Tag Archives: Nurburgring 24 Hours

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A Primer on Sports Car Racing – Part Two

In the second part of his survey of the endurance motorsport scene, János Wimpffen considers the leading organisations in European GT racing, SRO, Creventic and VLN.

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The Stéphane Ratel Organisation is now the granddaddy of European GT racing. Its antecedents go back to the BPR (Barth-Peter-Ratel) Global GT Series which began in 1994 and most famously provided the framework for the long-lived FIA GT Championship. After having lost its World Championship status SRO became semi-independent from the FIA which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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SRO, through its former European GT3 Championship, was responsible for carving out a niche for the GT3 class and it has become the sole category for what has bifurcated into two quite different series. The present form of the Sprint Series began in 2010 and consists of two races during the weekend. The main function of the Qualifying Race, typically held on Saturday, is to set the grid for the Main Race. Both are one hour in length with pit stops and driver changes taking place during a mandated ten-minute mid-race window.

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The SRO Sprint series is the most creative of all sports car series in testing the waters at some rather unique venues, including street courses in Baku and Moscow.

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The SRO Endurance Series primarily consists of three hour races with the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours as the season’s centerpiece. In many ways the Endurance championship is the spiritual successor to BPR as it caters largely to “gentleman” drivers. While the technical formula for both series is based on GT3, there are subsidiary classes reserved for non-pro rosters called Pro-Am and Am (Silver Cup in the Sprint Series).

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The Blancpain sponsored Endurance Series has grown into a very rich forum displaying all of the current GT3 machinery. New models for 2015 include the Lamborghini Hurracan and the McLaren 650S. Many other marques are currently circulating such as Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Nissan, Porsche, and Jaguar—the last being represented only by a troubled, privately built car.

Entries for the Endurance Series have frequently exceeded 60 cars but the Sprint Series rarely has made it to two dozen. The short races do offer no holds barred cut-and-thrust battles. It is rare for the entire field to make it through the opening lap unscathed. That expectancy of carnage is one reason why some teams have balked and run primarily in the endurance rounds. Orthodox sports car fans may balk at one-hour races being considered a major event but the made-for-TV / video game format has a special type of appeal. Both of the SRO series have exclusive agreements with Pirelli.

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The Dutch based Creventic Organisation has emerged as another major player on the European scene. They have been managing the Dubai 24 Hours since 2006 and this race has steadily risen in prominence, becoming a wintertime jaunt for European runners. Creventic expanded the concept a bit with a loose series begun in 2008 and this year the all-Hankook shod 24 Hour Series has become a full-fledged FIA championship. Despite the title, many of the rounds are actually 12 hour races. The fields for Creventic races are an eclectic mix of GT, Touring and silhouette specials. Overall winners at Creventic races invariably are built GT3 specs. Called A6, they are slightly altered and frequently must run above a reference lap time—a variation on the BOP theme.

2014 Nurburgring 24

There are important endurance races which are independent of any series. The chief European example would be the Nürburgring 24 Hours. For most of this race’s 30 plus year existence it was primarily a gigantic German club race.

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Many of teams in its almost preposterous starting fields of nearly 200 cars still fit the mold of club racers and come from the ranks of slower GT and Touring categories. However, the sharp end of GT3 (called SP9-GT3) has inexorably become the domain of the major factory teams and has been fiercely contested of late by BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. Further afield in Australia, the Bathurst 12 Hours has taken on a similar role as the antipode’s most significant independent GT endurance race.

The Ring Cycle

The first of the three great endurance classics was a week or two ago. The weather Gods frowned upon the event and yet those of us who got cold and wet were still smiling  A bad day on the Nordschleife is better than good days most anywhere. Our Special Correspondent braved the elements to bring you this commentary. Danke!

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It is not often that one drives down the main street in a town and passes under a bridge that looks just like a typical railway bridge except that it isn’t! No, this bridge (on the left) carries the race track of the Nϋrburgring’s Nordschleife (northern loop), and the track climbing up to the right can just be seen. This is the Adenau section of the circuit and the cars come down the hill from the left, cross the bridge and charge up the right hander on their way to Bergwerk.

A race circuit cutting through a town’s normal buildings – magic!

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The Nϋrburgring 24 Hours 2013 will go down in history for two main reasons. First, it contained the longest enforced suspension of racing in the 41 races run so far owing to the impossibly wet weather conditions – it was red-flagged at 22.44 p.m. when visibility was practically zero and racing only resumed at around 8 a.m. on the Monday. (Fog had already caused a stoppage in 1992 and 2007, and in 1973 the race format called for two 8-hour heats with an 8-hour break between).

Secondly, this was the first win in the event for Mercedes-Benz – BMW had been victorious no less than 19 times, Porsche 11, Ford 5, Chrysler 3 and Opel and Audi once each. The Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 has been developed into a reliable car and it gave Black Falcon yet another 24-hour victory, providing also a first time win for drivers Schneider, Bleekemolen, Thiim and Sean Edwards, the first Briton so to triumph.

173 cars started the 2013 race with 36 retirements (in 2007 there were 224 starters!) but each year this fascinating event attracts scant coverage in the British motoring journals, so a brief look at some of the contenders should go a little way to compensate:

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Aston Martin has long had positive links with the Nordschleife – who can forget the DBR1’s three successive wins in the 1,000 km races in 1957-59 thanks to the skill of C.A.S.Brooks and Stirling Moss with their three different co-drivers? The company now has a technical centre alongside the Döttinger Höhe section and has in recent years been a regular entrant in the 24 Hours. This year their works-backed Vantage GT3 shared the front row of the grid and was leading the race prior to the onset of the dreadful weather and the subsequent red flag. The wet conditions that persisted at first on the Monday morning did not suit the car and it had dropped back to tenth by the finish. The picture shows the car diving down to the Hatzenbach towards the end of the race.

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This Opel Manta seems to be a regular fixture in recent editions of the 24 Hour race. The crowds love it because the model dates from the Eighties and once again it completed the race, this year in 100th position.

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This Audi R8 LMS ultra of Phoenix Racing was one of the favourites, having sat on pole position at the start. Here it is climbing the rise out of the bridge at Adenau on its way to Bergwerk. After last year’s victory this was not Audi’s year – this car could not manage better than 8th.

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Nor was it BMW’s! The Z4 GT3s are very potent machines with 4.4-litre V8 engines (the road cars use 6-cylinder units) but this car , again a favourite, finished only 6th. BMW honour was upheld by Maxime Martin’s remarkable drive in the last hour or so when he snatched second place with the Team Marc VDS Z4 GT3 thus spoiling a 1-2-3 Mercedes finish!

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Peugeot has been scoring class wins in recent Nϋrburgring 24 Hour races with the RCZ coupés but this year they have been very anxious to promote their new 208 GTI model and all three of their entries completed the race, the best winning the class.

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The GT4 class was hotly contested with Porsche no. 56 running away with the class initially but in the end this BMW M3 GT4 finished first in the group on the road followed by a Ginetta G50. Alas it seems that both cars have since been disqualified!

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Cor Euser brought his GT4 Dubai 24-Hour class-winning Lotus Evora to the race in an attempt to repeat the performance. Unfortunately, American driver Shane Lewis not only crashed it in practice but out-braked himself in the race and damaged the car again. However, Euser does not give up easily and his team had the car repaired in time for it to do a final lap at the finish and qualify in 134th position.

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Alset Global, a company pioneering a hybrid hydrogen fuel system, entered into a collaboration with Aston Martin to develop a car that could take part in an international race using hydrogen as the fuel. Aston Martin chose their newly-released Rapide S model as the basis of this and it was intended that it should have its first outing thus equipped in the Nϋrburgring 24 Hours. The car is a hybrid and used hydrogen for a lap or so at the start of each driving stint, the normal fuel for the V-12 engine taking over for most of the time. In the course of the meeting the car did the first ever lap of the circuit using hydrogen only and thus entered the history books.

This car was run prior to the 24 Hour race in the second and third VLN races (the first was cancelled) to get it race-worthy but it only used petrol on these occasions.

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While on the subject of fuels, diesel cars have long had their own class in this race – BMW had the first outright win for a diesel car in an international race when it won here in 1998 – and the smoke being emitted from this 1-Series BMW confirms its  diesel status – it went on to win the class ahead of a Seat Leon.

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No Nϋrburgring 24 Hour race would be complete these days without the Manthey Team Porsches. Here is car no. 18 pedalled by the top works Porsche drivers. The flashing blue light in the windscreen is to warn drivers of slower cars that the really fast boys are approaching them!

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Mission accomplished – the three Peugeot 208 GTIs arrive at the finish.

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David Blumlein, June 2013

The Opening Rounds

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Lap one and Pedro Lamy flies at the Flugplatz, the Aston Martin was the leader of the pack as Frank Stippler’s Audi had already made a break for it. The conditions that prevailed on Monday were not to the liking of the Vantage and they faded from contention but the guys all gave it a lash when behind the wheel.

John Brooks, May 2013

Nϋrburgring Natters Two

Our Special Correspondent has been over to Germany for the Nürburgring 24 Hours. As usual he kept his eyes open and his ears pinned back, here is some of the knowledge he acquired on the trip.

The 2012 Nürburgring 24 Hours

In their reports of this wonderful race the general motoring press tend to mention the winners and the main contenders and tell us very little else. But there were 169 cars in this year’s race, so here is a brief selection of some of the other cars that took part:

The weather was in fact nice and warm in the early afternoon on the Sunday so this Porsche had no real need for extra ventilation! A replacement door was indeed fitted shortly after this picture was taken and the Frikadelli Racing Team car went on to be the highest placed Porsche at the finish, taking a well deserved 6th overall. The factory Porsche drivers were not so lucky this year, suffering all sorts of problems.

Three of the McLaren MP4 12C cars started the race, this Gembella Team car having no less than Nick Heidfeld and three times winner Klaus Ludwig on the driving strength. Alas, none of the cars survived into the Sunday, falling victims to accidents.

And this Ford GT did not last the race either!

The Peugeot RCZs are regulars at the Nürburgring 24 Hours these days. Although its team-mate failed to finish this year, this car went on to win its class. They are assembled by Magna Steyr in Austria.

Aston Martin are also regulars in this race and last year they ran their two new prototype Zagato cars, nicknamed “Zig” and “Zag”. This year they brought along just “Zig” which ran steadily into 26th place and 2nd in class. Here it is seen with a backcloth of the famous Nürburg Schloss.

Toyota love to use the 24 Hour race as a workout for their forthcoming and new models – for them it provides the best test session they can have. The Lexus LFA was here as usual, winning its class, but we also saw the new GT86 cars, Toyota’s rear-wheel driven sporting car developed in conjunction with Subaru whose flat-four engine powers it:

This car won its class.

Hyundai adopt a similar attitude. Here is their Genesis Coupé which finished 105th.

Jaguar saloons are not new to success in endurance races at the Nürburgring. In the 1962 12 Hours and 1963 12 Hours on the Nordschleife, Peter Lindner drove his 3.8 Jaguar Mk 2 saloon to victory, first with Peter Nöcker and secondly with Hans-Joachim Walter (European Rally Champion). This was the longest event held at the Nürburgring  at the time – the 24 Hours did not start until 1970.

This Jaguar XF saloon therefore carries on a Jaguar tradition and it not only won its class but was the first diesel car to finish the race. Privately entered by Carvell Motorsport, it had a 3-litre V6 diesel and completed 109 laps finishing 92nd.

One of the attractive features of endurance racing is that the teams are invariably reluctant to give up if there is the slightest chance of keeping the car going. Having received a considerable mauling, this BMW 135D managed to reach the finish scoring 2nd in the diesel class.

This Ford Fiesta, clearly proud of its heritage and managing to hide its ravaged nearside bodywork from the crowds in the main stands, finished 110th and 2nd in its class.

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The no. 11 Manthey Porsche, one of the original favourites and crewed by three former winners, had a troubled race and suffered the indignity at the end of being towed away after being rammed just before the finishing line by a Renault Clio.

David Blumlein, May 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Full Monte

The Nurburgring 24 Hours was, as ever, a proper race. The stars get their due recognition but just important are the supporting cast, so just before we turn our attention towards La Sarthe here is a full roll call, including two who did not make the start.

Mainly my work, but gaps generously filled by David Blumlein, David Lord, Peter May and David Stephens.

John Brooks, May 2012


 

Nϋrburg Natters

A brief look at how endurance racing came to the Nϋrburgring and a look at some of the less publicised participants in the 2011 24 Hour race

The Nϋrburgring is chiefly remembered for the many outstanding  Grands Prix races that took place over its unparalleled Nordschleife, a driver’s circuit if ever there was one, and it is not surprising that some of the greatest talents of all shone there e.g. Nuvolari in the P3 Alfa Romeo in 1935, Fangio in the 250F Maserati in 1957 and Moss in the Lotus 18 in 1961. With such performances as these is it any wonder that the circuit has tended to be associated with the single-seater racing car?

And so it has not been thought of as a natural home for long distance enduring racing, although its early Grands Prix were ironically run for sports cars, mainly because Germany had no suitable Grand Prix contender and because Mercédès had just joined up with Benz and the new combine was intent on getting on with their new 6-cylinder S, SS and SSK supercharged sports cars designed by Dr Ferdinand Porsche and Max Wagner.

Sports car races supporting the Grands Prix events, yes, but nothing really serious until 1953 when the Nϋrburgring hosted its first 1,000km race as a round of the newly created World Sports Car Championship. This 1,000km race steadily became a permanent fixture ( with hiccups in 1954 and 1955 ) and as the Sixties unfolded a 12-Hour Touring Car race joined in, providing BMW and Jaguar with two wins apiece. Then, as the Liège-Rome-Liège/Liège-Sofia-Liège rally, the Marathon de la Route, was forced  off the roads of neighbouring countries, it found refuge in a series of real endurance events around the Nϋrburgring as 82,84, 86 and 96 Hour marathons between 1965-71.

By this time endurance racing was firmly in the Eifel blood and in 1970 the 24 Hour race was instituted. With gaps in 1974/75 owing to the oil crisis and 1983 when the reconstruction was being carried out, this wonderful event has been run ever since and long may it continue! One of its great attractions is the way it is not limited by constraints of championships in the breadth of its varied entry. Le Mans has long forsaken all those varied capacity classes which made its fields so very rich and interesting – not so the Nϋrburgring 24 Hours: lots of classes to accommodate all sorts of runners and sufficient factory interest nowadays to give the event big importance.

The top runners get all the media attention in the motoring press so here are some of those others who took part in 2011. There were 198 starters and 783 drivers!

Artega GT

Welcome to the Artega GT, a new German sporting car with a 3.6-litre V6 engine mounted midships. Designed by Henrik Fisker, it is built in Delbrück in northern Germany. The car finished the race in 70th position.

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Aston Martin constructed two prototypes of their forthcoming Zagato model – this one is nicknamed “Zig” and encountered many delays but finished 111th.

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And this is “Zag” powering out of the Pflanzgarten to finish 89th. In the background is the spot where poor Peter Collins came to grief when his Ferrari Dino ran wide during the 1958 German Grand Prix, throwing him out against a tree.

Opel Manta

 

The rules require all entries to be less than ten years old but special dispensation was given to this Opel Manta which managed a noble 129th!

Lexus LF-A

 

Lexus by their own admission treat the race as the “best possible test session” for their LF-A. In 2010 the test session yielded a class win – no such luck in 2011!

Peugeot RCZ HDI

 

This is the only surviving Peugeot RCZ HDI but it did win its class.

Mini Coupes

 

There seemed to have been very little notice taken by the media outlets of the new Mini Coupé which was after all making its first public appearance prior to its formal launch two months later. Here are both cars finishing.

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Intervention

The Nϋrburgring has a very sensible way of coping when a car strikes the barrier – they simply cone off half of the track where the trouble is, carry out the rescue and repair work, all without the need for safety cars. Meanwhile marshals ensure that the cars on the track simply slow down sufficiently as they pass through the restriction and then resume racing straight after.

Here the Heico Motorsport Mercédès-Benz leads a group of cars out of the restricted section on its way to 7th overall.

Perhaps others could learn from this.

David Blumlein March 2012