Gumpert recently unveiled the world's first fuel cell/EV hybrid marking a new start for the once bankrupt company. What some people might not know however is that it is not the first ever Gumpert hybrid. That title belongs to the HHF Gumpert Apollo.
Despite being marketed as "a race car for the road", the Apollo has almost no motorsport credentials whatsoever. The first venture into the world of motorsport by Gumpert came entirely unexpected. RS-racing, a team that competed in the 2005 Belcar series in Belgium, was without a car. Their biturbo Porsche 911 saw a fiery end after a crash in Spa Francorchamps.
They got in touch with Gumpert and a test session was organized at the Zolder circuit in June 2005. The marketing potential for the relatively unknown Apollo was immense and probably persuaded Roland Gumpert even more despite the Apollo being in a very early stage of development. It would be a trial by fire...literally.
RS Racing driver Ruben Maes had to abandon the Apollo by the side of the track as an oil leak caused a fire. To make matters worse he had parked it next to an empty marshal post as test days don't require as many marshals compared to a full race event.
The eventual race debut of the Gumpert Apollo was at Hockenheim a couple of weeks later where it finished third in the Divinol-Cup with Ruben Maes behind the wheel. It would take another 3 years for the Apollo to Appear at another racing event. This time however it wouldn't be at some small scale sprint race but the biggest race of them all: the Nurburgring 24 Hours.
Kickstarter of the project was former F1 driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Frentzen was extremely interested in the potential of a hybrid race car. The added range and fuel efficiency were perfect traits for an endurance race. Renowned race engineer Norbert Kreyer was brought in to help develop a brand new experimental hybrid system.
After a long time preparing, work finally started on converting the 520 horsepower supercar into a hybrid just 4 months before the start of the 2008 Nurburgring 24 Hours. The Audi V8 would be left mostly untouched as most changes were made at the front of the car where an electric motor was installed. A Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) would charge a pallet sized battery mounted on the bottom of the car which would then send power to an electric motor powering the front axle.
This was good for a 136 horsepower boost and made the Apollo exceptionally well at accelerating out of slow turns thanks to the combined four wheel drive of the V8 powered rear axle and the electric motor powered front axle. The driver could also manually operate the electric motor with a small lever mounted at the steering wheel for a full electric lap of the 26 kilometer long circuit. The only drawback of this system was the added weight. The entire car ended up weighing 1350 kilogram, 50 more than the minimum allowed weight.
When the car showed up at the track it almost immediately received a nickname, The white livery combined with the starting number and space age technology was more than enough to dub it "Apollo 11"
The comparison between the real Apollo 11 mission was turning out to be a bit too similar as on the first lap the car already ran into trouble. First gear was gone resulting in a long time spent in the pits. At 2 AM in the middle of the night the car broke down again at the other side of the track with another gearbox failure. Thanks to the independent electric motor the car still managed to drive to the pits at a speed of around 100 km/h
Having already used the spare gearbox in the first repair the team was now looking at a possible retirement. Spare parts would arrive in the morning but they still needed a new gearbox. As luck would have it the team remembered that they brought a road legal Gumpert Apollo as a promotional tool. They had found their donor car and it was parked right outside their garage.
Transplanting the road car gearbox into the race car took quite a while as more parts arrived in the morning. Just a couple of hours before the end of the race the car was finally mended and headed back out. It would go on the cross the finish line having completed just 53 laps.
While it may not have battled for the lead the car still proved a point. The team was overall quite happy with simply finishing the race as that was it's main goal. The entire Hybrid system didn't fail once and even saved the day as it brought the car back home to the pits and across the finish line.