Marc Surer is a former racing driver from Switzerland who recorded 82 starts in Formula One between 1979 and 1986. He was driving for five different F1 teams (Ensign, ATS, Theodore, Arrows and Brabham), not scoring wins or podiums.
Besides racing in Formula 1, Surer's greatest achievement was the Formula 2 Championship title in 1979. He also gained some success in the sports car racing and touring car racing, winning one race in the 1985 FIA World Endurance Championship and winning the 1985 Spa 24 Hours.
Surer was a co-driver of Manfred Winkelhock in the FIA WEC race at Mosport, in August 1985, when Winkelhock lost his life in a crash with Kremer Racing's Porsche 962C. Death struck again in May 1986, when Surer survived a horrific accident at ADAC Rallye Hessen, where he was driving a Ford RS200, but his navigator Michel Wyder was killed. After that fatal accident, Surer ended his racing career.
Relatively late start of a career
Born in Füllinsdorf, Switzerland, Marc Surer started a racing career relatively late, at the age 21, driving go-karts. Then, in 1974, he moved to Germany because car racing was still forbidden in Switzerland. His first competition was the Formula Vee, in which he finished second. In 1975, he competed in Formula Vee and Formula 3.
In 1976, Surer was second in the German Formula 3, driving for KWS Motorsport. With the same team, he participated in few races of the European Formula 3, where he was noticed by Jochen Neerpasch, who invited Surer to BMW Junior Team.
Surer became BMW Junior in 1977
Together with two other BMW Juniors Eddie Cheever and Manfred Winkelhock, Surer participated in the 1977 German Racing Championship (DRM – Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft). He was driving BMW 320, scoring one victory and finishing fifth in the points.
In 1977, Surer also participated in the European Formula 2 Championship, driving BMW-powered March cars. He finished 13th in the final standings.
Formula 2 runner-up in 1978 and then champion in 1979
In 1978 Formula 2 season, Surer continued to drive March-BMW, scoring nine podiums in twelve races to finish second in the points, behind March Racing teammate Bruno Giacomelli.
Next year, March-BMW was the championship winning car again. This time, Surer captured F2 title with two wins and six podiums, beating Brian Henton by two points.
24h Le Mans debut with Sauber-BMW
While he was one of the front-runners in Formula 2, Surer also contested in a various sports car and touring car races. In June 1978, he debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, driving a Sauber C5-BMW together with Eugen Strahl and Harry Blumer. They were 18th after 24 hours and 257 laps of racing.
In 1979, Surer races in the Procar series with BMW M1, fighting against F1 drivers. He finished 11th in the points.
Formula One debut at Monza, first start at Watkins Glen
At the end of the 1979 Formula One season, Surer made his first F1 appearance. In September, Team Ensign invited him to replace Patrick Gaillard in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Driving the #22 Ensign N179-Cosworth, Surer failed to qualify. One more DNQ followed three weeks later at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Surer finally started his first Formula One race on October 7 at Watkins Glen. He qualified 21st for the US Grand Prix but retired after 32 laps with a broken engine.
Broken leg put him out of racing
For the 1980 Formula 1 season, Surer was signed to drive the #9 ATS-Cosworth for the German Team ATS. He retired in Argentina and finished 7th in Brazil. Then, in the qualifying for the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, he crashed heavily and broke his leg.
He missed three races, returning to the after almost four months. Until the end of the season, he manages to finish four races, with 8th place at the US Grand Prix as his best result.
Daytona debut and World Championship season with BMW M1
Surer spent the whole season with BMW in the World Championship for Drivers and Makes, not scoring wins or podiums. A part of the championship was also the Le Mans 24-hour race, in which Surer and his team retired after 207 laps.
Fourth place and fastest lap at 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix
In 1981 Formula 1 season, Surer rejoined Ensign Racing to drive the #14 Ensign N180B-Cosworth. He finished fourth at the Brazilian Grand Prix, also setting the fastest lap of the race, what remained his career-best F1 result.
After six rounds, he split with the team, skipped one race and then joined Theodore Racing. He was driving the #33 Theodore TY01-Cosworth in eight races, finishing best in the 8th place at Dutch Grand Prix.
Third Le Mans attempt with Ford C100
Surer entered 1982 without a seat in Formula 1, so he joined Ford in Monza's round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, where he was driving the #1 Ford C100. His co-drivers were Manfred Winkelhock and Klaus Ludwig. They didn't finish the race.
Later in the season, Surer and Ludwig participated together in two more races, at 24h Le Mans and 1000 km of Spa. They retired in both races.
Three F1 seasons with Arrows Racing
In the fifth round of the 1982 Formula 1 season, Surer joined Team Arrows. It was a beginning of long-standings partnership as he stayed with the team for three seasons. In 1982, he scored points two times (Canada, Germany) to finish 21st in the final standings.
In 1983, he was among point-scorers three times (Brazil, US West, San Marino), finishing 15th in the final classification. In his last season with Arrows, he scored one single point with a sixth-place finish at the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix.
Surer tried all - rally, touring cars, sports cars...
During his F1 years with Arrows, Surer occasionally participated in some other racing disciplines. In 1983, Surer entered several rally events with Group B Renault 5 Turbo. In 1984, he even scored few podiums with that rally car.
In 1984, he was also driving Würth Racing's BMW 635 CSi in the European Touring Car Championship. In the same year, he partnered Manfred Winkelhock in some FIA WEC races, driving a Porsche 956 for Kremer Racing.
Surer-Winkelhock partnership ended with fatal accident
Surer and Winkelhock continued to race together in the 1985 FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring their first victory at 1000 km of Monza in April 1985, where they were driving the #10 Porsche 962C for Kremer Racing.
Unfortunately, a tragedy ended that successful partnership. On August 11, Winkelhock lost his life in a crash at Mosport.
Formula One season with Brabham
After three seasons with Arrows, Surer had no team at the beginning of the 1985 Formula 1 season. BMW connection secured him a spot in Brabham's Motor Racing Development from the fifth round in Canada. He was driving the #8 Brabham BT54-BMW, next to Nelson Piquet in the #7 car.
After sixth-place finishes at Silverstone and Österreichring, Surer repeated his best result (4th place) in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. With five points on his account, he was 13th in the final standings, what was his career-best finish.
Victory at 1985 Spa 24 Hours
They started the race fourth on the grid but after 24 hours of racing, they crossed the finish line as the winners, four laps ahead of BMW Belgium's sister car #3.
Career stopped by fatal rally accident
For the 1986 Formula One season, Surer returned to Arrows, which was running BMW-powered cars. Surer started five times in the #17 car, finishing in the ninth place in San Marino, Monaco and Belgium. His last Grand Prix race was at Spa on May 25.
A few days later, while driving a Ford RS200 at ADAC Rallye Hessen, Surer survived a horrific accident when his car hit the tree. He suffered multiple fractures and burns but he survived because he was thrown out of a car. His navigator Michel Wyder burn out to death inside a car. Surer remained comatose for three weeks.
Working for BMW and racing as a guest
After recovering from injuries, Surer never returned to professional racing again. He was retained by BMW and served for the Bavarian company in several jobs, as driver, coach or motorsport director. He led BMW Motorsport to German Supertouring Championship titles with Johnny Cecotto and Joachim Winkelhock. In the mid-1990s, Surer started to work as a TV commentator of Formula 1 races.
Surer returned to a cockpit of race cars few times as a guest driver in some single-make competitions, such were Porsche Supercup or Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup.
Photos: Marc Surer,