I’d say the Nürburgring 24 Hours is motor racing’s biggest undiscovered secret, but, given how there are umpteen hundred thousand people right now pouring into the Ring with three things on their mind – racing, beer and Frankfurters – I’d perhaps not technically be quite right.
Simply take it from me then: N24 is awesome. And in this live blog, I hope to show you why it’ll be worth the five-hour drive from Calais in 2016…
Sunday 17 May
22:30: It’s a wrap
So that was #N24h 2015. It suddenly got very busy for me in the final hours, so hopefully the links below sufficed, and helped you watch the #28 Audi beat the #25 BMW by 40 seconds, the closest N24 finish since 1970. So, the new R8 LMS wins on its race debut… bit ominous, that.
The Falken Porsche was third, Aston’s #007 car finished a fine 16th after an incident-packed race and, fittingly, Dr. Bez drove home the #49 car to a fine SP8 victory, 10 years after yellow ‘Rose’ it’s painted in tribute to first introduced Aston Martin to racing at the Nurburgring.
“Watching the Vantage N430 cross the line in the same livery that Rose had ten years ago is something quite special,” said AMR Head of Motorsport David King. “We’ve come such a long way with our motorsport programme at the Nürburgring in the last ten years and we’ve fought some really tough battles here.”
But already Aston’s attention is turning to Le Mans, on 13/14 June, where it’s entering another five GTE cars.
My attention? On wrapping up N24, which is something I’ll do after I’ve caught a bit of kip. It’s been in short supply this weekend but after such a breathless, brilliant race, I don’t mind one bit.
Oh, and I’m already making plans to be there next year. You?
14:10: Photo diary
14:07: And the leader now is..?
13:50: Having trouble keeping up with the leader? You’re not alone…
13:49: Speed limits? Don’t foul the code 60…
12:34: Falken Porsche’s secret pit stop edge
10:44: Aston recovery drive
Some context for the Aston #007 recovery: it lost an hour because of the slip-tangle on oil (it ended up half-resting on the barrier, and needed recovery back to the pits). Following repairs, it emerged well down – but is now charging and getting back into the top 20 is a real achievement.
Expect them to grab some more places before the end of the race, too…
Aston back in the top 20, Bentley still in the top 10, and it’s still super-close between the all-new Audi R8 LMS (on its 24 hour race debut!) and the BMW Z4 GT3. For by-the-second timing, check out livetiming.tracktime.info.
Oh, and if you want #N24h 2015 race stats, look no further.
10:20: Audi Sport, we think the same…
09:33: But on the plus side, Aston Martin Racing fans…
09:26: Bad news, Aston Martin Racing fans
In short order, the #006 Aston has had to retire due to driveline issues, and the #50 car that was way ahead in the lead of SP8 has also been forced out after a shunt by Andreas Guelden left the car too badly damaged to continue.
There are no words, really. I think Chris Harris summed it up rather well (no embed as, understandably, it’s a bit sweary!).
07:13: #N24h: like no other race
07:06: #007 Aston action…
06:52: And the Audis?
Tough night for Audi’s swish new R8 LMS; both Phoenix Racing #001 and #004 cars crashed during the night (one of them hitting the #007 Aston along the way, it seems). So it’s now down to the #28 car, currently in third (but actually still trading for the lead; we’re currently in a pitstop run).
It was a particular surprise for the #001 car to crash, at Pflanzgarten, at around 01:30, as Audi Sport was dominating up to that point. It was a big crash too, involving a barrel roll for driver Christian Mamerow and a subsequent hospital visit for a check-up (he’s OK).
It’s left the BMW Z4 GT3 and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG to dominate the upper places, along with the Falken Porsche of Peter Dumbreck and crew, plus that #006 Aston.
06:41: But what about the Astons?
AMR update: the #006 Vantage GT3 is still in the top 10, but what about the #007? Well, about two hours ago, Stefan Mucke had an off due to oil on the track. He got it back to the pits for repairs, and was out again in less than half an hour, but the car is now down in 25th, currently on 85 laps compared to the race leader’s 92. Still fighting though!
In SP8, meanwhile, Chris Harris’ GT12 continues to lead the class – and is actually a place ahead of the #007 car on track. They’ve a little way to go before they match 2008’s best-ever SP8 finish of 18th; maybe a bit of attrition will help them along. Either way, they’re well ahead of the next runner in SP8 – and that’s actually an Aston too, the #49 car of Dr. Bez and his team.
06:40: #N24h update, by the pole-sitters
06:25: Hardy souls
In the pits, there’s barely a spectator to be seen.
On the grandstands, though, a few hardy souls remain. Or, like me, got up pre-sunrise for an #N24h equivalent of an Ibiza moment. Either way, we all thought it was quite special as we sat there quite still, watching race cars, trying to stay warm, trying not to knock over the beer bottles littered everywhere or accidentally tred in half-eaten boxes of chips and mayo.
Discovery of the day already: the Opel Manta foxtail is on Twitter!
Clever foxtail. Maybe I should’ve interviewed it yesterday.
06:07: Media centre
For the past couple of hours, after a bit of kip, I’ve been up and exploring. Early doors is my favourite bit of a 24 hour race. In the deserted still of the morning, the contrast of full-bore racing cars still charging hard is vivid; they’ve already been going non-stop for half a day and it’s now you really get a sense of the endurance they go through.
Later on in the day, it’s sometimes easy to forget they’ve been doing this for coming up to a day; not now, where it seems more than special that they’re all able to do what they do for so long.
Me, I’m warming up again and have found coffee, so I’m OK.
Excellent early #N24 roundup by Stuart Codling. Says it all perfectly.
23:46: Mystery solved
That mysterious #30 Porsche incident I mentioned earlier? Well…
23:44: Blimey, Bentley – top work!
23:36: I Can’t Dance
Walked back through the pits; there are few more evocative places at night. Lights blazing a warm yellow glow, activity intermittently frenzied and umpteen people standing about with a cheeky fag, I could mill around there all night. Easy for me to say: I don’t have the stress of either engineering a race car or gearing up to drive it.
Or, it seems, worry about where the next beer’s coming from. Yup, just behind the busy team trucks, it’s party time: some hospitality trucks even boast dance floors and celeb bars (I’m not kidding), although the dancing I’ve just seen going on in one of them is going to be burned onto my brain for a long time. It was… of the drunk dad at a wedding who thinks he’s actually at Pasha, and half his age, and David Gandy, and full of rhythm and soul level. It wasn’t pretty.
23:31: Rain shenanigans
Looks like rain over in sector 4 is causing all sorts of headaches. There are cars going in there on the timing screens and not emerging until 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes later than they should. Some, such as the #90 Porsche, don’t emerge at all. The epicentre appears to be the Karussel. Sadly, there’s a lack of live coverage when it’s dark – it’s expensive to light up nearly 25km of track and helicopters can’t see in the dark.
Perhaps they should get some of those thermal sensors like they have on Police, Camera, Action!. Commentary by Alastair Stewart optional.
22:01: Armchair helicopter
One of the coolest links comes from livetiming.com – the #N24h live tracker. Radio Le Mans commentary on in the background, live tracker on the laptop and some Vodafone live TV on the smart TV, and you could be there…
21:57: Bentley boys done good
The #85 Bentley had a prang earlier and had to be towed back to the pits, teeth-pullingly slowly. Since then, it’s been in for repairs. More British heartache.
But, the Bentley boys don’t give in. Instead of packing up to get ready for home, they’ve been hard at work on the car – and the latest is that it’s been work worth doing…
Brit Adam Christo was doing brilliantly in the #002 Merc SLS-AMG… until his rear wheel worked loose and fell off. Quick as a flash, Adam jumped out, picked up the wheel and dived into the passenger footwell to retrieve the jack and wheel brace.
By now, marshalls were on hand and they initially tried to lift the car to help get him on his way. Then, reality dawned… Adam’s head sunk back… realisation came, that it was not a trackside fix. It was painful to watch. PR star Rebecca Jones summed it up well.
20:35: You want live timing? You’ve got it…
Check out livetiming.com’s detail-tastic #N24h page.
20:22: Tyreing stuff
Insight from Aston’s Mel earlier, who was chatting to the racers yesterday. The big challenge here, they said, is tyres: when they’re fresh, they’re on a knife-edge. When they’re worn, they’re on a knife-edge. When they’re in the zone, just the slightest stray off line will pick up marbles and introduce fearsome, filling-shaking vibrations into the car. And when you’ve so much traffic to deal with, you’re going off line a lot.
Imagine such a fine balance when you’re racing at 3am into the pitch-black darkness, with visibility further reduced by overnight mist, and with the sheer speed difference between a Clio and an Aston GT3 adding to the excitement. Yup, tyres matter. And those who can use them best – and abuse them the least – have a real advantage here at the Ring.
20:20: Evo boys have it sorted
20:05: Racers watching racers
Are you watching in the UK? Jann Mardenborough is!
19:55: AMR lounge
Some charging around the circuit has left me rather chilly and very satisfied. You can’t beat seeing racing cars live: hearing them, smelling them, even just feeling them as they thunder past.
The Aston #006 and #007s took my ear first; a surprisingly epic yowl from them, in contrast to the menacing rumble from the Bentleys (and you thought the Merc-AMG SLS were deep…). So happy were my ears, my fingers tweeted. AMR Official responded…
And the beauty of driving over meant I was able to pack my big coat, so can rock into the forest later in cheery warmth. Result!
18:35: Media centre
Top tip: want to watch the race live? Head here. Cheers, Vodafone.
18:30: Media centre
Radio Le Mans doing a grand job as always – winning praise from racing champions no less!
18:20: Media centre
Nice work Chris!
17:45: AMR lounge
It’s raining. It’s all kicking off. Cars are going off. Game on.
This place is scary and challenging enough even in the dry: having driven it earlier, I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like in the rain.
It’s raining particularly on the long Dottinger-Hohe straight; it must be headed this way, on the start/finish straight, because it looks like winter up there.
This is why racing drivers are a different breed, John Hindhaugh just said. Hear, hear.
17:20: AMR lounge
What a first hour that was. Initially, the BMWs were running away with it, but then, within a lap, the Bentley had caught them and was bullying for the lead. The rest? Eight seconds back in a 16-car train back to 20th place, with 21-on not far behind that. Epic, uber-close stuff that had even the Radio Le Mans crew not quite believing the pace and closeness of it.
It all got a bit mixed up in the pitstops, and now the race is going to be a whole lot harder to follow. this is where you’ll need the commentary, and this is why I’ll be ducking back into AMR box 30 regularly throughout the night.
But now things are setting down for 22 and a half hours of action, I plan on going for a wander later on. I’ll just wait for darkness to roll in and might then grab a beer or two with the most vocal nearby crowd, and see where it takes me. What’s the worst that could happen?
16:00: The media centre
And they are off – 24hrs to go. pic.twitter.com/7AVW4Y63dr
— Andy Palmer (@AndyatAston) May 16, 2015
15:50: The media centre Best of luck wishes to the team from Dr. Palmer have just landed via Twitter: he’s been getting stuck into everything here since his arrival – a properly curious CEO. Good to see.
The race gets underway in 10 minutes’ time. I’m enjoying nuclear-speed wifi here at the media centre, but still might depart for the Aston Martin box. Why? Because Radio Le Mans is broadcasting live from there and I want John’s insight over the first hour or so of the race, to help me get up to speed for the night ahead. See you in a bit!
15:15: The media centre
Grid walk done. Like all things N24, it was huge, with a billion people and a thousand race cars. Took us a bit to get on, mind – one of the ladies wouldn’t let us on with our media passes. So we went to a different gate who waved us on without hesitation. Go figure.
I started at the back, to research cars I could race. Renaultsport Clio, maybe?
Or a Volkswagen Golf GTI?
This E36 BMW M3 was being driven by Brits. I’ve noted down their details and will drop them a line when I get back. (Saying that, I’ll also need to find out what grade of licence you need to race in the N24 – anyone know?)
Further up the grid, it was a bit like those images of Black Friday madness in the UK: people everywhere. Stealth-like, I took to the grass on the edge of the circuit and quickly made my way up to the front. Just in time for the grandstands to cheer the MarcVDS guys sitting on the armco to celebrate their pole position.
A little further back, David Richards was checking out the #007 Aston, and Pedro Lamy was giving it the once-over too. He’s a multiple winner here so must fancy a shot in the race.
Another tiny detail too. Know those concrete-looking Bilstein signs on the start/finish straight?
Don’t worry, they’re not actually concrete. Inbuilt damping’s guaranteed.
14:15: The hotel
I’m now properly shaky-hand thrilled. I’ve just driven a lap of the Nurburgring. And it was beyond-wildest-dreams cool. It was an Aston Martin special – somehow, they pulled a favour with their mates in race control and secured 32 road cars a chance to drive a lap of the full Nordschleife.
Actually, I found out later, it wasn’t quite meant to be as full bore as we actually went: 40mph was, apparently, the advised limits. My passenger Mel later told me we hit three figures. But, hey, the guy in front of me was on it and I couldn’t let him get away, could I? Maybe the sub-nine minute lap I tweeted about could have been on…
The lap was in the V12VTE I drove across in, adding to the authenticity. And what was it like? With thousands of crowds, endless tents, race hoardings, advertising, barbecue smoke, air horns, flag-waving marshalls and even the speed control zone lights fully working, it was blinding.
I came back delirious, mind totally made up: I have to race the N24 one day. To rock around at racing speeds for lap after lap would be heavenly – a challenge like no other, but a delightfully fulfilling one. More later, once I’ve calmed down.
Because right now, we’ve got to go and do something else amazing – the grid walk…
11:40: Media centre
Top 10 for Queen of the Ring Sabine Schmitz in a Chevy Cruze! Corking battle over three laps to get it: super result.
11:00: Media centre Watched the first WTCC race from the media centre. Instantly hooked. It was a blinding, blinding spectacle and I now want to start a campaign that encourages every form of circuit motorsport to race here. (Alan Gow, fancy a trip abroad for the BTCC boys?) Everyone in the media centre was glued to the screens because not only were cars racing on this most awesome of circuits, the track itself was also challenging the cars in ways no normal circuit could ever do. Undulations, bumps, a multitude of camper changes, constant direction changes – this was racing cars looking at times a little bit like rally cars, and it was spellbinding to watch. Some ultra-smooth circuits make racing cars look slow. The Nurburgring has made WTCC cars look like thoroughbreds, and their drivers look like heroes. Whoever had the idea, make sure your team carry you above their shoulders later on, cheering. It’s been one of motor racing’s best and most innovative ideas in years. The onboards were particularly compelling, showing cars moving about in a way you’ll never see on the circuit. It’s been the perfect showcase of just how hard these cars are to drive, and what sort of talent is needed to make them inch ahead of the rest. The race? A Citroen 1-2-3, with Jose Maria Lopez leading Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller, with the Honda battling hard behind them. Battling hard on the Nurburgring? Yup, that was as ace to watch as it sounds too. And if you missed it, you’re in luck! They’re doing it all again for another three-lap spectacular soon. Do whatever you can to catch it.
11:00: Media centre Just met Jake from Team MarcVDS: his man Augusto Farfus is on pole for the N24, and so he’s rightly beaming. Get down to the grid walk and, if I can scrabble through the throngs, he’ll let me grab a quick word with him. I won’t ask him about his breakfast. I know that was good.
10:00: The pits
A saunter through the pits and, my god, there are a few sore heads. To be expected, someone told me last night: a lot of them have been here a week already, with the fortresses deep in the woods to show for it. Apparently, someone even has a swimming pool.
Rather impressively, there are a few people who are clearly still carrying on from the night before. It’s one way of preparing for a 24 hour race, I guess, although not one N24 polesitter Augusto Farfus would perhaps subscribe to: I saw him in the hotel this morning with his family, having the healthiest breakfast in the world after what was clearly a flawless night’s sleep. Let’s check back this time tomorrow to see who’s prep worked.
I’m in my hotel room pulling a few things together. It’s been totally silent up to now: bang on the hour, a wall of sound exploded from the pits as a green light for gentlemen to start their engines illuminated.
And now? Silence again – it’s the WTCC cars lining up for what’s called a pre-grid, so they’re off on an out lap to be in place.
Another 15 minutes of silence, then…
Nice evening with the ever-enthused Aston Martin crew last night. Over BBQ food (healthy tuna for the drivers, less healthy steak and burgers for everyone else), Aston’s genuine love for this race came through.
The firm first raced in the N24 in 2006, so this is its 10th time of competing. It’s never quite won it outright, but it remains a real ambition – “it won’t be easy, because the competition is huge,” said Dave from the comms team, “but we love the challenge and everyone works so hard for it”.
And although Aston lined up 12th and 13th (now 12th and 18th), the reality is that it’s as close as can be and, given how it’s 24 hours on the enormously tough Nürburgring, anything could happen…
Friday 15 May
It’s everyone’s plan tonight: get some sleep now because we won’t be getting any tomorrow. It didn’t quite go to plan last year but I’m being clinical this year because tomorrow I’m hoping to do a few rather cool things before the race…
I’ve been chatting to Aston’s chief creative officer Marek Reichman. A few weeks back, he was racing in the Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone (he still has the cold to prove it). Done much racing before, I asked? As he told me about GT4s, historic racers, Formula Juniors like those Jim Clark used to drive, I judged that, yes, he’s done a little racing before.
Did you know, for almost every year since 1995, Reichman has driven at the Goodwood Revival? Add in the string of Ducatis – and the house he had designed with a living room to place a Ducati centre stage – to see that he’s not just someone who oversees the design of Aston Martin, but also thinks a little bit like us as he’s doing so. That’s good to know.
19:30: WTCC qualifying
Interesting – it seems the WTCC qualifying hour has been cut short due to an accident. Fastest time appears to be Citroen’s Jose-Mariz Lopez. Time? 8:37, or exactly half a minute slower than the SP9s…
18:30: N24 qualifying
The first part of qualifying for N24 took place earlier: the top 30 drivers from that session have just fought it out to decide the final grid (and, as a reward for them all, each will carry a blue flashing light on their rear side window for the race, branding them as ‘fastest of the fast’).
They don’t all go out for a defined session, F1-style. Rather, it’s F1 old-style: each car goes off at 10-second intervals, then has two flying laps to set a fast time.
A ballot was drawn to decide the first one out. The #007 Aston of Stefan Mucke was drawn, and so gently eased away. Why gently? Why, because this is Nürburgring: even an out lap is 16 miles long. He thus took 50% longer to complete it than the subsequent two laps.
I wasn’t excepting it to be as exciting as it was. But, because there are 30 closely-matched cars taking part, over two laps, with each split in five different sectors mattering, there was something going on all time for 40 minutes.
I don’t know how Radio Le Mans’ John Hindhaugh and his crew do it – thank goodness they were in the Aston Martin box next to us… In the end, the Astons were 12th and 13th, with Mucke top drop a further 5 places from 12th due to a practice penalty. Mucke did an 8:20; the fastest BMW Z4 did an 8:17. Just a few seconds split the top 15 cars. Just as impressive was the fact the fastest lap was only seven seconds slower than last year’s record set by Kevin Estre – despite the imposition of three speed-controlled safety zones (on the long Dottinger-Hohe straight, for example, cars are capped to 250km/h, or 155mph). Oh, and which driver got pole? The DTM’s Augusto Farfus…
Aston Martin Racing, meanwhile, is looking forward to storming up the order…
Plenty going on, then – and, as I type, plenty more besides: now it’s the WTCC world touring cars’ turn. They have an hour-long free-for-all, so come back a little later to find out what happens when you chuck BTCC-style touring cars at the full Nürburgring circuit…
16:00: The N24 classes
I’ve been swotting up on my classes. Because, in the N24, there are loads. Le Mans 24 Hours, with simple LMP1, LMP2 and GTs? Pah! The N24 seems to have a class for every entrant and, when there’s more than 400 of them, that means a lot of classes.
So, here’s an attempt at an explainer.
Overall, there are four key divisions – Specials, Series, Cup and Historics.
- Specials: pure race cars, headed by GT3s, GT4s and specials. There are 10 specials classes – SP1 to SP8, plus SP8 for GT3s and SP10 for GT4s. As such, it’s the SP9 and SP10 cars that are the quickest of the field.
- Series: relatively stock racing cars, as close to standard as a race car can be. There are six classes, listed V1 to V6 (with a VD diesel class too). These cars also usually race in the VLN series, whose organisers also run the N24. (A T in the name indicates the car is turbocharged – e.g. V2T for a VW Scirocco GT TSI)
- Cup: for one-make race cars, again often taken from the VLN. This year, there are two Cup categories: Cup 1 is for Opel Astra OPC Cups (Vauxhall Astra VXR), Cup 5 is BMW M235i Racings.
- Historics: for cars built in 1996 or before; there are four ‘H’ classes, dependent on engine size.
That’s it in a nutshell. Later, I’ll give you a few examples from the entry list – but can say all eyes from my hosts Aston Martin are on SP9 and SP8 – here’s what they’re entering:
- Car 6: Aston Martin Racing SP9 Vantage GT3 (driven by Jonny Adam, Richie Stanaway and Matthias Lauda)
- Car 7: Aston Martin Racing SP9 Vantage GT3 (driven by Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy)
- Car 48: Aston Martin Test Centre SP8 GT12 (driven by Liam Talbot, Dr. Florian Kamelger, Peter Cate and Wolfgang Schubauer)
- Car 49: Aston Martin Test Centre SP8 Vantage V8 (driven by Dr. Ulrich Bez, Dr. Andreas Banziger, Mal Rose and Peter Leemhuis)
- Car 50: Aston Martin Test Centre SP8 GT12 (driven by Chris Harris, Shinichi Katsura, Yamouchi Kazunori and Andreas Gulden)
I’ve made it. Early alarm call and cross-country rush, then leaping onto Eurotunnel with microseconds to spare, then straight on the road and… well, into a French service station for a tankful of bleifrei and some super octane coffee. Then it was on the road – E40, E42, wiggly bits in Germany – to the Nürburgring.
It was a sublime drive because the lords were smiling on me and encouraged Aston Martin to loan me a V12 Vantage S. My first proper ‘grand tour’ and I’m now yearning to do it again. Downsizing is fine but when you’ve got Europe to tackle, you generally want the muscle of a honking great V12.
It did 23mpg too – not bad, considering the Euro-spec speeds; I did it on a tankful and didn’t even need to drive in on fumes. The orange light wasn’t even on.
I came out with Aston last year and we stayed in the Dorint, right next to the track. I’m doing the same this year and it’s equally as amazing, particularly as every room around me seems to be filled with someone motor racing-ey. Brilliantly, the design is very period and, for added 1980s authenticity, it hums of fag smoke and there seem to be bars everywhere. I love it.