Why you should watch...
If this year’s thrilling Le Mans whetted your appetite for endurance racing, there’s another 24 Hour race to enjoy this weekend.
The Nurburgring 24 Hours takes place on the fearsome Nordschleife: the 20.8km, 170-turn beast of a track which last held an F1 race 35 years ago.
It boasts an entry list to match with over 200 cars taking part. Guest writer Christian Zorner is your guide to this massive race.
Unlike the high–tech cars seen in Le Mans’ LMP1 class, most of the cars on the Nurburgring are much closer to ordinary production cars.
At the Nurburgring 24 Hours you can see a proper international race with factory-backed efforts at the top of the grid – and amateur drivers who work as pit crew members when they’re not driving at the other end of the grid.
The Nurburgring 24 Hours has been an institution in German motorsport for decades.
Its first running was in 1970 and it has been held ever since with three exceptions – twice during the oil crisis and when the modern Grand Prix circuit was bring built. International interest has increased in recent years as the Nurburgring’s fame has grown via its inclusion in games such as the Gran Turismo series.
A combination of the modern Grand Prix circuit and the famous Nordschleife is used for the race. During one lap a car goes through inclines of up to 18% and drops of up to 11%. The difference between the highest and lowest point of the track is 290 meters.
While the long and narrow race track is difficult to drive on during the day, it becomes even harder during the night. Only the Grand Prix circuit has artificial lightning, leaving the drivers to rely solely on their headlights for most of the Nordschleife.
The twisty layout of the course, the lack of artificial lightning, the huge grid and the inevitable hazards of the weather make for a uniquely challenging event. Here’s a video lap of the track:
The great difference in performance between the cars has always been part of the race’s appeal.
Many fans were disappointed in 2009 when the race organisers excluded some of the slower cars and slowed down the front running cars to reduce the gap in speeds. Before that it was possible to see Mini Coopers and even estate cars in the race.
But there remains great diversity in the field. Naturally, the pack is well-populated by German car models such as the Mercedes SLS AMG, Audi R8, Porsche 911 and BMW M3 and Z4.
Among the foreign supercar entries are the Aston Martin V12 Zagato, Lexus LF-A and a Holden Commodore.
And keep an eye out for the Ferrari P4/5 entered by N. Technology and piloted by former F1 racers Mika Salo and Nicola Larini along with touring car champion Fabrizio Giovanardi and Luca Cappellari.
The first VLN races of 2011 (also run on the Nurburgring, to similar rules) were won by a factory-entered BMW, a GT3-class Mercedes SLS, a Ferrari 458, the Porsche GT3 hybrid and an Audi R8 LMS.
This makes predicting the outcome of the 24 Hours very difficult – at least five different car manufacturers are capable of winning this race overall.
There are many familiar names on the grid as well: Stuck, Winkelhock and Abt are well-known outside of Germany.
Touring car drivers like Dirk and Jörg Müller, Augusto Farfus, Tom Coronel and DTM drivers like Mattias Eckström and Timo Scheider will all start the race.
Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer will swap his Audi R18 for a Lexus LF-A.
Multiple World Rally champion Tommi Mäkinen will drive a Subaru Imprea WRX STi. Top Gear fans will recognise Sabine Schmitz at the wheel of a Porsche 997 GT3.
It might surprise some people to learn that F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke is a big fan of the Nurburgring and finished the 2007 race in eighth place.
F1 technology on the Nordschleife
It’s been a while since the last F1 car run on the Nordschleife, but fans of F1 technology still should be able to enjoy this year’s race.
One of the talking points of last year’s race was the impressive drive of the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid. This car uses a flywheel Kinetic Energy Recovery System developed by Williams Hybrid Power for use on Williams’ F1 cars.
The Porsche led the race with two hours to go but then suffered a mechanical failure.
Another familiar name for Formula 1 fans continues its involvement in endurance racing: Pirelli will equip several teams with tyres – though of course not the high-wearing kind we are used to seeing in F1.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Cars competing in endurance racing need to be equipped with a consistent product with strong durability features, whereas our Formula 1, GP2 and GP3 tyres have been designed to have variable durability features, as requested by the organisers to spice-up on-track action.”
Three cars sharing the same garage and no safety car interruptions are just two ways the Nurburgring 24 Hours is unlike other races.
The garage sharing arrangement is simply by force of necessity with a field of 200 entrants. Among other things, they have to share a fuel pump with other pit garages as well.
Due to the large grid, the field is divided into different starting groups. This prevents big turn one crashes but also means some cars go a lap down before even competing their first lap.
Although closing speeds are not as high as they were in the past, the leaders are still faster by minutes rather than seconds.
Instead of the safety car, Intervention Vehicles are driven onto the course to collect crashed cars and pull them off the circuit.
The teams are allowed to work on their cars or haul them back to the pits. When there is fluid on the track, the marshals may close half of the road – this on a circuit which is already very narrow. You can see examples of the track closure and Intervention Vehicle at 2:37 and 5:00 respectively in this video:
During the last few years, there were up to 200,000 spectators at the race, making it one of the biggest motorsport events in the world.
At night you can see camp fires, barbecues and even light shows around the track. Some drivers even claim to be able to smell what’s cooking as they fly past.
Porsche has invited teams from various international Porsche Cups to enter a supporting race on the track before the main event. Over 200 911 GT3 Cup cars will participate in a six-lap, 152km race.
As a result, there is no Porsche Supercup race supporting this weekend’s Grand Prix. Given the choice between Valencia’s concrete barriers and angular turns and the Nordschleife, would anyone choose not to race in Germany?
Some cars also have GPS trackers you can follow.
Practice for the race begins this afternoon, followed by the first qualifying session which runs into the night.
The second qualifying session is on Friday and the race gets started at 4pm local time (3pm in the UK) on Saturday.
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