Just one week after the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2014, the next endurance race is right around the corner. The 24 Hours of the Nürburgring are coming up this weekend. If you think, this race is just for privateers, think again. This race has become so important, Audi even sends Marcel Fässler to the “Ring”. The man who just won the 24H Hours of Le Mans.
To have two 24 Hour races in one week, is a bit exhausting. The race around the old Nürburg-Castle normally takes place mid May. But the weather in the Eifel can be rough, even in May. Last year, the organizers had to stop the race for over eight hours, because of torrential rainfalls. And there have been years, where they had to stop the race during the night because of fog or even icy roads. So the decision to move the race into June is easy to understand.
This year could be a record year for the race. Audi, Porsche, BMW, Aston Martin, Lexus, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari are trying to win one of the most prestigious races in Germany and in the world. What makes it so special, is the “Nordschleife”. A 13 mile track with 153 turn in the middle of a forest. The track is narrow, very quick and even a slight mistake leads into disaster. Now imagine, you are sitting in a GT3, there are 200 cars on the tracks. At in rains. In the night. You will get this
Everything is special about the “Nordschleife” the heritage, the track, the race, and this year will make no difference. We expect a very close finish at the end, because the cars are brought together by the “Balance of Performance”, a tool which ensures, that the different concepts in the GT3 class are evenly matched. But the race is not only about the professional manufactures – more than half of the field is filled with amateur or gentleman drivers.
There several different classes and the range of cars is wider, than in other races around the world. You can see the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 with more than 650 BHP, but also a Renault Clio with less than 140 PS or the legendary Opel Manta from the 80s. The sheer number of cars, the very quick GT3s with professional drivers and the slow-ish cars with an gentleman drives behind the wheel is a dangerous combination.
Many accidents happen between the GT3 and slower cars while overtaking. Big crashes very common, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt in the last years. So – who are the favorites? Which car may win the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring?
Audi has field eight GT3 Audi R8 LMS to the Nordschleife. The two top favorites should be the cars from Phoenix Racing. First of all, there are the drivers: In car #4 you will find: Christopher Haase, Christian Mamerow, Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock. All four are very experienced, quick and they know the track very well. But the line up in the second car is even more impressive: Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler, Laurens Vanthoor and Le Mans winner Marcel Fässler will try to get the win.
The second Audi-Costumer Team is Prosperia Abt Racing. You know “Abt” as a tuner from germany, but they own also a
very successful racing team. They also have a very impressive line up of drivers. Car #9: Nicki Thiim, Marco Seefried, Richard Westbrook and Alex Müller. Car #10 Christoper Mies, Christer Jöns, Niclas Kentenich and Dominik Schwager. On paper, the quicker car should be the #9 with Le Mans winner Nikki Thiim and Richard Westbrook. But do not underestimate the #10 with the german drivers. They have much more experience on the Nordschleife, which is a very huge advantage.
While Phoenix Racing is using Michelin tires, Abt uses Hankook tires, which can be a disadvantage. Michelin has a very close relationship with Audi, while Hankook is new to the Nordschleife. They last started in 2012 with Mercedes.
An other car from Audi is the G-Drive Team. While they are not supported by Audi directly, the driver line up is impressive: Stephane Ortelli, Edward Sandström and Roman Rusinov are very quick drivers and they could be up for a surprise. Rusinov, who also started last week at Le Mans, brings the money, but he one of the quickest pay-driver in the field.
A car, that won`t win the race is the number #502. But it is worth to mention, because Felix Baumgartner is sharing the cockpit with Pierre Kaffer, Frank Biela and Marco Werner. Baumgartner is well know as the “Red Bull Stratos” guy, who skydived an estimated 39 kilometres (24 mi) down to earth two years ago. Audi had the idea to put him into a race car this year. He drove some races in the spring and proofed to be not so slow, but loses around 40 seconds a lap to his codrivers.
BMW seems to have the best car this year. They won one race and weren’t particular quick in the races after their win, but every experts agreed, that this was just pure sandbagging. The Z4 has a downforce advantage over all his main competitors, but they lack a bit of speed on the long straights. BMW does not officially support all the teams, but they get a lot of parts without even asking.
The car, that everybody has on the list of possible winners, ist Marc VDS Z4 with Maxime Martin, Jörg Müller, Marco Wittmann and Nürburing legend Uwe Alzen. This combination in this car should be at least on the podium. There is just one little concern: Alzen and Martine are know as “flat out, all the time” drivers, which can be a problem regarding the reliability of the car. Driveshaft problems have hampered the car in the last two years.
The second Marc VDS car is equipped with Bas Leinders, Markus Patalla, Nick Catsburg and Dirk Adorf. While the names may not be so well known, all of those drivers have a lot of experience on the Nordschleife, and they not slower than the colleagues.
The seconds “works” team from BMW ist Team Schubert. The german team has managed to get an impressive line up. In car number #19 has Dirk Werner, Dirk Müller, Lucas Luhr and Alexander Sims. The other car will be driven by Martin Tomczyk, Jens Klingman, Claudia Hürtgen and Dominik Baumann. You may not know their names, but all four are well respected drivers.
Tomczyk is a former DTM- Champion, Klingman is an expert on the Nordschleife and Hürtgen and Baumann are dominating the german GT3-Series. Because Schubert is a private entry, they may be not as quick as MarcVDS, but you can never rule them out.
The SLS won the rain-shortened 24H race last year, but Mercedes decided not run as a works team in 2014. So it is up to the Black Falcon Team, who already won the last VLN-race at the Nürburgring. Jeroen Bleekemolen, Andreas Simonsen, Christian Menzel and AMG driver Lance David Arnold will attack the 24H. But it will be a hard task for them, to defend their title from last year.
The SLS is not the quickest car anymore and they had to change the tires from Dunlop to Michelin. Dunlop provided Mercedes with development tires, which gave them a good advantage. In the races before the 24H, the SLS was hit with a lot of tire problems, most of them on the front axle. The SLS has most of its load there and the Michelin were not developed for this kind of workload. But the frenchman managed to change the tires for Mercedes, so that can use “experimental” tires for the race.
The second strong SLS-Team is Rowe-Racing. They will race with Michael Zehe, Christian Hohenadel, Nico Bastian and Maro Engel (#22) and Klaus Graf, Jan Seyffarth, Thomas Jäger and Richard Göransson (#23). The #23 should be the stronger car. HTP Motorsport will bring another SLS with Maximilian Götz, Roland Rehfeld, Kenneth Heyer and Harold Primat.
The task for the SLS will be: stay with leaders, but don’t attack to much until Sunday morning. They are not strong enough to push through the whole race, so strategy will be the key to success.
Porsche decided this year, that they put all their efforts towards the WEC and the 24H of Le Mans. That is the reason, why there is no Porsche works team at the Ring. There are a lot of Porsche Cup cars, but just two RSR. One is coming from “Frikadelli-Racing”, a team that is based near the Nordschleife and it is one of the fan favorites. The start with Sabine Schmitz, Klaus Abbelen, Partick Pilet and Patrick Huismann and they already one a race this year. The Porsche should be quick enough, but because it is a private team, reliability can be a problem.
The second Porsche will be the Falken Porsche. The car was not very quick throughout the year and it is hard to believe, that the team will fight for the podium. Wolf Henzler, Peter Dumbreck, Martin Ragginger and Alex Imperatori will drive the car and the lineup is pretty strong. But again – the is not as quick as one could expect.
The “dark horses”
While most people think, that the race will be decided between Audi and BMW, some say, that Nissan can play a vital part in the decision who will win this year. The Nissan GT-R GT3 is a very strong car. It has a lot of power and downforce and it proved to be quick. The problem is, that the Nissan is very heavy and the weak point of the car can be the brakes.
But they have found some good drivers for the race: Nick Heidfeld, Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordonez and Florian Strauss should be among the quickest drivers at the weekend. The second car will feature: Michael Krumm, Tetsuya Tanaka, Kazuki Hoshino and Katsumasa Chiyo, all drivers from the SuperGT in Japan. Some of them already have some experience in the “green hell” some not, which can be a problem. So the car with the former F1 driver Nick Heidfeld can be the one to surprise.
There is only one McLaren MP4-12C in the field, but do not underestimate it. Dörr Motorsport may not be a “big” name outside Germany, but the car proved to be very quick this year. They are supported by McLaren who lends them Kevin Estre and Alvaro Parente. Estre, a former Porsche driver, is know to be one of the quickest drivers on the Nordschleife. Peter Kox and Tim Mullen may not be as quick, but they can drive good and consistent lap times, which is crucial in this race.
Strategy – How to win
Like Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Nürburgring is more a sprint race. So there are three key factors to win the race
– Do not crash
It sounds logical, but it is not an easy task to achieve. As written before, the problems are the other, much slower cars, especially during the night. A misunderstanding can happen quick.
– Attack late
The race starts at 4pm, so most parts of the race will be on sunday. Attacking on Saturday, when all the cars are still in the race, is not recommended. By Sunday, a lot of cars will be retired, so there are less cars on the track. Less cars means fewer overtaking, which results in quicker lap times. A good strategy will look like this: don’t mess around in the first hours, just stay in contact (1 minute max) with the leaders. Attack after the sun is up on sunday.
– Follow the rules
It is very easy to get punished by the stewards. The Nürburgring is a long race track, so full course caution are only proclaimed, when their had been a really nasty accident. The Nürburgring invented a system, which you may have seen last week in Le Mans. It is called “Code 60”. If there is an accident, marshalls will declare a “yellow zone”. The maximum speed here is 60 km/h. If you are quicker and you get caught, you will get a severe punishment. A one minute Stopp and Go, maybe even 3 minutes. That will destroy your race.
The race will be televised and there will be livestream. But don’t expect a stream like in Le Mans. After midnight, you only see the pitbox aera, there will be no pictures from the track and no onboard cameras. But you can follow the race around the clock via the excellent crew of Radio Le Mans.
Nurburgring 24 Hours 2014 Livestreams
Below is the official race schedule.
These are the available livestream feeds: