When I received an invitation from Porsche to join them at the famous Nürburgring for the WEC I RSVP’d without hesitation. An action-packed raceweekend at the Ring to break the summer in half, what else could a car fanatic like me desire? That may seem a little over-enthusiastic to some of you, but in all fairness it would be my first ‘official’ raceweekend and above all my first ever time – no shame – at the notorious Nürburgring.
With a hotel room in the Dorint Hotel right at the ring, balcony facing the circuit, action was guaranteed and the fun started right when I arrived. I couldn’t help but ask myself what it would be like witnessing the 24 Hours of Nürburgring from the exact same hotel room. Either way, I was there to experience the WEC 6 Hours of Nürburgring and as I said the circuit was already bustling with activity upon my arrival. The last free practice had started and commenced in symphony with the numerous enthusiasts pushing their private cars to the max on the adjacent 22 kilometers long Nordschleife.
I soon made my way to the center of the Ring and was introduced to the impressive Porsche Lounge in the characteristic TÜV Rheintower that overlooks the famous Nürburgring. Comprising of two floors, enjoying that day’s last rays of sunshine on the 6th floor roof terrace overlooking the entire scenic area was a real pleasure. It also made me understand where the nickname ‘Green Hell’ comes from.
Having covered the last free practice and having been introduced to the famous German racing circuit, we headed into town for dinner which was concluded by a relaxed evening drink in none other than the ‘Cockpit’ bar at the Dorint Hotel. Having tried the local ‘Eifelgeist’ drink, it was time for bed as an early Saturday morning expected me viewing one of the Porsche pit-garages and get an all-around informative tour around the circuit.
With the stacks of tires being heated up at a steady 80 degrees celsius, the continuous rainfall on Saturday made for a somewhat gloomy atmosphere at the Ring. The smell of rubber is something that I got used to very quickly, as I learned about all the different tires and FIA regulations regarding changes, heat, etc. The informative morning flew by and at the beginning of the afternoon we were invited for a hot lap in the passenger seat of a Porsche Cayman GT4. I gladly hopped in and soon found myself sitting next to none other than race driver Patrick Long, who took me for an impressive spin around a wet Nürburgring.
To kill some time until the qualifying started, I was given a short tour around a rather impressive collection of historical Porsches from the Porsche museum, temporarily on display at the Ring Arena. From the legendary Porsche Carrera RSR 3.0 to the more recent Porsche 918 Spyder, the exact example that is the current record holder of the Nürburgring Nordschleife with a time of 6:57 minutes.
Following the passenger laps around the circuit and quick tour around the display cars it was time for the official qualifying session. While Porsche has been holding the best cards all season, it seemed as though they were having slight issues with the wet surface, which resulted in first row positions for both Audi teams. Both Porsche LMP1 teams got to start from the second row followed by the Toyota LMP1-H teams.
Following the qualifying, we had the opportunity to speak to Porsche’s Team 1 stars Mark Webber, Timo Bernhardt and Brendon Hartley. As the hectic situation where too many journalists and too little racing drivers took me by surprise, I just managed to pick up a few things and paid attention to what the team managers had to say about the future of the LMP1 Hybrid car. According to Australian race driver Mark Webber, currently Porsche’s fastest driver in the WEC, hybrid and the use of electric components in endurance racing are definitely the future.
The latter lead me into a conversation with a Porsche engineer discussing the current drivetrain of the 900 hp 919 Hybrid LMP1 car. While I am by no means the ultimate expert on WEC endurance racing, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the three manufacturers that are part of the race, Porsche, Audi and Toyota, systematically lead the race and seem to be holding the best cards for winning each race. The hybrid drivetrain that sees a v-shaped four-cylinder engine combined with electric components is no joke and is the ultimate tool for Porsche’s drivers that made driving 1:40 laps around the ring seem like a walk around the park.
The 919 Hybrid is an impressive piece of engineering and combined with Porsche’s current generation of very capable drivers, explains Porsche’s notable successes in the FIA WEC since its official return a few years back.
I also got a further insight into the ‘sport’ that is endurance racing. For readers that think endurance racing like this shouldn’t be considered a sport should rethink their stance. To start off I was told that on a sunny summer day it can get up to 60 degrees celsius in the driving cabin of the 919 Hybrid! 60 degrees celsius, it’s so impressive it makes me want to repeat that figure time and time again. It’s important for the drivers to stay in shape for the race, but also when they don’t race it must be quite a task to stay on point in terms of weight. The stats show that the drivers weigh just little over 60 kilograms with lengths up to over 1.80 meters tall. Good luck calculating that BMI and not come out in the ‘underweight’ category.
Sunday was raceday and the conditions couldn’t be more favorable. The temperature was moderate and light rays of sunlight broke through the deck of clouds from time to time. At least it was dry, ensuring rain wouldn’t influence the outcome of the race. With both Porsches starting from the second row the stage was set for an interesting cat-and-mouse game between Audi and Porsche. Porsche Team 1 almost imminently took second place right after take off and set in the pursuit immediately. While things were going well for the Porsche 1 team, the second one experienced a slight drawback in the first hour of the race when it got touched by a race car from the GTE class.
During the race I was given the opportunity to see some of the Porsche pit garages from a different perspective. I witnessed two live pitstops during the race and was given an impression of how things work. Unfortunately the LMP1 pitbox was off limits for several reasons, something I completely understand. The LMP1 teams have a workforce of 85 engineers and technicians at their disposal, something I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of during an intense pitstop.
Instead I found myself in the pitbox of two different Porsche teams, the second one being that of Gulf racing. It’s interesting to see the influence of FIA regulations being put to practice. Task one is filling up the car, which can be done by up to two persons at the same time. A driver change is allowed while fueling up. The tire change however, is a process that will need to wait until the car is fueled up and can be hydraulically launched by putting the stick into the side of the car. Again only two technicians can be changing tires at the same time, one being responsible for unscrewing and montaging, while the other carries the wheels and puts them on. In the literal ‘heat’ of the moment it’s definitely an interesting process to witness. We put some video material on our Instagram account (@gtspirit) if you’re interested.
Back to the race, it was right at the end of Bernhardt’s driving leg where he managed to take over first place from the Audi team. About a 100 laps in he changed drivers with Brendon Hartley who had the task of maintaining that first position. Further into the race it was Mark Webber that once again secured the first position for Porsche, to not give it away anymore that afternoon. His solid lap times matched those of the earlier practice sessions and altogether the champions from last season were once again victorious this season. Porsche’s second team came in 4th right after both Audi teams that managed to secure a spot on the podium.
All in all my first ever time at the famous Nürburgring couldn’t have been better. I got to enjoy the excitement and passion of the WEC and was able to report on the race right from the heart of operations. I would like to thank Porsche for inviting me along and giving me these unique insights into the WEC, it was a spectacular experience!