When a 24-hour race only runs for nine and a half hours, you know it’s been anything but a normal year.
But 2021 wasn’t the first time the Nürburgring 24h-Race found itself with a hefty setback. Nine months earlier – during the Covid-delayed race in September 2020 – a similar story unfolded. Given the unusual timing of that year, we collectively assumed that it would be a one-off.
Rule #1 of the Nürburgring: don’t crash. Rule #2? Don’t make assumptions… which usually leads to rule #1 being broken.
In the years I’ve covered the N24 with Speedhunters I’ve had my skin tanned like a trip to the Algarve, witnessed monsoon-spec rivers flow across the pit lane, and of course the infamous hailstorm of 2016. The Eifel region is notorious for operating within its own micro-climate, and it’s easy to forget just how vast the ‘Ring is over the course of a lap.
Take Friday’s qualifying shootout. Teams had to send their cars out on the tyres they believe would set the fastest time. On the start line? Perfectly dry conditions. But several miles down the road through the forest section of Adenau? Boom, here comes the torrential rain.
That’s just part of the Nordschleife’s appeal. When you’re covering 16.8-miles per lap – not factoring in the huge elevation changes – weather and track conditions are a constant variable around the clock. And that’s what makes the N24 such a bonkers event to watch.
What about 2021, then? Despite feeling like parts of the world were beginning to reopen after Covid lockdowns, just a few days before N24 was scheduled to take place all UK residents were placed on a no-entry list to Germany. This meant that I (and many others, including both media and team members) would be sitting out this year’s event.
A few thousand spectators were allowed in, but it was a far cry from the bustling camp sites we all know and love from events like N24 and Le Mans. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing given how early the fog came making 2021 the shortest N24 race in its history.
It didn’t look that bad on TV though, did it? Yes and no. TV cameras filming the action always give a slightly skewed perspective; they’re tracking cars from hundreds of meters away (usually on cherry pickers) so fog and rain is always emphasized greater than what’s visible on the ground. In fact, a lot of racers were happy to carry on racing even when the red flags were shown.
But car visibility wasn’t the issue; that came in the form of the helicopters. One of the FIA’s stipulations at events like these is that they must have a helicopter on standby, which can be dispatched to a nearby medical centre at a second’s notice.
While the fog didn’t look too bad on the ground, it made flying in the event of an emergency almost impossible. And given the shunts we’ve seen here over the years, that’s a risk no organiser would be willing to take – and rightfully so.
We hinted at this in an earlier post, but what running time remained of this year’s race shouldn’t be dismissed or sniffed at. Nine and a half hours is still a brutal amount of running, and that’s at a circuit boasting 170 corners with 120+ competitors all breathing down your neck over a single lap. It’s stressful enough virtually, let alone in real life.
Part of what we love about the N24 is the diversity of cars and classes competing. The front-running SP9 class always takes the top honours; this is where your monster GT3-spec cars battle it out for victory. But there’s 22 classes in total, and I can’t think of any other race where you can witness a GT3 R Porsche and an Opel Manta fighting over the same piece of tarmac.
While we’re on the subject of oddities, we have to give a shout-out to Speedhunters friend Misha Charoudrin and the Ollis Garage team for taking on the challenge in a Dacia Logan. This might just be the first (and only) Dacia to compete at the ‘Ring, and we’re pretty sure they must now hold some form of obscure lap record.
I’ve been overtaken many times by fast road cars at the ‘Ring and that’s terrifying enough. To do that for hours – with 120 other (faster) vehicles constantly in your mirrors requires testes made of steel.
I was gutted I couldn’t be there in person this year, but I still found myself glued to the live feed which only gets better with each running of the event. As much as I love a Mercedes, it was properly good to see Manthey-Racing back on the top step with the fan-favourite ‘Grello’ (short for green and yellow) 911 GT3 R. If you need to watch any part of N24, check out Kevin Estre’s opening stint – the man is on another level.
Speaking of Manthey, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the race-winning technology utilised by the #911 car – specifically its new KW Suspensions 5-way motorsport dampers.
Until then, check out more N24 images from Speedhunters newcomer Dani Nikoden below – you’ll be seeing a lot more from this super-talented photographer very soon.
Photos by Daniel Nikoden