What It’s Like To Take On The Nürburgring 24 Hours

This year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours was historic, with Mercedes finishing 1-2-3-4, seeing off all threats from the other manufacturers in the race. There were so many talking points, with adverse weather, a few sizeable incidents and a very quiet showing from Audi, but the main one was Maro Engel.

At the end of the race, the leading #29 HTP Mercedes had a comfortable lead of a little under a minute over the #4 Black Falcon AMG GT3, but the #29 had to pit for fuel. The splash at the end created a phenomenal final two laps, with both Christian Hohenadel and Engel duking it out for the lead.

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In the end Engel pounced at RTL corner on the final tour of the circuit, diving up the inside of Hohenadel, rubbing doors on his way past to take the win. The Black Falcon team were euphoric, HTP staged a protest against the move, and the fans went wild in the stands. If you like drama, it was the perfect way to end a 24-hour race.

What’s particularly special about the N24 though, is that further down the order there are hundreds of other tales to tell amongst the runners and riders in the 150+ strong grid. Like the story from the up and coming British driver George Richardson, who co-drove Walkenhorst Motorsport’s #101 PlayStation SP9 class BMW M6 GT3 with non other Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi, Max Sandritter and Mathias Henkola.

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“The Nürburgring 24 Hours this year was an incredible event, and so much went on. I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of it in the top class. However, like so many of the teams out there, it didn’t go quite to plan.”

Richardson’s car had an off in practice, leaving the team scrambling to rebuild it, just to get it out for Qualifying. This is by no means an odd occurrence at the ‘Green Hell’ 24, which often claims multiple victims in the pre-race sessions.

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“It delayed everything,” Richardson admits. “It meant the team had to rebuild parts of the car, and for us drivers, we lost a lot of track time.”

Because the lap of the full Nürburgring Nordschliefe is so long, most drivers don’t get many laps in before the race starts anyway, and incredibly, Richardson had zero full laps before getting in mid-race.

“Earl Bamber said he had two laps, I can beat that!” He says. “I did just two in and outs because of the problem, and got into the car during the race having to find my feet quickly. The weather at the start of the race was insane, and I felt the end of it, as my first stint was in mixed conditions with a low-hanging fog between Höhe Act and Bergwerk during the night.”

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The rain came down in the first hour of the race so hard that multiple cars went off the circuit, on slick tyres out in the forest. Shortly after the race was stopped as hail came down and froze, leaving many cars stuck trying to climb the final hill to the pit straight. It was truly the most bizarre sequence in motorsport. The ‘Ring is known for its ability to throw all sorts of weather at its drivers, but even that came as a surprise.

“When you’re out there in the pitch black and driving in fog, it’s all about instinct and respecting the circuit. Because we didn’t make it into the Top 30 Qualifying session our car didn’t get a blue flashing light on the front windscreen to help you get through traffic during the race. It meant we really had to hustle our way past the other drivers as many of them couldn’t tell that we were in the top class.

“But we made it through the night, and to the end of the race, despite having an intermittent problem which the team couldn’t fix. We were losing a lot of power throughout the race, but the BMW M6 held up well, and made it to the finish.

“The Nürburgring 24 Hours is the world’s toughest race for a driver,” he states. “So to finish is such an achievement in itself. The fans come in numbers, and after being in the thick of it in one of the quickest cars, I really see why. Driving past the campsites, it’s crazy, there’s fireworks going off and you can smell the food being cooked. Atmosphere-wise, there’s nothing like it.”

Richardson’s car crossed the line 22nd, having completed 121 perilous laps of the circuit, but that’s what’s special about the N24. It’s a rugged event, which puts drivers through a challenge unlike any other in motorsport.

2016 was an incredible race, 2017 promises to be just as good, if not better.

Stephen Kilbey