Unless you’ve ignored Speedhunters over the past few days, you’ll have no doubt witnessed a fair amount of excitement around the 24 Hours Nürburgring race.
There are many, many reasons for this. Not least because it’s the Nürburgring – undoubtedly the world’s most challenging and revered track (excluding the M25 on a Friday afternoon). Doing 24 hours of this behemoth in any car would be quite spicy, let alone a 550bhp GT3-spec monster amidst a field of fierce/German competitors.
But, as with everything we tend to love in 2020, it hasn’t come without its fair share of pandemic-shaped drawbacks. Typically, N24 takes place in May when the weather is quite nice. Apart from the time it snowed in the middle of the race, but let’s scoot over that for now. Instead, 2020 saw the race pushed back to September, when it’s colder, wetter, and there’s even less daylight. I’m not an expert on endurance racing, but I don’t think those are ideal criteria.
There were no 200,000+ fans lining the Nordschleife either, which made it downright eerie at times. Brunnchen, otherwise known as YouTube corner, was completely void of campers and aggressive Euro techno music. The grandstands were spattered with a handful of socially-distanced fans, while face masks were inevitably mandatory within the complex.
In the run-up to N24, I genuinely thought it might be quite nice to cover such a mad event without battling fans and media. In hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I wasn’t alone in that thought, either. Without fans camping and partying across the circuit, drivers found it more difficult to judge their braking points as the race entered into the night. Aside from giving us a hell of an atmosphere, it turns out they’re pretty integral to visibility given the Nordschleife (aside from sections of the GP track) is in complete darkness.
Then there was the competitor list. Halved from 180+ to ‘just’ 97 cars this year, it was also absent of a few big names, including Speedhunters’ favourite, Manthey Racing. When several team members tested positive for COVID after Le Mans, the decision was made to pull out of the N24 altogether, leaving a Grello-shaped hole in the process.
For other privateer competitors, the sheer uncertainty of whether or not the race would even go ahead was too much of a financial risk to sign off.
But this is the N24 after all; the world’s toughest endurance race with the wildest outcome. You don’t decide who wins the race… the Nordschleife does. I may have stolen that quote from one of the commentators over the weekend, but it’s too good a statement not to repeat.
The AMGs dominated qualifying and sprinted away to an early lead, right until the point the heavens really opened into the night. The problem here was, the heavens didn’t really close, and after several cars crashed out amidst the bad weather (including the leading AMG) the race found itself red-flagged for a full nine hours.
If you think that sounds like an overreaction, check out the onboard footage from Kelvin Van Der Linde just before the session was stopped. I wouldn’t fancy driving on the road in those conditions, let alone flat out around the ‘Ring with 96 others.
As the soggy-yet-chequered flag waved on the Sunday, the overall top spot would go to the #99 Rowe Racing BMW M6 – a welcome winner after Audi’s domination over the past few years, and BMW’s first win in a decade. Here’s the thing though, after all that running the two cars were separated by just 20 seconds.
That’s the real reason why the N24 will always be a highlight race. Few events, or even series, give that level of racing over a 90-minute race, let alone a 24-hour one. If a Hamilton-piloted Mercedes can gain a 20-second lead from second place in half an F1 race, you’ve got a fundamental problem on your hands. But we’ll save that for a much deeper discussion…
Until then, feast your eyes on all our favourite shots from this year’s N24 race, and let us know in the comments what your favourite moment was.