"Arnd Meier, the young German in the only Lola in the field", this was a statement said countless times during the 1998 CART FedEx World Series by broadcaster Bob Varsha. But who was this mysterious man from Germany in his unique yellow Lola, where did he come from, and where has he been since. Today, it's time to answer these questions.
Arnd at his finest, discussing the finer details of his Lola's handling with his crew at the 1997 CART Grand Prix of Detroit
Welcome to the second edition of Career Retrospectives, where we shed the spotlight on the forgotten drivers of the racing world, the more obscure the better. Sit back, relax, and prepare yourselves to learn way more than you need to about drivers you've probably never heard of.
Born in Hanover, Germany on September 11th, 1973, Arnd began his racing career began when he broke into the national karting scene in 1988, eventually coming away with the 1990 German Karting Championship title. This success brought him to Formula BMW, where he placed 3rd in 1991, and then to the German Formula Renault championship, where he would take another title in 1993. Looking to be one of the hottest racing prospects to come out of Germany in a while, young Arnd burst onto the Formula 3 scene in 1994, and that's where things start to go a bit south...
Arnd, in a Formula 3 car showing flashes of his very yellow future, in his 1994 debut German F3 season
As has been the case with so many open-wheel racing drivers successful in karts and lower tier series over the years, Formula 3 proved daunting for Arnd. He would record only a single podium in the 1994 German F3 season, ending the year 11th in points, and fared not much better at the famous Macau GP, finishing in 10th. 1995 was another rough year of poor results and few points, but in 1996, Arnd finally got to grips with Formula 3.
Arnd en route to a 3rd place finish in the 1996 Monaco F3 Grand Prix, carrying sponsorship that would soon be known to CART fans everywhere
Two race wins, a podium finish in the Monaco F3 Grand Prix, and plenty of consistency netted him 2nd in the championship, and with this success and a bit of sponsorship money in his pocket, Arnd crossed the pond to America, where his destiny awaited...
With his Formula 3 success and sponsorship backing from a company only identified as "J.A.G." (no association to the TV series) and the always classy Hawaiian Tropic, Arnd made his way to America and the CART FedEx Championship in 1997, sharing a car at the Project Indy team with series stalwart Dennis Vitolo. Arnd made ten starts that year, primarily on road courses, and to say it was a rough season would be putting in lightly.
Arnd, still right side up at this point in the proceedings, races with Max Papis at Road America in 1997
Highlights of 1997 include nearly taking out race leader Paul Tracy as he was being lapped at Surfers Paradise, a particularly nasty flip over a fence at Road America, and taking out Ganassi fill in driver Arie Luyendyk at Fontana after spinning on his own out of turn four. He managed to qualify no better than 24th in any of his starts, and finished no higher than 12th, this result coming at the US 500 at Michigan, last of the cars running at the finish, 26 laps down. It had been a baptism by fire for Arnd, but he would not be defeated, and he would return...
Despite a weak debut season in America, Arnd wrangled up more sponsorship from Baan, a business software company, and German brewery Hasseroeder, and secured himself a full time CART seat in 1998 with small Texas outfit Davis Racing, driving what was now the only Lola chassis in a series dominated by Reynard. But he was determined, he was ready, and he was just as oblivious to cars lapping him as ever, nothing could stop Arnd.
Arnd's majestic, swift, possibly even iconic yellow Lola in all it's glory
Beginning where he left off in 1997, i.e. slowly, Arnd dove into the fray of the 1998 CART season, one of the best and most competitive in the series' history, with the kind of skill and awareness people had come to expect, illustrated nicely in this video clip, narrated in excitable style by Ben Edwards.
(The video uploader has disabled embedding, so the above link will have to suffice)
Yes, Arnd may not have been in contention to win the Rio 400 that year, but he sure had a say in it's outcome, managing to get in the way of both leading cars in true backmarker fashion. It's arguably the thing Arnd is most remembered for, and certainly the most TV time he ever received during a race, and it unintentionally set up an amazing winning pass by Greg Moore on Alex Zanardi.
Soldiering on into the 1998 season, Arnd's form improved, peaking with a 10th place finish at Road America, and on the lead lap no less! Alas, it was not enough, and with his results showing no real improvement and his sponsor dollars beginning to dry up, Arnd drove his final CART race at Fontana that year, and returned home to Europe.
Returning to his homeland in 1999, Arnd spent a year in the German Supertouring Championship, racing for Audi, with limited success and attempted (and failed) to qualify for the majority of the International F3000 season.
Arnd hard at work in his Audi A4 Supertourer
After this disappointing homecoming year, Arnd's racing career nearly died out, and it was not until 2004 that he would return to the forefront, racing a BMW saloon in the VLN Endurance series. Perhaps rejuvenated by time away from the racing world, Arnd was on top form, and raced his way, along with co-driver Rene Wolff, to the production class championship, beating out, among others, future FIA GT1 World Champion Marc Basseng.
Arnd on his way to one of four race victories he would take on his way to the 2004 VLN Production Class title
Arnd would continue to race on and off in the VLN series over the years, including numerous appearances at the treacherous Nurburgring 24 Hour, including a 2nd in class, 12th place overall finish in the 2008 edition, driving a GT3 BMW for the Doerr Motorsport team.
Still wearing his yellow and green helmet from his open wheel days, Arnd takes his BMW Z4 'round the famous "karussell" corner at the 2008 Nurburgring 24 Hour
Still racing to this day at 41, Arnd has most recently participated in the 2014 Classic Le Mans event, racing both a Ferrari 275 GTB and a 512 BBLM in two stages of the event, sadly finishing poorly in both due to mechanical problems.
You can call him just another driver who failed to make it to Formula One, or just another CART backmarker, but no matter how you look at it, Arnd Meier has had a long and illustrious career racing all manner of cars across the planet. That he recovered from so many disastrous racing endeavors to become an endurance racing champion in his homeland and race at one of the world's premier endurance events is a testament to his diligence to succeed as a racer, no matter what type of vehicle it be in.
That young German who's car colour Bob Varsha so often commented on is more than just a one trick pony, he's a jack of all racing trades, and a master of at least one.
Thank you once again for reading through another journey through the career of one of the many forgotten faces of the racing world. I hope you enjoyed it, and rest assured, there's plenty more to come.
- IndyCARTForever on Youtube