A chain saw screams. A pained Opel engine is also revved beyond its RPM ceiling. In between them is a three story construction of white leather sofas, a homemade DJ booth and beer. Lots of beer. We are in the middle of a German forest. This can only be the madness known as the Nürburgring 24 Hour race!…
The track is legendary. A 25 km long ribbon of tarmac where Niki Lauda almost passed away in the 1976 Formula 1 race.
It is a track open to the public all year round to throw themselves and their cars around for one or any number of laps. It is a track where car manufacturers test their performance machines alongside the public. And it still hosts races - the endurance VLN for GT and Touring cars plus of course the famous 24 Hour race.
Like the TT, every May- June each year the 24 Hour race is held and the scenes around the track are something unique. Fans bring out not only tents but living room furniture, complete bars and as we just witnessed even engines and chainsaws (plus of course a lot of beer) for a four day long race party among the forests.
Meanwhile the drivers and teams fight to master this notoriously difficult track. The 25 kilometers known as the 'Nordschleife' consists of over 150 corners, jumps and a 3 km long engine busting straight. For the races it connects to the Grand Prix track and it is a special feeling to race here. Öhlins test driver (and son of!) Martin Öhlin drove the race in 2010 when he finished third overall in the GT3 class. He describes the special feeling the circuit evokes.
"When you've done a lap of the Nordschleife and enter the Grand Prix track you actually relax. You have time to talk to the team over the radio, read the gauges in the car and you're happy to have survived another lap with you and the car intact. The strange thing is you still have a whole lap of the GP-track to drive but that lap just feels like a preparation for the next lap around Nordschleife. Towards the end of the GP-lap you prepare yourself and can't help but feel nervous and anxious at the same time. You're about to enter Nordschleife again for another race lap and you don't know what awaits but you know it's over 8 minutes of rollercoaster ride in a race car. It is a very special feeling!"
The race was first run in 1970 although marathon endurance races had been held previously. Today the race is run once a year and sees over 200 cars enter the event with typically three to four drivers per car. The last few years has seen an increased involvement from the major manufacturers who bring out their best GT machinery, staff and drivers to fight for the overall honours.
The weather is notoriously difficult in the Eifel region and this year is no exception. It is practice before the race and drivers are out on track to get up to speed, help the engineers fine tune the cars and of course complete their mandatory laps to be eligible to start the race.
Even though it is Thursday and two days until the race starts, spectators are already out in force. The traffic on the roads around the track and through the many small villages is already heavy. The public greets the drivers showing the most aggression and pushing hard with air horns and noise. Anyone who takes it easy are meet with boo's and encouragement to up the pace.
And this is just the beginning, for the race the spectators increase tenfold and over 200,000 fans are expected to follow the proceedings.
Long time Swedish BMW-driver Richard Göransson is among the favourites for the overall victory. He is one of the drivers for the Belgian BMW Sports Trophy team Marc VDS which entered two BMW Z4 GT3 machines for this race. Richard has completed this race many times and he gave us an insight into the experience of fighting this notorious track in a 550 bhp GT3-car;
"Nürburgring can be absolutely fantastic when it's dry and nice weather. But it can be equally devilish and really the Green Hell when it's dark in the night with heavy rain. As a racing driver that is a challenge you don't get anywhere else in the world and it is magical. This is an extremely fast track with an average speed over 180 kp/h on a fast lap and to drive such a track in the night in heavy rain and fog and where you have severe aquaplaning maybe 10 times per lap and with blind entry to the corners and over crests and always very close to the barriers is frightening. But it is also absolutely fantastic and that challenge is why you keep coming back to this race year after year. You don't get this anywhere else and it is a very pure driving experience.
"The night stints are fantastic. You're out there on one of the longest and hardest tracks in the world and suddenly you feel the smell of steak in the car. You look to see smoke at the side of the track from fans having a barbecue at the side of the track. It's an almost surreal feeling and it's very special."
Richard is known for being an expert in the night stints, especially when the conditions are difficult and they don't come more difficult than they did in this race. Around midnight, seven hours into the race, the rain was so hard and the fog so dense the organisers had no alternative but to stop the race. An onboard video gone viral from American Leh Keen's Porsche show the extraordinary conditions drivers had to face.
The race was then resumed at eight in the morning for a nine hour sprint to the finish. The rain falls hard all night and with the fog and darkness combined it is impossible to resume racing until then.
Before the race was red flagged we went around to some of the more popular viewing places. In among the high end GT machinery and touring cars is a fan favourite each year – an Opel Manta complete with a fox tail at the antenna. It is this mix that makes the 24-hour race here so special, factory teams and drivers with some of the fastest GT-cars in the world are mixed with amateur Nürburgring specialists in small family run teams. Even though the track is long, the drivers are constantly fighting through traffic, either overtaking slower cars or being passed by faster cars.
Before the race was red flagged we went around to some of the more popular viewing places. In among the high end GT machinery and touring cars is a fan favourite each year – an Opel Manta complete with a fox tail at the antenna. It is this mix that makes the 24-hour race here so special, factory teams and drivers with some of the fastest GT-cars in the world are mixed with amateur Nürburgring specialists in small family run teams.Even though the track is long, the drivers are constantly fighting through traffic, either overtaking slower cars or being passed by faster cars.
A stroll in the pits is also a special feeling. Access for the ordinary fan is surprisingly good and a peak into the pit garages reveal another special element to this race.
In each pit box up to six cars from different teams share space to accommodate the 200+ cars entered in the race. With six cars from up to six teams all sharing the pit box it can get very chaotic but in this chaos there is Teutonic planning and structure. Throughout the weekend the teams manage to share this confined space even during pit stops!
The Nürburgring 24-hour race is worth a visit for every race fan. A unique event that compares to nothing else in the car world. Just make sure you bring waterproofs… Chainsaw optional !
Images by Martin Palm
Nordschleife – The Green Hell
Built in the 1920's this is one of the last surviving, truly legendary tracks in the Racing World.
Combined with the GP track the lap is over 25 km long with over 150 corners and over 300 metres of elevation change.
The track is used for racing in the German endurance championship VLN with races between 4 and 6 hours long. A 'time attack' style championship called RCN is also held at Nordschleife and each year the 24 hour race is the highlight for most racefans.
For the VLN and 24 hour race Nordschleife is connected to the Nürburgring Grand Prix track. The Nordschleife itself is also open for trackdays and public days, when there are no races held and it's open for everyone wanting to go and buy a ticket to drive a lap around the famous track.
Nordschleife itself was used for F1-races up until 1976 when Niki Lauda had a terrible crash at Bergwerk, an event replayed in the recently released hit movie 'Rush'. F1 stopped racing at the track after that but the brutal Group C Sportscars still used the track for racing and it's from this era the lap record still stands. German driver Stefan Bellof drove the lap in a Porsche Group C Sportscar in 6 minutes and 11 seconds – an average speed of 202 km/h and a lap record that still stands to this day.