Aston Martin was the big name at last weekend's Nürburgring 24 Hours race – propelled mostly by one man, CEO Ulrich Bez.
The fine old British marque is celebrating its 100th birthday and Bez is in his last year as its boss. He decided that part of the celebration would be to do what he had always known Aston Martin must do for ultimate success: take on the German marques in their own backyard, where they spend millions, and if not actually beat them, then deal them a painful punch on the nose.
People are sometimes confused into thinking Bez is leading a German takeover of Aston. What he's actually doing is showing this predominantly British-run company how to beat its most potent opposition. After he departs the big job, late this year, this will always be seen as the key contribution of his 13-year reign.
At the Nürburgring, we first encountered Bez outside Aston's palatial hospitality suite, glowing with enthusiasm and about to step into the James Bond 'Skyfall' Aston DB5 for a shakedown drive.
All kinds of Astons were there. Later in the day, Bez would lead a group of three extra-special Astons: the DBR1 that won the 1000km race in '59 (driven again by the winner back then, Sir Stirling Moss), the special, traditional-looking CC100 centenary concept and the company's most expensive car ever, the £1.2m One-77.
Only afterwards, somewhat later, Michael Schumacher did a pretty awesome demo lap in a 2011-spec Mercedes F1 car, the most up-to-date model you're allowed to drive with F1 rules as they are. "Look at this," said Bez joyfully. "We are ahead of every one of the German companies…"
Soon after, a group of around 100 road-going Astons took to the circuit (allegedly limited to 50km/h, but not really) to show what the company has wrought in a century. Just the exhaust notes were enough to show its work has hit the highest standard. Only after this was the race allowed to start, with the Bilstein Aston Vantage GT3 unexpectedly on the front row as a result of a banzai lap by Pedro Lamy – and with a hydrogen-petrol Rapide S (one of its drivers, 69-year-old Uli Bez) farther down the field.
In a gruelling race interrupted by heavy rain, the Bilstein car led before falling back to an eventual 10th place after a brush with the barriers. The hydrogen machine also made it to the end, completing another successful 24-hour event for Aston.