Quick question: What’s better than one world class 24 Hour race? Answer: Two world class endurance races on successive weekends.
After the fanfare of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the focus of the endurance racing world shifts 700 km eastwards to the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany.
While Le Mans is – rightly so – the most famous endurance event, its German cousin is just as well known with the
hordes of motorsport-mad travellers who migrate every year to the Eifel Mountains and line the fences around the 26km track near the village of Nürburg.
It’s ironic considering that only 54 cars took the start at Le Mans, that once late withdrawals and crashes whittle down the field, the German forests will echo to the sound of over 150 cars. In a single race.
True, this weekend’s Bitburger-and-barbecue-fuelled festival of racing lacks some of the tech-fest depth of the LMP1 machines, but if you enjoyed the three-way manufacturer battle at Le Mans, the depth and variety of the GT3 category in Germany should be enough to cure any lingering symptoms of sleep deprivation.
With manufacturers increasingly employing a travelling band of works drivers to represent them at the world’s premier GT races there are factory supported teams from BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Aston Martin, McLaren and Nissan.
Among the men within the teams there are several drivers attempting double-duty.
A week on from pulling a 14-hour stint as part of a two handed effort for ProSpeed Competition at Le Mans, Jeroen Bleekemolen takes his place as part of Black Falcon’s #1 team in a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, alongside Andreas Simonsen, Christian Menzel and Lance David Arnold.
For obvious reasons many of the drivers arriving at the ‘ring from Le Mans contested the LMGTE classes. Porsche men Patrick Pilet and Joerg Bergmeister will aim to move on from their troubled Le Mans campaign as part of the #91 Porsche squad with the Frikadelli and Haribo team respectively.
Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke, co-drivers in the #97 Aston less than a week ago, will be joined by Pedro Lamy who raced in the marque’s #98 LMGTE Am machine, while Nicki Thiim, who won the Am class with Aston, moves into a Prosperia-Abt Audi as part of a team that also features Corvette factory driver Richard Westbrook.
However, to dwell on the big names in the GT3 cars is to miss part of the point of the N24.
The variety and scale of the grid is unrivalled. That the size of the entry necessitates three separate starting groups should provide some idea of the numbers involved, while a list of manufacturers that includes Toyota, Hyundai, Lexus, Ford, Subaru, Renault, Corvette, Ginetta and – provided without explanation for the N24 veterans – Opel, offers an image that a stroll up the grid is as close as most of us will get to seeing the majority of our Gran Turismo garages in one place, in reality.
If you are sailing, Chunneling or planing from the UK towards Nürburgring for your first visit to the Nordschleife on a race weekend – as opposed to the petrolhead pilgrimage to the Touristfahren – then it’s not for us to spoil the surprise any further.
It’s an experience not to be missed, but if I cannot make it this year, make sure you book early for 2015.
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Words: James Broomhead and Kevin Mc Glone
Pictures: Kevin Mc Glone (Red Square Images)