The Nürburgring 24 hour race opened for the 43rd time this year, but there was a major change that may be a turning point in its long history on the Nordschleife; on the track that is often referred to as the most dangerous circuit in the world.
Fully aware of the dangers involved, the organizers of the event investigate and take appropriate safety measures immediately when there is a major accident.
The safety measures taken to limit the number of SP9 (FIA GT3) cars in a single pit box to two cars was a regulation change initiated from a vehicle fire that occurred in VLN 1. Additionally, after the accident that occurred on the Flugplatz in VLN 1 this year, the organizers moved quickly in response. At the 6 hour qualifying race held 2 weeks after the accident, a speed limit was imposed at the Flugplatz and other locations where major accidents have occurred in the past, as well as spectator entry restrictions set for certain dangerous sections.
This is a result of really placing the safety of teams, drivers, and of course the spectators first.
Even with the variety of restrictions imposed, the lap times exceeded those of last year thanks to the rapid advancement of GT3 cars today. The safety of the race was secured successfully without taking away from the allure of the race.
The fastest teams in the world gathered once again this year. Audi has placed their new Audi R8 LMS in the capable hands of last years winning team, Phoenix Racing and WRT. The cyborg-like design of the new model really struck the cords of motorsports fans. The car was entered as an advanced test, but the new R8 LMS of WRT already gained a victory in VLN2. WRT was a small private team of Belgium until a few years ago, but they have produced solid results in the Blancpain GT series and are close with Phoenix Racing. Overcoming unexpected issues like fire in the pits and a spin out on the GP course, they won their first victory in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.
Christian Mamerou of Phoenix Racing is also driving in the Super GT series of Japan.
He has his Japanese “豆郎(Mamerou)” sticker on his helmet, and Japan’s Super GT fans should check him out.
Mercedes have Bernd Schneider in Black Falcon, their ace team. There were a lot of spectators that saw the dramatic scene when their driver was struggling to put back the left rear tire that came off of the car.
HARIBO Racing’s cute livery was a huge hit, and because they were long known as a Porsche team, the change of cars was big news. DTM star driver Uwe Alzen joined the team.
Team Schubert, the semi-works team of BMW had a rivalry going with another BMW from Marc VDS. With the introduction of the M6 GT3 planned for next year, they must have been really looking for a final victory in the Z4. Ultimately Schubert dropped their rank due to accidents, but Marc VDS fought hard for the win in the last few hours. They were just short of the title, but managed a respectable 2nd place finish.
Bentley participating for the first time had 2 works cars and 1 customer car. The #85 works car appeared in a livery commemorating the 85th anniversary since their victory in the 1930 Blue Train Race. It was pretty impressive to see its huge body shaking it up in the corners.
Aston Martin had a lot of entries this year, with 2 cars in SP9, plus 2 race cars based on the road going GT12, and additional GT4 cars.
Yamauchi san didn’t race this year, but Lucas and other GT Academy related drivers gathered in the Gran Turismo Lounge.
For GT Academy drivers, Lucas drove the Team RJN Car 35, and Florian drove the Team Schulze car 21. RJN ran the new 2015 model GT-R, and though the Schulze car was the older spec model, they have more experience driving on the Nürburgring. This was a battle between the new Godzilla and old Godzilla, and we just happened to see this match up at the Carousel.
This particular battle we saw was one by the Schulze car, who selected the inside line even with slower lap cars in the way. But as luck turns out, team Schulze came across transmission issues with only minutes left in the race, which brought the car to a complete halt. They had enough laps in the race to be considered a complete run however, and placed 19th overall. On the other hand team RJN ran a smooth race all the way to the end, finishing in 9th place overall.
Because the main racing project of Manthey Racing is currently the WEC, their Porsches here have been just for customer racing support in the last few years. And this year, Falken Porsche who just fell short of a podium with a 4th place finish last year, finally made it to the podium in this years race. In the last few years, cars finishing in the top group looked relatively clean (meaning they avoided crashes and damage), but this year’s Falken Porsche was in a state that reminded us of the good old days of Nürburgring. It was just short of being eaten by the monster that lurks in racing!
Sabine Schmitz, the fastest female driver on the Nürburgring, together with Patrick Huisman, Patrick Pilet, and Jörg Bergmeister made a team that would be respectable even as a works team, but they crashed in the middle of the night, retiring out of the race.
Sabine also made a double entry in the WTCC that was held for the first time as a supporting race of the 24 hours of Nürburgring 24. It was incredible to see these ultra lightweight front wheel drive machines zooming through the Nordschleife. This is an incredible category in which they have a standing start on the 24 hour layout, completing a race in approximately 26 minutes (3 laps).
In the end, Jose Maria Lopez of Citroen became first Nordschleife WTCC winner. And I heard Sebastian Loeb who is also a Gran Turismo fan, trained on GT6 for this race!
Everyone’s favorite Manta, as well as the Subaru and LFA also had a great run. Every time the Manta came across the home straight, the crowds on the grandstands stood and cheered for the car, filling the Nürburgring with a strange sense of unity. Though the Subaru WRX was involved in an accident at their test participation in VLN 2 and were not able to test their car thoroughly, they achieved a first place finish in the SP3T class at the 24H race. And the LFA Code X of Gazoo Racing has a class victory as well, though it was sad not to see Mr. “Morizo” driving this year.
Many were surprised at the speed of the “SCG”. This mystery machine was a new car developed by the team who brought the P4/5 Competizione in 2011-2012. The car was made to be street legal and is on the road today, with the project titled “#RoadtoLeMans”.
It seemed like there were less campers than last year, but I saw the “Nürburgring villagers” who really enjoy the festivities on the course side every year. This youth I met when I was going back to the shuttle bus after photographing the Pflanzgarten had a big smile on his face when I took a picture of him; maybe he heard who I was with from the driver?
The temporary toilette of the marshals had this on there. And there’s the really temporary toilet you see every year on the course side…. I’m glad I haven’t intruded on anyone actually using it.
I really felt the allure of the Nürburgring, carried on by generations of people regardless of age or race.
The day after the race, we headed out to the Spa Francorchamps, located an hour and a half away from the Nürburgring. The scale of the famous Eau Rouge never ceases to amaze me every time I see it.
This was also a hotspot for GT Academy Online Rd. 3 where the top ranking drivers fought to out do one another.
Teams like Toyota racing were testing WEC/ELMS cars, and I saw the Marc VDS car #25 that I saw at Nürburgring on the previous day. This year there’s an interval between the 24 hours of Nürburgring and the LeMans, but it’s still a busy month for racing teams either way.
On June 13, the Legendary LeMans 24 hour race will be held, and the GT Academy Online Finals is underway. But you know that already, hope you’re having fun!