No sooner had I dumped the contents of my suitcases into the washing machine after returning from the fantastic race at Le Mans, then I was rushing out the door for the next 24 Hour race - destination Nürburgring. Another weekend, another endurance race. Nordschleife is however a very different monster than La Sarthe - with it's own culture and set of challenges, not just to drivers and fans, but also to those media wishing to cover the event.
The sheer scale of the race held over a 25,378 metre track, 15.76 miles in other money, is difficult to comprehend. There were 175 cars on the Entry List, and 165 of them made it to the grid. I counted 636 drivers for this huge field - requiring the Drivers' Briefing be held in two parts and in German and English. There are over 2,000 officials helping to organise and run this mammoth enterprise, not to mention all the emergency and security services. Logistics are certainly a big issue, but this is Germany and for the most part things go according to plan.
The huge grid is divided into multiple classes with the lead cars coming from the GT3 ranks. All manner of of other GT and Touring Cars are accommodated in the mix, with most of the teams being regulars in the VLN series that is held at the Nürburgring throughout the year. VLN? Short for Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring, which would be challenging, if not impossible, to say after a few local brews.
Before getting into the details of how the race was run, let's take a peek at the various contenders for the 2014 Nürburgring 24 Hours...
Hoping to ride on the crest of the wave that victory at Le Mans the previous week had created, was Audi. Their challenge was led by Phoenix Racing, Audi DTM flag bearers. The #3 R8 LMS ultra had a direct connection with Le Mans as one of the 2014 winners, Marcel Fässler, joined with Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler and Laurens Vanthoor behind the wheel.
The team has had considerable success in all aspects of racing including three 24 hour wins, twice at the Ring, once at Spa. The smart money was on them. #4 was perhaps the dark horse of the Audi effort but the crew consisting of Christian Mamerow, René Rast, Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock all have vast experience of the circuit and the car.
BMW also had their sight set on taking honours on the Nordschleife with two teams receiving factory support. The crack Belgian outfit, Marc VDS, fielding two BMW Z4 GT3s, the fancied car being #25 with DTM stars Marco Wittmann and Maxime Martin joining former double winners Uwe Alzen and Jörg Müller.
The other werks BMW outfit, Schubert, also had a brace of Z4s along, with their lead car, #19, having the all star line up of Lucas Luhr, Alexander Sims, Dirk Müller and Dirk Werner.
In 2013 the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 swept all before it, winning all the serious endurance races for GT3, so they would be contenders in every respect. Last years' winner Jeroen Bleekemolen was joined in the #1 Black Falcon example by Lance David Arnold, Andreas Simonsen and Christian Menzel.
The other in form Mercedes was the #3 Rowe Racing SLS to be driven by Jan Seyffarth, Thomas Jäger, Klaus Graf and Richard Göransson.
The Dörr Motorsport McLaren MP4-12C GT3 was tipped for pole position, if not an outright win. Kevin Estre, on loan from McLaren did not disappoint, posting a time of 8:10.921.
One might expect that Porsche would be all over the Nürburgring 24 Hours, but with the factory budgets committed to the FIA World Endurance Championship and Le Mans in both LM P1 and GTE PRO classes something has to give. So only the Team Falken #44 911 with Martin Ragginger, Peter Dumbreck, Alexandre Imperatori and Wolf Henzler driving stood any realistic chance of success.
Perhaps the last of the contenders for outright victory was the Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 in the instantly recognisable livery of Bilstein. The driver trio of Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy would have their work cut out to match the German onslaught.
Aside from the top runners there were heaps of interesting cars up and down the grid. A firm crowd favourite was the pair of Lexus LFAs. New for 2014 was the Lexus LFA Code X, seen above right. Despite the fact that production of the road car ceased in 2012, development of the racing car has continued. A GTE version of the LFA was built with a vague aim of competing at Le Mans. That project stalled when Toyota's LM P1 Hybrid was given the Green Light. This prototype formed the basis for the 2013 LFA that appeared at the Ring.
The Lexus LFA Code X has an enlarged engine, the V10 is now 5.3 litres, up from 4.8 which is the most obvious change. There are also modifications to the chassis with greater usage of carbon fiber. The motivation for this development is to create a research platform to test future sports car technologies. Perhaps having the President of the Toyota Motor Corporation on the driving strength of Lexus #48 LFA helps. Akio Toyoda, aka "Morizo," is a real car guy - this year I bumped into him trackside at the Caracciola Karussell, he was with a film crew and was shooting with them. We exchanged bows and carried on snapping, I wonder if his work was better than mine?
In addition to the Lexus LFA pair there were were a pair of IS F saloons.
There were also half a dozen GT86 Toyotas racing - the car is offered as a turnkey package aimed at club racers in the VLN.
Reflecting the growing popualrity of motorsport in new markets was the Toyota Team Thailand Corolla Altis.
Where Toyota is racing you will find Nissan. A pair of Nissan GT-R GT3 racers were entered by RJN Motorsport with a mix of factory and GT Academy drivers.
Further Japanese interest was shown by the annual appearance of the Subaru factory with the latest incarnation of the WRX STI.
Embracing the spirit of the Nürburgring 24 Hours is this privateer Honda S2000 all the way from Shimotsuma, these guys are VLN regulars.
Completing the Japanese line up was a single Mazda run by top endurance sportscar outfit, Team Jota and with backing from Mazda Motorsport. One of the drivers was former Grand Prix star (Ferrari/McLaren) and Le Mans winner, Stefan Johansson, who was making his début at the Nürburgring 24.
Hyundai Motor Deutschland brought along a Genesis V6.
And a Veloster... showing the importance of the race to the manufacturers.
BMW also have created a standard club racer based on the M235i and this car has proved to be a big hit, with 14 examples on the grid.
Another local favourite is the Opel Astra OPC with 9 cars starting the race.
Renault Clio Cup cars are also popular.
As befits Porsche's icon, the 911, there were 28 variations of this long serving brand on the grid. Above is the Kremer Racing example.
If Porsche AG does not have any formal representation at this year's event, they can always rely on Manthey Racing with backing from local newspaper, Wochenspiegel.
Audi had a further six R8 LMS Ultras in the event, including this one with a stellar line up, Le Mans winners Frank Biela (5 times), Marco Werner (3 times), top racer Pierre Kaffer and Felix Baumgartner. The latter is famous for his sky diving exploits, I imagine that after jumping 24 miles racing round the Nordschleife surely could hold no terrors.
Audi also have a number of cars based on the TT range, this was the fastest.
The Nürburgring 24 Hours always attracts a few entries that could best be described as eccentric, such as this Opel Mantra which serves as an icon for the event - racing consecutively for 16 years now.
Almost as aged is this Mark lll VW Golf.
There is something for everyone on the grid for the Nürburgring 24 Hours. What happened in the race though?
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