Formula 1 is a world in which people come and go all the time, either because they were not up to the job, did not want to live the lifestyle or, in the some cases, because they wanted to move on to bigger things. Mike Kranefuss was one of those who passed through F1 on his way to bigger and better things.
As a result of this he became involved in Von Wendt’s campaign to build a racing circuit in the Sauerland in the late 1960s. The region was hilly and heavily-forested with few inhabitants and Von Wendt wanted to build a permanent facility to attract people, and to allow those living in the north of Germany to go racing more easily. The project failed in 1968 and Wendt left the sport in disgust while Kranefuss was taken on by Jochen Neerpasch, who has also been involved in the project, to work as his assistant at the new Competition Department of Ford Germany.
In 1972 Neerpasch went off to BMW and Kranefuss inherited the Ford job and embarked on a programme to develop the Capri in association with Zakspeed. The Zakspeed Capris would enjoy huge success with drivers such as Dieter Glemser, Jochen Mass, Klaus Ludwig and Hans Heyer. Glemser, Mass and Heyer all became European Touring Car Champions in the cars in 1971, 1972 and 1974 and Glemser won the 1971 Spa 24 Hours with Alex Soler-Roig and the following year Mass won with Hans Stuck.
The success led to Kranefuss becoming head of competition for the whole of Europe at the age of 37. While Ford continued to do well in touring cars, he increased the company’s involvement in rallying and in 1979 Bjorn Waldegard won the World Rally Champion in 1979 with the Ford Escort RS. The following year Kranefuss was called to Ford headquarters in Detroit and appointed head of the new Ford Special Vehicle Operations, in control of all of Ford’s global sporting programmes. Ford’s activities grew in TransAm and in NASCAR, with Bill Elliott winning the Winston Cup in 1988 and Alan Kulwicki in 1992. There was success in CART in 1992 and 1993, with Nigel Mansell winning the title in the latter season, and in Formula 1, Kranefuss supported Benetton with Nelson Piquet, Sandro Nannini, Roberto Moreno and ultimately Michael Schumacher.
He quit Ford in 1993 and tried to establish his own Indycar team, but that did not work out and so he went into business with Carl Haas in NASCAR, the team running its first full season in 1995 with John Andretti. The team did not win a race and late in 1997 Haas sold his shares to Roger Penske and the Penske-Kranefuss Racing enjoyed rather more success with driver Jeremy Mayfield, who won three races between 1998 and 2000. At the end of 2000 Kranefuss sold his shares to Penske and retired with plenty of money in the bank. Two years later he tried to start Falcon Cars to build cars for the Indy Racing League, but that never really got off the ground. By then he was 64 and he disappeared to a quiet retirement in Mooresville, North Carolina.