There was a whole lot more going on at the Nürburgring than the fastest 30-odd GT3-spec cars battling at the front for 24 hours. In the build-up to the race there was a whole slew of events to keep the fans entertained – and that’s just as well, as at the Nürburgring 24 Hours there are over 200,000 hardcore fans who start turning up a week before the event to stake out their pitches on the campsite, get the beers chilling and the barbecues burning. The focal point is the paddock and Ring Boulevard; the latter was the host for Saturday’s Audi autograph session.
This was an opportunity for the seven Audi crews to be introduced to the fans, sign cards, give out stickers and general enjoy a last bit of relative calm before the concentrating on the afternoon’s race start.
Sometimes you need to look up to get the best views. There is a company selling wooden laminate outlines of tracks that you can fix to your wall at home, but this is a whole different level of awesome.
The four Speedhunters WRT drivers – from left, Oliver Jarvis, Allan Simonsen, Andrea Piccini and Edward Sandström – lined up for a photo-call with Camille and Julie, which didn’t prove to be much of a chore…
The two girls coped admirably with their first visit to the Nürburgring…
…being especially adept at pulling their special modelling faces. Beautiful!
Whilst the mechanics and engineers laboured away on the car, WRT’s crack video team were also hard at work putting together coverage of the event: we’ve already seen the first couple of releases from them, and they’ll be a race review on stream soon.
All too soon it was time to get the cars onto the grid and to unleash the hordes of fans. The teams are forced into all-round defence at their cars in the face of the sea of people – there’s barely any room to do all the usual pre-race temperature and systems checks. I lasted about 10 minutes before being overwhelmed by the crush and the heat of the sun.
Off the front of the grid, deep into the braking zone to the first turn, the crowd thinned out to just officials and photographers making their way to the photo holes, and the noise of the grid gave way to the excited hum coming from the packed grandstands.
The girls carried on squeezing round the crowd giving out autograph cards and stickers, braving it out until the last moment.
On the way back to the garages at least there was a way to navigate: this awning was optimistically put up for the P4/5 E1-XP Hybrid. Perhaps it provided a bit more delineation for the crew to work on the car, but did seem a bit excessive.
Falken’s Wolf Henzler would be driving the #44 Porsche at the start – most cars had their driver’s helmets on the roof, giving the start even more of a sense of imminent combat.
Looking back, the chaos of the grid was surely an impossibility to clear as the three minute board was shown. It looked like they’d need a snowplough to get the job done, but luckily the ‘Ring officials are well used to this and with whistles and gentle pushes somehow got the crowd off the grid, leaving just the isolated three groups of starters with their key engineers kneeling by the cars.
Back in the garages, the mechanics could only stand and wait as the seconds ticked down to the start. Tyre trolleys were stacked. Guns checked. Fire gear primed. The result of their week of hard work and preparation was now in the hands of the driver behind the wheel. It was now all about counting down time.
Inside the garage that WRT shared with fellow Audi R8 LMS team Mamerow was the drivers’ equipment station: drinks bottles, seat inserts and the buttons that turned the drivers on and off during the race. Edward to On position! Or they might be helmet dryers…
Tyres were stacked up everywhere in the paddock: the initial choice of tyres for a number of the teams proved to be a problem, perhaps in combination with too aggressive camber settings, as the first hour of the race saw a riot of punctures and flailing rubber.
Whereas at Le Mans drivers will frequently stay at the wheel for a triple stint, at the Nürburgring it’s more usual for drivers to take a single hour at the wheel with just the odd double-stint; it’s just too much of a drain on the driver otherwise. Fuel is topped up and tyres will be changed at every stop for the faster cars.
Rather than dump-tanks or fuel rigs, regular pumps are used for petrol: this means having to carefully time stops with the other dozen or so cars who you’re sharing a pump with.
The Porsche’s bonnet-mounted refuelling point always meant a bit of fumbling around the front and stretching of the hoses.
The pit-lane is potentially ten times busier than a Formula 1 race and yet somehow cars manage not to run into each other, despite the crush and disparity in driving experience… But the teams are well used to the quantity of cars in the pit-lane, with most also regularly competing in VLN endurance events at the track.
There’s always the strange moment when a car is released: the team barely see it leave the box before they turn their attention back to the garage and telemetry. The physical car is almost an abstract object for the them during the race, seen as a dot on a GPS tracker and as a set of data traces for an hour before it comes in for a service.
It’s the guts of the cars that become the focal point: the assemblies and consumables that need constant replacing or fixing during the 24 hours.
As with any endurance race, it’s about minimising the time spent in the pits. Even a slower, steady run can be the way to take victory, as we saw. Whatever you do, just keep the car out of the pits…
The cross-section of cars at the Nürburgring makes this race the epic spectacle it is. Part clubbie, part determined factory onslaught, looking back it was funny how the runners in the 24 Hours Classic and main 24 Hours merged together to give a historical cross-section of cars that have competed at the Ring over the last 43 years.
Now the race is over and it’s rather too late, I think I’ve finally just about understood the structure of the classes. To be actually be eligible you must have driven in the 24 Hours within the last five years, have raced in three events over over 300km on the Nordschleife in the last two years, or two races plus the N24 training course. You must also have lapped at night if you want to drive a stint in the dark, and you must hold an International C licence. Finally, after qualifying your car must have set a time time within 120% of fastest class time.
The class structure is incredibly specific in parts (for instance, the V2 class covers cars with an engine capacity between 1.75-1.8-litres!), but overall is actually reasonably straightforward. A V prefix is for petrol-engined, production-based cars of increasing capacity (V2-V6, with the upper limit of 3.5-litre engines); a D prefix for diesels; a T suffix for turbos; SP for more heavily modified, dedicated racing cars (again, normally the bigger the number the bigger the engine). SP9 is reserved for GT3-spec cars and SP10 or GT4s. AT is an invitational class for cars powered by LPG or alternative fuels: they had their own dedicated refuelling station at the pit-lane entrance.
Looking further down the grid behind the GT3s showed up some great and unexpected cars – in the expected way. This Mercedes-Benz C230 won its V4 class against a horde of M3s.
Its predecessors compete in the German Youngtimer Trophy, whose entrants made up the majority of the 24 Hours Classic grid. 190s were still appearing in the main 24 Hours up until quite recently…
…whereas this Opel Manta somehow still is! The #155 car has been competing at the 24 Hours for years, complete with its fox-tail mascot blowing in the wind. Kissling Motorsport are more used to running modern Opel machinery in the VLN series, but seem to delight in bringing out the ’70s Manta to embarrass its more contemporary opposition – they led the SP3 class at times during the race, but was eventually to lose out to the Gazoo GT86 and a Renault Clio by a lap at the end. Still, third in class for a car which is surely more appropriate for the Classic race is impressive, and another perfect example of the spirit of the race.
In general the lower class cars seemed to suffer a lot more compared to GT3s, often surprised by being dive-bombed by a faster car and frightened off the road… The AT #192 Ford Fiesta had obviously taken a slide down the armco at some stage, and by Sunday mid-morning its right-side was held together by tank-tape and optimism.
Leon Supercopas remain popular options for this style of racing, and seven examples started the 24 Hours – six in the SP3T class and one diesel example, finishing third, fourth and sixth in the former category.
A quartet of VW Sciroccos were in the same SP3T class, plus a single diesel-engined car in the AT class.
Peugeot entered a pair of works RCZs in SP2T: the sister car to this won the class.
The biggest entrant was BMW, with a veritable museum’s worth of 3-series out on track.
The oldest examples were E36 M3s running in V5.
This SP6 M3 CSL carried a livery reminiscent of the old ALMS PTG cars.
Black Falcon had entered two M3s in V6 plus an E92 and a Z4.
A large number of cars were entered as pure privateer entries with no official team name, such as this V4-class E90 325i.
Finally there were the latest M3 GT4 models running in SP10. #79 was run by Dörr Motorsport and fared better than their pair of ill-fated McLaren MP4-12Cs. They were also running an SP7 Porsche 911 Cup and Seat Leon Supercopa in SP3T, which wasn’t an unusual occurrence; for instance Heico were running an LPG-fuelled Volvo C30 in AT as well as their pair of SLS.
This wide-bodied 1 Coupé was looking pretty racy – it was competing the SP5 class, where it triumphed over a half-dozen other BMW 3-series and 1s, reaching 39th overall at the flag.
This D3T 135 D GTR was sporting what appeared to be the most popular body modification: many cars were missing rear bodywork, after accidents meant it was often quicker and easier to rip the whole panel off.
Driving back to Frankfurt airport on Monday morning, Paddy and I passed this 325i E92 Coupé on the back on a simple trailer hooked up to a BMW saloon: totally indicative of the way the grassroots side of the race is maintained.
Various iterations of Z4s were also out: alongside the five Z4 GT3s were eight older models running across both the production V and racing SP classes.
Eight Audi TTs were entered across the SP4T and SP3T classes, with the SP4T TT RS models looking surprisingly fast out on track.
Next to the Manta, this is another car that you just wouldn’t expect to be in the race by any stretch of the imagination – and for that reason was another cheered on by the fans. This Audi A8 was a regular exec saloon before the Derichs Rennwagen team got hold of it and decided to turn it into a racer. The rear seats were stripped out, saving 150kg, and another 350kg was chopped out.
The brakes from a 911 were added to help slow down the big V12-powered car – but the Audi Stability and full Quattro system were left in place, as was the automatic gearbox and full power steering. It’s probably still got cup holders! Its engine size meant it’s in a class where it couldn’t really compete, but fun and finishing was the goal – both of which were achieved. 90th position at the chequer for the big A8.
For the Schubert team it had been a sad end for the challenge of their two GT3 BMW Z4 Coupés, but they paid tribute to the thousands of spectators. On the back of the #20 they also added ‘Win 2013’…
So, like the wind they’ll be back, as will Speedhunters. We’ll have some final behind-the-scenes stories to wrap things up from Germany, with tales from the forests and also the spanners of WRT, but this is just the start of the major endurance race season. Next month is the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, and then in July we’ll be out again with the WRT Audi R8 LMS at the Spa 24 Hours. No sleep till La Sarthe!