A record-breaking season in one-make Porsche racing convinced BMW that Philipp Eng was the real deal. Racing.GT met up with him at Paul Ricard to find out for ourselves.
It’s often joked that the only championship that is harder to win than the Porsche Supercup is the Carrera Cup Germany, with only three drivers ever managing to hold both titles at the same time. Frank Stippler was the first to do so in 2003, before the feat was repeated by his Audi Sport colleague Rene Rast in 2012. Last year Philipp Eng joined their exclusive club and became the first man since Roland Asch in the ‘80s to win the Carrera Cup Germany back-to-back. BMW liked what they saw, and promptly snapped him up, ten years after Eng had made his car racing debut in Formula BMW.
Still only 26, Eng has packed an awful lot of racing onto his resume. After beating fellow BMW factory racers Marco Wittmann and Jens Klingmann to win the 2007 BMW World Final at Valencia, the Austrian spent two years in Jonathan Palmer’s FIA Formula Two championship and won on a black day at Brands Hatch in 2009, marred by the tragic death of Henry Surtees.
2011 marked the switch to GT racing in the ADAC GT Masters, but it was in one-make Porsche racing where his career really began to take off. When Porsche swapped the 997 for the 991 in 2013, Eng became a regular podium finisher in Carrera Cup Germany, and pipped Michael Ammermüller to the title the following year with Project 1. Yet more was still to come.
Eng scored points in every round of the Supercup on his way to the title in 2015 – winning twice and finishing second on three other occasions – while a 96-point margin over his nearest rival in Carrera Cup Germany (“it was almost 100, I think I missed it by two or three”) was a display of dominance rarely seen in cut-and-thrust Porsche racing. So what’s his secret?
“I think in my 997 years I did two years of that and my package wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t good enough either,” he admits. “But then when we switched to the 991, we had a very good package, I had a very good team with Project 1, I would say the best in the one-make cups, and I worked a lot on my driving. I put a lot of effort in, especially on the simulator, and took every race and test very seriously.
“As you always say, hard work pays off and I think that’s exactly what happened – I just found a style of working where I’m always trying to improve. And because I was not only racing for the team, I was also coaching my team-mates, this helped me to get a different perspective, seeing lots of data, lots of good things but also lots of not so good things! Everything helped me improve my driving.”
That inner steel manifested itself on many occasions during his title challenge, but Eng reserves particular pleasure for his first weekend of VLN in 2013, the 6 Hour ADAC Ruhr-Pokal-Rennen, driving a GetSpeed Performance Porsche in the CUP2 class.
“I only knew the circuit from track days with street cars, but I decided to make a bet with my team manager,” Eng recalls. “I was feeling confident after free practice, I was P10, about seven or eight seconds off in the dry and I said ‘okay, I’m crazy enough for this, maybe we can have a shot for top three’. When it eventually rained, I was really, really scared, but then to end up on pole was amazing. I never believed this could happen because the Nordschleife is the most difficult circuit in the world, especially when it’s wet, and especially in a Porsche with no traction control and no ABS! Being on pole there was really cool.”
2016 is set to be a busy year for Eng, with a full Blancpain GT season alongside Alexander Sims (and Stef Dusseldorp for the Endurance rounds) at ROWE Racing, plus the Nürburgring 24 Hours with the new BMW M6 GT3. There’s a satisfying circularity to his career, and much like his mentor Jörg Müller, who remains at BMW for an 18th season, Eng hopes to remain with the Bavarian marque for the foreseeable future and beyond.
“Jörg was my instructor ten years ago when I did the Formula BMW shootout and eventually won one of the scholarship places. I almost learned to walk at BMW, so I’m really happy to be back – it feels like coming home, like walking into your first school again,” he says. “This is my first ever factory contract, so I’m very thankful to BMW for giving me this opportunity.
“My goal is to have a successful, healthy and long-term career in motor racing because that’s what I do best. This is just the start of something special; the M6 doesn’t only look mega, it’s really fun to drive, so I can’t wait to take it to Misano and hopefully be successful with BMW again.”