We sit down with ‘Germany’s fastest twins’ to discuss working and racing with your brother, the importance of Porsche, how difficult it has been running their father’s team, and, crucially, which one of them is faster.
Before you ask, as the Renauer twins, born mere moments apart on 15 March 1985 take their seats for this interview, no, we can’t tell which one’s Robert and which one’s Alfred either. There’s no distinguishing birthmarks, no rogue tattoos, or any subtle change in hairstyle to tell them apart at a glance. They’ve both arrived dressed in civvies too, so throwing a furtive peek at the names on their race suits is also out of the question.
So, what now? We don’t want to be rude by pressing one brother on the racing career of the other, after all. We could stall? Maybe flip a coin? Or just play the 50:50 odds and take a blind shot in the dark. After all, this can hardly be the first time Herberth Motorsport’s benevolent team principals have been in this situation, given that they have worked and raced together for the better part of two decades, right, ….Robert?
“For me, it’s easier working with my brother because we share everything,” Robert begins (phew!). “We help each other, and I think it’s a big advantage to have [Alfred]. The organisation is always excellent because he takes care of logistics for the team at the circuit, the travel, hotel bookings, etc, and that means I can concentrate on the racing side of things.”
“It’s a little different, but it’s good to have the same vision,” Alfred continues. “We speak a lot during the weekends, so if one of us has a problem, the first guy involved is the brother! In the car we are very similar to each other too because we have a similar driving position and the same driving style. If you pair one driver for instance who prefers more understeer than the other, it can take a while to find a good compromise. We’ve never really had that problem, and that saves us a lot of time during setup.”
An ideal base on which to begin a motorsport career then, one would assume. Incredibly however, when Alfred and Robert made their GT racing debuts in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland in 2003, they had zero car-racing experience having just stepped straight out of go-karts. As far as learning curves go, theirs was positively vertical.
“We only did about three or four years of karting,” explains Alfr…sorry, Robert, “which really isn’t that long.”
“Our father was always very busy with the team,” Alfred jumps in, “so he missed the chance to take us karting when we were younger. That meant we started really late, about 15 years old, around the same age most guys start racing Formula cars. In the end it was the right direction to drive GT cars instead.”
““We speak a lot during the weekends, so if one of us has a problem, the first guy involved is the brother!”
If this wasn’t pressuring enough, the twins entered one of the toughest and most closely fought single-make series on the planet as the only drivers signed to Herberth Motorsport, the Jedenhofen-based outfit established by their father, Alfred Herberth, back in 1996. The pressures of perceived nepotism not withstanding, this was a team with multiple PCC podiums already to its name, and an outfit that had already come within an ace of winning the 2000 title. On top of that, the depth of competition in 2003 was ridiculous, and included the likes of Mike Rockenfeller, Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard, and erstwhile champion Frank Stippler to name but a scant few. With no experienced teammate to fall back on, 2003 would prove a tough baptism for the Renauer twins.
“It’s always hard to go from karting into another series. Normally you spend a few years in the VW Polo Cup or racing Clios, so for us, the step into the Carrera Cup was really, REALLY high. For sure, there was pressure, but I don’t think driving for our father’s team added anything more to that. He wanted to keep racing and family distant, so he wanted success for us but he also wanted no stress for us at the same time. That worked really well.”
No question though, despite their relative lack of grassroots development, both brothers showed demonstrable pace in those early campaigns. Across sporadic Porsche Supercup outings in 2004, 19-year-old Robert collected a pair of 9th places on his first trip to Indianapolis, Alfred nailing his colours firmly to the mast the following season with a decisive victory at Road Atlanta in the first ever IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge race. A mix of university studies (his calling was automotive engineering) and a burgeoning team management role meant this would stand as Alfred’s sole high profile GT win until the 2015 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, but a point had been proven.
By 2007, Robert in particular was making his GT presence felt. Alongside his Carrera Cup commitments, the young Bavarian would make the first of four race starts, hitherto, at the famed Rolex 24 at Daytona aboard a VIVI Racing-entered Fabcar FDSC alongside former Minardi wallet Gastón Mazzacane and Uwe Alzen. Fittingly, that same year, ‘99 Le Mans class winner Alzen would secure Herberth Motorsport its first Carrera Cup driver’s title against the mighty Richard Westbrook no less, despite not winning a single race all year.
“I learned a lot from Uwe Alzen,” Robert explains. “He was really quick on-track and was great to work with, so this was a big help for me.”
“If driving for their father’s team wasn’t pressuring enough, the twins entered one of the toughest and most closely fought single-make series on the planet.”
The quickest Herberth Motorsport teammate to-date?
“They’ve all been quick!” Alfred insists. “In the first year, we had Jeroen Bleekemolen at Zandvoort, then Nicki Thiim at Hockenheim, and Brendon Hartley in Dubai. We learnt so much from all them. Particularly data-recording. After karting, we were learning everything [on the fly] at each circuit, so having experienced teammates that have done the factory support programs, and having a great team of engineers behind us meant ‘learning by doing’ was easier for us than it could have been. But it was still really tough.”
Sadly, mechanical gremlins meant Robert’s ‘07 Daytona debut would end in retirement. Things would improve though with a 10th-placed finish in the GTC category at the speedway in 2013, Robert improving further to 6th in-class three years later in a Scuderia Corsa-entered Ferrari 458 GT3.
Yep, you read that correctly. It should not have escaped your notice that the Renauer twins’ loyalty to Stuttgart’s legendary sports car is beyond remarkable. There have been sporadic dalliances with ‘the opposition’, of course, including four ADAC GT Master’s race in a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 520 GT3 in 2009, a couple of prancing horse rides, and Robert even took on the Nürburgring’s daunting 24-hour event in 2012 in a Ford GT3, though the snappily-titled H & R Spezialfedern GmbH & Co entry would fail to make the finish. Aside from that, you can count the brother’s non-Porsche races on two hands, and it’s unlikely that figure will leap much higher any time soon…
Robert turns to Alfred. “You drove the Ferrari [for HB Racing this year at the Red Bull Ring]. That wasn’t bad…”
“No, it was not a bad car,” Alfred agrees, “and some of our customers have tried other brands, but in the end they always came back to Porsche. Why would we change that? It’s always interesting to do races with other brands, but we’ve just become so comfortable with rear-engined cars and I don’t want to change that. Plus we have a very good relationship with Porsche because we’ve been working with these guys for so long. They’ve always supported us, we give them good feedback, and we just know how to deal with each other.”
“You can count the brother’s non-Porsche races on two hands, and it’s unlikely that figure will leap much higher any time soon.”
It’s all the more ironic then that, despite an ever-growing reputation in the Carrera Cup, neither Robert nor Alfred had ventured to the top of the Carrera Cup podium when the decision was made to go the ADAC GT Masters route full-time for 2012. Change was just around the corner, however, in both triumphant and devastating fashion.
On 7 September 2012, after dedicating much of his later life to the GT team that bore his name, the twins’ father, Alfred Herberth, was tragically killed in a road accident in Italy, mere days before the penultimate round of the ADAC GT season. Herberth Motorsport – “the family” – was rattled to its core by the news, and it speaks volumes that both Robert and Alfred Jr. not only had the courage to complete the season but take the team management reigns and lead their father’s beloved outfit on to multiple race wins and championship crowns in the year’s that followed. The old man would doubtless be proud of what his sons have accomplished in his honour.
Though still reeling, 2013 would prove an astonishing year for Herberth Motorsport, now back in the same series (or a variant thereof, at least) in which the first ‘Team Herbert’ liveried Porsche 996 Cup 3.8 had debuted 17 years earlier. After a three-year hiatus, team manager Alfred – “he’s more of an organiser than me” – was back to racing full-time with the Herberth-supported Team GT3 Kasko in 2012 (Robert piloted the ‘sister’ Frogreen CO2 neutral 911), and both brothers would be back together as full-time teammates the following season for the first time in almost a decade. Moreover, in 2013, Robert and Austrian teammate Martin Ragginger would pilot the #8 ‘Tonino’ Herberth Porsche to its first series win at the Lausitzring, and while the twins admit the team “kind of ran out of steam” as the season drew to a close, Robert nevertheless finished just five points adrift of the overall ADAC GT crown. In the context of all that came before it, and with silverware duly collected from a one-off Italian GT Championship outing, 2013 was an astonishing year.
“That was a very difficult time, but honestly, the step [into ADAC] actually wasn’t that big because the competition in Carrera Cup was so high. There were just as many professional teams in the CUP series as there was in GT3. It was just another car, but one that needed more work with setup. That was a great season.”
Poor luck would mar 2014 and 2015, but in 2016, Robert would once again head into the ADAC GT season finale as a title contender. Thanks to a lucrative second season for both brothers in the 24H SERIES too – “three wins really exceeded our goals” – Robert would sign off 2016 with the Porsche Cup, an award that had celebrated the best Porsche privateer in the world since 1970, and had previously been received by luminaries like Bernd Schneider, Nick Tandy and Henri Pescarolo.
“2013 would prove an astonishing year for Herberth Motorsport, now back in the same series in which ‘Team Herbert’ debuted 17 years earlier.”
The formerly named Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 R found yet another gear for 2017, winning four times in seven 24H SERIES outings in devastating fashion, and only brutally timed suspension-cum-chassis damage at the season finale in Portimão felled the team’s chances of winning CREVENTIC’s European Championship last year (they would still be crowned the inaugural Champions of the Continents). As it had been since 1996, success was a team effort for the Herberth family.
“We had a great year in 2017” – Alfred – “You need a lot of luck, for sure, and a good car too, but in the end, it comes down to the team and the people you work with. What’s great about the 24H SERIES is that everything is so familiar. We’ve been racing together for five, six years now, doing every 24-hour race with the same group of people. And that’s very special because we’re all friends: we’ve been racing with Daniel [Allemann] and Ralf [Bohn] for something like 10 years. That’s a big advantage compared with, say, GT Masters, where you always get a new team member or co-driver or new mechanics. In the 24H SERIES, the whole team stays together for many years, so there’s a great atmosphere.”
All of which brings us to this year’s 24H SERIES season finale. Ill-luck in the opening three rounds meant that, incredibly, Herberth had finished no better than 9th before taking its first win of the season in Imola. An outside shot at the European crown at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend is still feasible – “it’s not over yet, but it’s going to be difficult” – but all eyes are now on retaining the Championship of the Continents, now that the ADAC GT Masters has been sewn up by both Robert and ADAC teammate, Mathieu Jaminet. Indeed, paralleling Uwe Alzen’s Carrera Cup crown for Herberth in 2007, consistency rather than outright pace was the secret to this year’s success, with Robert and Mathieu claiming ‘only’ one win all season. It just goes to show that, regardless of circumstance, you can never count out the Herberth Motorsport ‘family’. Rivals heading to COTA may want to take note of that.
That seems as good a place as any to end our conversation with Alfred and Robert Renauer. We can’t though, because there is one question we’ve yet to ask that, quite honestly, we’re dying to hear the answer to…
“Which of you is faster?”
Brief pause amidst amused chuckles before Alfred, sportingly, pipes up…
“I think it’s Robert,” who then interrupts.
“We were asked this question about 15 minutes ago, and I had to remind you that, at the Red Bull Ring, you were quicker than me in qualifying. So maybe I’m not the quicker one…”
Turns out, even with the assistance of telemetry screens, telling Germany’s fastest twins apart is no easier now than it was before.
*Images courtesy of 24H SERIES and Petr Frýba Photographer