► More than 100 cars start the N24
► 24 hours of the Nordschleife
► #912 Manthey Racing Porsche wins
Some races command more respect than others. Le Mans, Spa and Monaco are all tracks that seem to ooze history, mystique and legend – but the Nordschleife arguably eclipses them all. Winding through the misty undulations of the Eifel mountains, the Nurburgring – or Green Hell, as Jackie Stewart christened it – is nature barely tamed for racing cars.
The often-rough tarmac threads through dense forest and maps the topography of the area, undulating like a rollercoaster as drivers race at over 100mph. It’s here then, that tens of thousands of people go to watch the Nurburgring 24 hours – and this year CAR magazine went, too. Featuring a grid of more than 100 assorted cars competing over a full 24 hours, the N24h is one of most demanding races in the motorsport calendar.
Keep reading to find out what CAR thought of the 2018 race.
1) The weather is in charge, not the cars
At 3.30pm on Saturday 12 May, the N24 kicked off in stunning sunlight, but just under 12 hours later the race had taken on an altogether different complexion. With rain forecast at the halfway mark, teams tried to make hay in the sun and build a gap to their competitors. For a while it looked there’d be no rain at all, and then at 3am the heavens opened. Biblically.
Lightning spread across the night sky with torrential rain following. Teams had to decide between double stints, single stings, cut slicks, wets or inters – with every decision having a massive bearing on their fate over the next few hours.
With slippery conditions and lower visibility making the Nordschleife even more precarious, it was only a matter of time before there were casualties: the race-leading #911 Porsche crashed out from the lead, leaving the #912 to fight for victory.
The next day, thick fog descended on the Nordschleife, eventually stopping the race for a time. It was proof, if it were needed, that despite the thousands of horsepower on the grid, cutting-edge technology and hundreds of mechanics, nature and the ‘Ring still very much decided the running of things.
2) The racing is close
This year’s N24h finished just hours before the Spanish F1 GP, and the two events couldn’t have been more different. While Hamilton’s victory never looked in doubt, the winner of the N24h was up for debate until the last 30 minutes – pretty impressive for a race that lasts a full day and night.
3) And that shows Balance of Performance works
The Balance of Performance keeps the racing close, but also gives manufacturers enough wiggle room to showcase vastly different machinery. It was incredible to hear the guttural V8 of the Mercedes, just followed by the screaming flat-six of Porsche and the wail of an Audi R8 come past the start-finish straight. Throw in the cars from the other classes, and you really get to hear the distinctive characteristics of each engine. You can’t say that about Formula E (or F1, for that matter).
4) It’s not bad for spectating
If you’re seriously investigating the N24, you’re probably thinking it’ll be terrible for spectating – but you’d be quite wrong. Unlike modern circuits, the Nurburgring doesn’t have huge areas of run-off, and that means you can actually get quite close to the cars. Because the track is so twisty, you can often see a great deal of track within a 25-minute walk – and with the race being 24 hours long, that’s not the time investment it sounds like. If you do want to stay in one place, most of the grandstands are free to sit in.
What’s more, although a quick lap can be around 8 minutes long for the fastest cars, having different classes in the race means the field soon spreads out, and you’ll have a constant flow of cars battling, pretty much all the time.
5) The Nurburgring track is narrower than you think
If you’ve played any modern racing game, you’ll probably notice just how narrow the Nordschleife seems to be – but nothing prepares you for the real thing. The track is barely wide enough for two cars in some places, and a lot of the faster GT3 cars are also wider than you’d think. Day or night, threading a GT car though the Green Hell really is a daunting experience.
6) And that makes passing backmarkers very uncomfortable
Before the race, Falken’s Peter Dumbreck told CAR that one of the hardest things about the N24h was passing backmarkers, and having watched the race we’re inclined to agree.
As we’ve already pointed out, the track can get quite narrow, and when you’re trying to slot between backmarkers while pursuing or defending from another car, it becomes quite a lot to deal with.
Although there are blue flags, dealing with back markers quickly can be the difference between victory, second place – or even a DNF.
7) The atmosphere
It’s hard to compare the atmosphere at the Nurburgring to any other endurance event, and that includes Le Mans. It’s more tribal and festival-like than the French event, and the winding nature of the track means it feels less sanitised and more… primitive.
While your senses may be dominated by the sounds of Astons, Opels and Porsches whizzing between armcos metres away, deep in the woods, the night air was also thick with the smell of burning wood, cooking meat and warm beer – oh, and the noise of thumping German techno.
At Grands Prix, the most organised people have deckchairs, at the N24 they have gazebos, tents and Mad-Max structures just built for watching cars and drinking Bitburger.
8) No prototypes
Unlike Formula 1, Formula E or Le Mans, the cars used in the N24h are based on those you may have already seen on the way down to the track. There are more than just supercars here, too; so you might see an Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG GT or Lamborghini Huracan on the grid, but you’ll also see the odd Ford Focus, Toyota GT86 or BMW M235i mixed in with the pack. The Nordschleife is arguably the only place you’ll be pumped to see a Toyota Corolla.
And the cars aren’t just new either, so you’ll have the chance to head down memory lane too: spot the various generations of BMW 3-series – whether it’s an E92 Coupe or an E36 with or without its front bumper as the race goes on. There’s even the previous-gen Renault Clio RS or even an Opel Calibra.
The day before the race, the Falken drifting event showcases some of the best tyre-shredding you’ll see up close. The event is simple really; pick a hairpin on the track, and line up fast and furious style motors along with some modern classics – and then make them go sideways for around two hours. Add a bar with free sausages and beer, and then some DJI drones to capture the thing, and that’s the entire event.
It’s the only place you can see an E30 sideways – but completely parallel – with a Nissan Silvia, and it’s the perfect warm-up to one of the best races of the year.