This is one of my favorite events on the racing calendar. Although it’s not considered part of the triple crown of motorsports which includes the Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix. The Nurburgring 24 Hours is every bit as important because of what it represents.
Indianapolis is one of the cathedrals of speed, Monaco is simply over the top with the glamour from the jet set crowd combined with the city backdrop and being a street circuit, and Le Mans is well Le Mans (Ask Steve McQueen). Each venue is iconic part of the DNA of racing. Each of them requires different qualities from drivers who hope to be successful on them. Indy requires the driver to be focused, and precise for 3-5 hours taking the same line to complete a grueling 500 mile race, while fending off a pack traveling upwards of 200 MPH. Monaco with it’s tight turns and lack of run-off means you need every advantage of starting at the front of the grid to have any chance of making podium (Unless you are Daniel Riccardo, good on you mate!) or not having a mechanical failure, crash or poor pit strategy. Le Mans takes your hopes and dreams and smashes them to pieces over 24 hours as the race destroys cars during the day while the night plays with driver’s confidence and fatigue creeps in. And, as if on a whim, the race has played the role of spoiler with less than three minutes remaining (Toyota – Too soon?) snatching defeat from the jaws of near certain victory.
The Nurburgring or simply The Ring is unique, started as a public works project during an era of economic depression the course has evolved multiple times, and played host to all manner of racing: endurance, sports car, F1, motorbike, prototype, historic, and even bicycle. It has essential ingredients that driver’s relish in a circuit: it offers straights for overtaking, areas of compression, decreasing radius turns, banking turns, camber changes, and multiple pavement types that give different feedback to drivers and challenge any suspension setup. The ingredients that appeal to drivers also appeal to manufacturers. So much so that manufacturers bring their sports cars to test and refine knowing a good result on The Ring often means a boost in sales. Now, along with the good comes a little bad. The Ring is no different, it has elements which temper driver’s praise but commands their focus: little to no run off areas, blind turns, and narrow sections of track that leave little margin for error. In fact it can be so unforgiving that in the seventies the F1 stopped using the Nordschleife for Grand Prix’s.
The Ring offers three additional elements the others don’t: elevation, distance, and weather.
Elevation, the Nordschleife provides a full 1,000 feet of elevation change over the circuit compared to the 136 feet of elevation change at Monaco, and still less at Indianapolis. Let that sink in for a minute. The elevation change on this circuit is the equivalent of a 92 story building. That’s like a roller coaster with no rails to keep the cars on the track. For comparison tallest roller coaster in the world is only 456 feet high (Kingda Ka), and the famous turn 8 and 8a combination known as the “corkscrew” at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is only 56 feet.
The next element that The Ring has in abundance is distance. One lap on the Nurburgring super circuit (composed of the GP and North Loop – a.k.a. Nordschleife) is 15.5-15.9 miles. To put that into perspective you can travel the total distance of all three triple crown circuits, and still not have completed one lap on The Ring’s super circuit. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s track is 2.5 miles, Le Man’s circuit is 8.4 miles, and Monaco’s street circuit is a hair over 2 miles. Over the same 24 hour period drivers will cover more total miles at Le Mans than at the Nurburgring to the tune of 3.3K for Le Mans versus 2.4K for the Nurburgring. What that stat doesn’t tell you is that because of the length of The Ring physical conditioning, and mental acuity are critical. More so as a shorter circuit helps reinforce any success a driver has quickly while allowing them to repeat it more frequently thereby allowing them to get into a rhythm earlier as well as correcting any deficiencies, and that simply is not possible while negotiating the 160 turns that make up the 15.5 mile super circuit. By the time you finish a lap at the Ring, it may take everything you have to remember the turn in point at turn 64 or recall the braking zone at turn 117. Seems pretty easy, right? I’ve been told that it takes about 100 laps before you start to become familiar with the Nordschleife alone, and just for reference last years winner completed 135 laps so about three quarters through the race any rookie drive, if they drove the entire time which is not possible, should begin to feel comfortable on the circuit.
The next and equally crucial element The Ring has is weather. The track is nestled in the Eifel mountains, and the weather is mercurial at best. I’ve seen racing suspended on more than one occasion with rain and fog creating an almost impenetrable barrier to vision. I’ve personally been on the track where it was raining in one sector, and dry throughout the rest of the circuit. Even the three types of pavement react to the weather in different ways meaning that when it rains you normally change from the optimum dry racing line to an alternate or outside line where the marbles reside. On tracks with one type of surface or receives the same weather over the entire course a blanket rule may apply about an alternate line, but this circuit does not handle blanket statements well. Every sector/turn is unique from the last corner or element. Another problem when weather impacts a race is that it can still take the cars quite awhile to return to their garage if the signal to suspend racing is issued after passing pit lane. Think about how long it takes you to drive during a heavy rain on a well lit roadway with all-season tires in a 250 HP AWD family SUV. It’s quite another thing to drive 15.5 miles in a 500-700 HP RWD monster shoed with racing compound tires/slicks with little to no exterior lighting or visibility. Not for the feint of heart.
Admittedly, this went from being a primer to an Ode to the Nurburgring, right? Don’t judge. Long winded maybe. Necessary, absolutely and essential to help you appreciate the dynamics that The Ring presents to man and machine.
The Nurburgring 24 Hour race has been held since 1970, and the circuit features the GP circuit (3.19 mile – GP / South Loop) comprised of smooth surfaces coupled to the historic Nordschleife (North Loop), the long road course. The race begins on the GP circuit then transitions onto the Nordschleife before finally joining back with the GP circuit to cross the start/finish line.
This weekend’s installment features 160 cars representing factory efforts from Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota as well as privateer entries. The privateer entries include: Audi, BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Lamborghini, Dodge, Lexus, Ferrari, Ginetta (Specialty manufacturer), Nissan, Opel, Volkswagen, KTM (Specialty manufacturer), Renault, Honda, and Seat. Talk about variety! If you want a driver’s perspective of the race check out this article. Organizers are expecting 200,000 people to attend. If my experience last year was any indication most of the fans will be camping the entire week, having a great time day and night!
Now we come to the favorites. I’m a fan of Porsche on this circuit, and in particular Manthey Racing. I will be rooting for each team to finish the race, but I think the experience that Manthey team brings along with the inherent qualities of the 911 GT3 R is really suited to the circuit. And I will also be rooting for the Dodge Viper, Ford Mustang, Volkswagen GTI, AMG GT3, and many more! Who will you be rooting for?
Where can you catch this epic race? Well if you are not attending or living in Europe, your best bet is to go to YouTube, and find the ADAC Total 24h-Rennen channel.