When all this self-isolation ends, what changes do you reckon you’ll embrace?
I don’t think I’ll ever moan at the airport again. In fact, I’ll be happy to queue at security even when only one desk is open for 300 people. Providing it’s not to go board a Ryanair flight.
It’s around this time of year when myself and Ben would be planning a visit to Germany with our friends at BILSTEIN. My excitement tends to peak on the autobahn with the prospect of a foot-long bratwurst from the first services. Ben’s is almost entirely focused towards the Chocomel brand of milk which isn’t available in the UK. It’s chocolate-infused crack, and in a previous life Ben may have assumed the role of a hummingbird.
Not that we’d travel abroad purely for food, although scarily that wouldn’t be the dumbest reason for a flight we’ve ever used. Instead, it’s for something much more exciting than any sugary drink – the 24 Hours Nürburgring endurance race.
Or at least, it would’ve been. Because the 2020 N24 race has been postponed until September.
Annoyingly, our health minister still classifies the Nürburgring as an ‘unnecessary journey’ despite my email with footage of RUF’s Yellowbird attached. But enough of the Covid negativity, we’re all in the same boat (unless you’re in Kentucky), and positivity is a much better thing to spread right now.
September might seem like a long time away, but it means the N24 and Le Mans will now take place within a week of one another. Brilliant news for us race fans, terrifying news for race mechanics.
To celebrate, or rather serve as a helpful reminder why it’s worth waiting for, I’ve put together 24 images that best represent the spirit, speed and lunacy of the N24. That’s excluding these images used to break up the intro copy before anyone gets cocky.
In an ideal world, each image would represent every hour of the race. Great in principal, but a pain to legitimately do what with the pesky need for sleep. That being said, I arrived so late to my room last year that the hotel decided to give my booking away on the second night. The only person angrier than me was the naked German man I walked in on at 5:00am…
Anyway, that shouldn’t take anything away from the pictures below which cover both the 2018 and 2019 races. Each shot sums up why the N24 will always be my favourite event on the calendar, and rather than label them with numbers, I figured a short caption explaining why would be a much better idea. You can order ‘em in the comments instead, deal?
I’ll kick it off with a shot that isn’t even from the race, rather the lunchtime build-up instead. For 2018, the Red Bull Drift Brothers drifted the entire circuit, along with a tyre change midway around. “Do you want to take a picture?” Kai from BILSTEIN suggested. “Yeah no problems, I’ll go stand near the Karussell,” I answered. “No Mark, on the track with them. Do you have a car?”
Cue Ryan being scrambled to get our Ring Taxi, which looked similar to a 5 Series hire car, loaded five-up with myself and Ben in the boot, Kai in the back, and an eccentric German commentator documenting it all in the passenger seat. Fair play to Ryan, we had to be around the ‘Ring in under 10-minutes before the Audi R8 Cup started, and we did it with time to spare, albeit with little shoulder left on the tyres.
The handy thing about endurance racing is the amount of extra time you get for ‘creative’ shots. I say creative, but what that really means is setting the shutter way longer than necessary and seeing if you can fluke a sharp-ish shot. Eventually you’ll get one, even if it takes a shed load of attempts. Which it will. Don’t believe all those Instagram photographers; rarely do these come off first time. There’s a good reason they pop up during races with many laps.
I count around four people in this photo who actually need to be there. The start of the race is organised chaos; the N24 give punters the chance to get down on the start with all their favourite cars/drivers just before it kicks off, and rightfully so. I do feel sorry for all the pit crews at this point, even if I am contributing to said problem.
Long lens at the Karussell is a proper ‘old trusty’ shot, but it just never gets old. Sparks, compression and glowing exhausts all within a few seconds of each other. Just awesome. It gets even better at night, but I’ll cover that one shortly.
‘A collection of things which I think are great’ otherwise known as a dog, Mercedes 300SEL race car, and BBS E50 wheels. Prior to the big N24 race, a ‘Youngtimer’ race is held in the morning featuring some of the coolest cars you’ll ever see…
Like this 911 RSR driven by Marc and Dennis Busch. Casually ditched in the makeshift ‘pits’ complete with BBQ and comedy-spec campervan behind it. German motorsport summed up in one image. Give it time and ‘BBQs & Whale Tails’ will become another Cars & Coffee meet.
Pflanzgarten, AKA the jump. I’ve never shot it from the inside before and it’s safe to say that it’s just as dramatic as the Karussell. By the time we reached here – having just walked back from the Karussell which takes a good half hour – light was getting low leaving a dilemma. Shoot fast to freeze the ‘air’ at the expense of ISO and brightness. Shoot long and either miss the air or it’ll be too blurry to tell what’s going on. I think this one’s called ‘somewhere in between’.
By this point of the night you’re now shooting in total darkness. The GP section has a bit of floodlighting, but the rest of the circuit – like the exit of the ‘Mini Karussell’ here – is pitch black. You could use flash, but pick the right car and its glowing engine/exhausts make for an artsy silhouette.
I’m a simple man; I see a cool Japanese guy smoking a tab, I take a picture. In case you’re wondering why he looks so pensive, just out of shot was the gearbox the team were in the process of replacing. I buggered off quickly after.
Usually you expect to see fireworks when a race finishes. But most races don’t have 200,000 fans in attendance, the majority camping next to one another drinking Warsteiner beer and listening to techno. The result? An impromptu firework display while walking back from the Karussell, which worked faultlessly because Germany. Had this been the UK we’d have almost certainly red-flagged the race in the process.
If you thought that’s a lot of fans, there’s a lot of ‘stuff’ full stop. Given the size of the ‘Ring, it requires 960 marshals split across 17 sections. There’s a team of 30 just for salvaging stranded cars, along with 90 firefighters and 100 medics on site. Altogether it’s estimated that 2,500 people are needed just to work the race. Bonkers.
Right, back to more arty shots. This one came about entirely by chance. It looks like a funky composition; in reality I had the wrong lens fitted (70-200mm) and couldn’t get the car fully in the frame before it shot off back down the pits. But how good does that R8 LMS race car look?
I don’t know if there is such a genre as ‘Aggressive German Techno Rave’ but if there was, this might just be the cover shot of the album. Whatever sound you’re imagining in your head, multiply it by 10 and you’re getting close.
Another night shot, purely because they’re some of my favourites to try and capture. The N24 after dark is all about searching for available light. This is halfway round the Karussell and gives you an idea of how dark it really is. Take out the headlights and all you’ve got is the glow of the exhausts, the glare of the display, and an illuminated number on the side.
On the flipside of this, you’ve got sections of the GP track which are mostly illuminated. You’ll struggle with head-on shots unless you want the car completely in silhouette, but at T13 – or rather just before – you get all the fairground rides backlighting the track. Throw an unnecessarily long shutter into the mix and it looks something like this.
The time stamp for this photo is well into the early hours of the morning, but it’s business as usual for the Giti Tyres R8 pictured. Seeing as it’s not really practical to carry a tripod around – lord knows I’ve tried in previous years – it’s easier and quicker to just hold your breath and shoot at a longer shutter. It also means you can jump out the way quickly, ‘cus teams and cars do not care about your 5-second exposure.
From around midnight onwards, the atmosphere tends to die down a little as mechanics try and sleep after the first nine hours of racing… until it rains. This shot was from the 2018 race, and as the heavens opened it made the pits go utterly mental. Shooting in the rain can be a bit sh*t, but it doesn’t half look dramatic. And I’d much sooner be stood soaked than trying to drive the ‘Ring at night.
‘My first time seeing a refueling helmet’ photo. Obvious and overdone, but it’ll always look properly cool. Right up until the point you realise the mechanic is looking back at you (just like the 30 other photographers before) thinking ‘what a complete spanner’.
This one’s for resident Speedhunter – and quite possibly the coolest German I know – Michael ‘Mitch’ Grassl. For the simple reason that’s him driving the Proom GT4-spec Cayman. I’ve never known a man to jump out a car after a double stint and start chatting about photography, brushing off the ‘Ring like it’s a trip down to the local supermarket.
When life gives you barriers, rig a viewing sofa to the top of your van. The German ingenuity for watching the N24 in maximum comfort knows no boundaries (bar the chain-link fence). It’s entirely normal to see race fans arriving a week before to begin construction on their masterpieces. This wasn’t one of them.
Unsurprisingly, most of the entries come from German powerhouses like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi and BMW. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, but I love seeing the Wochenspiegel Team Monschau Ferrari 488 GT3 competing here. Racing just isn’t racing without a Ferrari present. Plus, this one says ‘Kai’ in the window which keeps our BILSTEIN friend happy.
This is far from an arty shot, but if you’ve ever been to the N24 or watched any coverage, you’ll likely know this car. The Kissling Motorsports Opel Manta has raced in more N24 events than any other car, and it wouldn’t be the same without it there. Is it competitive? Not really. Does it have issues every year? Almost certainly. But it always finishes. This shot was taken with 10-minutes to go. Having ripped a wheel off earlier on, the Manta was rebuilt and sent back out just in time to finish the race. I don’t think any team would allow them not to finish at this point. And it gets a louder cheer than even the race victor. Proper spirit of N24 stuff.
The more you look at it, the madder it gets. Pflanzgarten again, this time from the ‘traditional’ viewing spot with a super-long lens. The #14 Audi Sport R8 catching some air is impressive enough, until you realise the front end is almost entirely held together with TUV-approved duct tape. They finished 4th overall.
Last shot, simply because no recap of this race is complete without a pic of the finish line. Relief, victory, defeat, waving flags and an Opel Manta quite far behind. Another year of the N24 done and dusted. Another reminder why it’s still the best event on the calendar. Roll on September.