went around the world. What is behind this headline?

Thomas Reister: I think the headline was well meant. However, in the end it was too short and therefore it was mistaken or misinterpreted for many fans. “Mobility Center and Motorsport” is correct. The background is that here in Hockenheim we are emodrom GmbH, together with colleagues from Hockenheimring GmbH, initiating the transformation from a classic race track to a modern mobility center.

The headline was created on the occasion of the visit by the Baden-Württemberg Minister for Economic Affairs (Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, editor’s note), during which they talked about what new models could look like.

They can then look just like our E4 testival, a new innovative trade fair concept that we have been organizing since 2018. Exactly the concept that the IAA is thinking about today, on which we are already exhibiting, what we will build here in the future as part of the transformation. But that doesn’t mean that we neglect the tradition – on the contrary: The DNA of the Hockenheimring – which has been one of the world’s best-known German sports venues alongside the Nürburgring for almost a hundred years – will be retained. The Hockenheimring is one of the most famous international GP racetracks. We want to continue to show big racing events in the future, enable music events and give mass sports access here, but also provide the stage for innovative and modern formats that they need and are looking for. I think this mix ultimately reflects the current market and our society. On the one hand, there is the young generation who enjoys e-sports – whom we would like to settle here, like other race tracks. On the other hand, there are fans of combustion engines and e-mobility. And that’s what this infrastructure stands for. The future will definitely be more complex.

How does the Hockenheimring handle Formula 1’s exit?

Yes, it’s tough. Large Formula 1 races have been taking place here since 1970, which is why the ring has gained worldwide recognition. We – the emodrom group together with the colleagues from Hockenheimring GmbH – will certainly do everything possible to check whether there are options that are mostly financial in nature, to set up budgets and business models in such a way that you can also talk to the rights holders of the major racing series, e.g. to get Formula One back here. The future will tell. It is our turn and we are also very interested in bringing large formats to Germany.

Hockenheimring Südtribüne | Photo: M. Brückner

Electromobility – how do you personally view the changes in mobility and motorsport?

Generally, a new era has begun. There will also be no turning away. The mobility of the future will look much more differentiated. We will have driven with combustion engines, hybrids, batteries, fuel cells, synthetic fuels, etc. We must use the top know-how of manufacturers and suppliers in Germany to be able to continue to represent individual mobility and qualified jobs. Part of it will be e-mobility as we are experiencing it today. However, this will only make sense for very specific profiles. Unlike in the past hundred years. In addition, there will be different mobility concepts that differentiate whether I own a vehicle, rent a car or use sharing, or ultimately switch to the ICE to cover long distances. I think that’s how mobility will develop. And that is exactly the point that we want to present here at the location. For this we offer all players from industry, associations and universities an ideal platform to settle here in this infrastructure. Just like we Porsche as an OEM or the DÖRR-GROUP as a dealer etc. with the brands McLaren, Lamborghini, Lotus, Bugatti, Pagani, Dallara. We want that e.g. also offer for pedelecs and e-bikes or vehicles and mobility concepts of any kind. And anyone who wants to find out more about the mobility of the future can experience exciting things at the Hockenheimring in the future.

How did the idea come?

The idea itself came to me in 2007 when my former client Heinz Harald Frentzen called me and said, “Thomas, I have so far braked so much energy at the start of the curve that I was missing at the end of the curve. But I have an idea: we are making a hybrid vehicle. We recuperate before the curve and then take the energy back to accelerate. Are you interested in listening to this? ”And I’m still talking about 2007, 13 years ago. The topic of e-mobility or hybridization did not yet exist. Said and done! I listened to the whole thing and then said that we don’t make a vehicle for sprinting or short-distance races, but for the mother of long-distance races in Germany: the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.

We then developed a completely own vehicle concept, i.e. with our own technical team. At that time, Heinz-Harald was responsible for sports and technology and I took over management. As a vehicle we bought an Apollo from Gumbert, disassembled the vehicle and, together with industrial partners, our own battery pack from GAIA, our own power electronics and drive modules developed and installed by BRUSA. From this we then created our completely own vehicle concept based on the idea of ​​Heinz-Harald, who was ahead of his time and privately financed most of the budget at the time. In 2008 we started at the 24h.

It is particularly interesting that there were no FIA regulations at that time. That is why we allowed a team sent by the then president to accompany our project in order to get concrete knowledge for a set of rules. Today’s FIA regulations for electric vehicles. is based on security-related issues, among others. on our former HYBRID-RACING project.

And that’s how we came up with the idea of ​​looking at who will be affected by the future change in mobility. My experience in motorsport – at least 25 years, including in Formula 1 and in the Moto-GP – told me that there was potential and, as we see today, it still is. The classic racetracks will no longer be able to survive with racing alone, simply because the technology, but also the behavior of the fans, will change and will continue to change.

Keyword traditional racetracks: the Hockenheimring is one of the most famous racetracks in the world alongside Monza, Spa or Nürburgring. Nevertheless, the Hockenheimring seems to have overslept the step into the future. Why is that?

You have to break a lance for the committed employees of the Hockenheimring, because they fight and burn every day to keep the ring attractive.

You have to know that the Hockenheimring has been an urban society for many years. This also means that more is administered – because there is no other way with this structure – and less managed. In addition, a city or municipality with all its challenges can only argue with difficulty why you should invest in such a sports facility if, on the other hand, you have the problem of infrastructure, schools, social housing, etc. – the problems facing each municipality and City stands – to be reconciled.

How can Hockenheimring be affected?

This has also been the idea here at Hockenheim since 2012 and has been included in the shareholder agreement of emodrom gmbh: together with the owners of the Hockenheimring on the one hand, and we on the other hand as strategists and strategically responsible for the operational measures – the transformation from the classic race track into the future. And that’s why we’re open. If e.g. formula-e should be interested in it, we do not say no. Here, though, is still the clear concept of going into downtown areas. However, changes can also be seen. Right now, there is a racing on a racetrack in Mexico. I already submitted a concept for e-racing to the FIA in 2012, which also included the inner-city implementation. Today, however, I would look at the whole thing anew. After discussions such as speed limit, pollutant reduction in city centers, illegal street races etc. arise, is it still smart to bring the car races to the city centers? When the inhabitants of the cities are trying to get pollutants and fine dust out of the cities and have to fight with driving bans.

 There are certainly good arguments for doing this, but there are now enough reasons to use other infrastructures that can offer everything and are therefore cheaper. So, both as well! I think that we are very well positioned here in the country of birth of Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.

Hockenheimring BWC

Hockenheimring Baden-Württembergcenter | Image: M. Brückner

What do you expect from our policy in relation to the automotive future and motorsport?

For the automotive future, it is important not to argue dogmatically, but simply to see what works in practice and what doesn’t. There is a market for pure e-mobility, because it also shows the greatest statistical value – short trips up to 60 km / day. The problem only comes afterwards: where do I refuel and when do I refuel and how do you get an infrastructure that is fit for the masses? This is where the problems begin when you want to switch everything to electrical at once. 

The Hockenheimring already has this infrastructure in parts, precisely because of the Porsche Experience Center and the Taycan, which is fully electric. We saw here what challenge it is to build the energy rather than the structure. If we want to expand that further, we’re talking about decent seven-figure investments, which means making the energy available, managing and storing it. 

So, we also must talk about energy storage, to buffer and play back at peak times. In the coming weeks we will start a research project for mobile energy storage with universities and municipal utilities, which is funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg. And so the circle closes to the actual headline. There is always seen an “either-or”. Our message, however, is very clear: either, as well as! We will maintain the DNA of the Hockenheimring and fight with all means and work so that we can offer a home to classic motorsport. But we will also investigate the future. Because we will have to live with that tomorrow. Such a ring is not a hobby either.We are talking about over a hundred hectares. They must be maintained and must be renewed again and again. This requires business models that work and are profitable and that make it all possible. In contrast to the urban Hockenheim-Ring GmbH, I work privately with my emodrom-group team. Together with my partner colleagues, we are personally liable for everything we do here. Of course, like every business, this harbors risks, but it also opens up opportunities for the Hockenheimring to play a role in the business of international race tracks and event locations in the future.

Youngtimer Opel Kadett at Hockenheimring | Image: M. Brückner


Another final question: The origin of are the long-distance races. Will there ever be 12h or 24h races at the Hockenheimring?

There are reasons why there are no long-distance races. This simply includes the operating license. That is obligatory – and we all agree here at the Hockenheimring – to consider the needs and expectations of the population and the residents in order to operate such a sports facility.

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