Preparations have begun in earnest for this year’s Nürburgring 24-hours. All the teams have now arrived and are busily making themselves at home in what little space they can find in the crammed pit garages and paddocks.
With practice and qualifying sessions set to begin on Friday, Thursday has an awkward feeling about it. Everyone is looking forward to the race weekend, yet all have the uneasy mix of excitement and nervous anticipation that characterises this epic event.
With few spectators bothering to leave their makeshift encampments in the forests, the paddock and garages are calm and quiet, at least for the moment. While drivers mill around aimlessly killing time, or queuing to sign-on and have their racing kit scrutineered (this is the stage at which you get the coveted ‘Fahrer’ sticker on your crash helmet), the mechanics are already hard at work preparing the cars for scrutineering, getting their inventory of parts sorted then making the necessary set-up changes for the first practice session on Friday morning.
The entry for this year’s race is more intriguing than ever, with an extraordinary mix of machinery. Both Lexus and VW have taken the bold step to race cars that are yet to go on sale. The most exciting of these is the Lexus LF-A supercar, which is finished in a sinister scheme of satin black and looks like a stealth fighter parked in Garage 10. Alongside it is Aston Martin Racing’s mighty DBRS9 and a pair of factory entered Vantage N24s. As I’m driving ‘Kermit’ – the lurid green No. 7 N24 – I’ll be in the perfect position to follow the progress of Aston’s entries and the fabulous-looking V10-engined Lexus. Keep coming back to the Dialogue section for regular pre and post-stint updates.
VW has entered not one but three Scirocco Coupes. They too look magnificent, and although out-gunned by many of the more powerful cars in the race, have a very real prospect of finishing inside the top ten. The same team took a Golf to an amazing 8th place finish last year, and everything they learned about that car has been put into the Sciroccos. That they also have racing legend Hans Stuck, and rally legend Carlos Sainz amongst the driver line-up tells you everything you need to appreciate how seriously VW is taking this year’s N24 effort.
One car yet to surface is the Gumpert Apollo. The team truck is safely in the paddock, but as yet nobody has spotted the monster supercar. With a hybrid powertrain and ex-F1 ace Heinz-Harald Frentzen as one of the drivers, the Audi-engined supercar it is sure to fly. The question is how long will it last with no prior testing on the Nordschleife?
My DR colleague, Jethro Bovingdon, was relieved to finally clap eyes on his Marangoni Fiat 500, and also took the opportunity to scope his main opposition in the SP1 class: a pink Suzuki Swift GTR that has the well-worn look of a seasoned Nordschleife warrior. We’ll know how the two cars compare (not to mention the third SP1 entry: an old Mini Cooper 1.3i) after Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions. In-fights such as this are the real beauty of the N24, for they ensure battles rage throughout the monster 200+ field from green lights to chequered flag.
By tomorrow night the nerves and excitement will have ramped-up appreciably, but at least Jethro and I will have the first laps of the race weekend under our belts. Until then we’ll be scanning the skies for signs of the Eifel region’s fickle weather patterns. Sunshine is forecast for the race, but you just never know round here. Whatever happens you can be sure to read about it in DR’s Dialogue section.