Last week we picked PHer John Edwards
to report on the Nurburgring 24hrs courtesy of the good folk at Castrol EDGE. Had we picked ourselves for this fabulous opportunity (it was tempting...), we might have spent the weekend upside-down under a table in the beer tent. Not John though - like a true pro his story and pics were on the wires to the PH office within hours of his return. Read on...
(And check back tomorrow for fellow 'PH reporter' Tony Hetherington's story on how the 'Ring stacks up as an alternative weekend away for race fans with 'Le Mans fatigue'. Ed.)
"Being picked as a 'PH reporter' for the Ring 24 Hours is just incredible especially if it includes free flights, transfer to the track, a ride round the Ring itself in a BMW M3 the day before, and entry to BMW's first ever M Festival for M Sport owners.
Thanks to the Castrol EDGE offer in the PH motorsport forum, the job fell to me and it was an amazing experience. Rather than describe the race, I'll try to describe what's weird and wonderful about the Ring and why it's much more that some sort of toll booth race track for Skyline owners.
The Ring 24 Hours is a like a cross between Le Mans and the Isle of Man TT - high tech, incredibly fast and equally chaotic. Like the TT circuit, the Ring is a long, windy, deadly loop of dodgy looking tarmac (with Armco) that has its own specialists like the BMW Ring Taxi drivers. There's a similarly unpredictable micro climate and it rained on and off every day. Built in the Eifel mountains in 1927, its purpose was to bring business to the area but the mountain weather is always surprising. On the Saturday of the race, there was hail but on Sunday it was 25 degrees in the afternoon.
There's an army of fans who must spend a week living in camps of tents and two or three story wooden huts built at the side of the track in the trees that line the north loop of the Ring circuit. Jackie Stewart called it the "green hell" and you can buy "Grune Holle" t-shirts everywhere. But because the circuit's so big (25 kilometres), there seems to be little movement between the various viewpoints and none of the anarchic camping that brings chaos to Le Mans. Unlike Le Mans, there are no drunks to step over on Sunday morning, at least, not at the circuit. In fact, in the sleepy village of Nurburg, it's hard to tell there's anything happening at all until you have to book to eat in the fabulous little restaurants. Food wasn't Monaco expensive and the Argentinean steaks served on a hot stone were fantastic. Mad Sunday and burnouts on Douglas prom are also not a feature of the Ring experience.
At the Ring GP circuit, there's the best off track facilities I've ever seen with lovely toilets, a cinema, indoor karting and a motor show and shops that are better than the Motor show at the NEC. There's an Aston Martin shop with a Rapide on display, a Porsche stand, a Ferrari shop, an Audi display, a Carrera slot racing stand for kids and an even bigger Gran Turismo stand for bigger kids. Nissan have a huge display, BMW of course and VW which included a Mk I Golf GTi. There's actually a roller coaster ride that runs in front of the grandstand but uncharacteristically, they ran out of money to get it going.
However, unlike the rarefied world of GP, access to the paddock and pits themselves is positively encouraged. With an entry of 200 cars and 33 pit garages, teams share garages with four cars in each. They push cars out of the way, trip over fans, media and sponsors but everyone seems to enjoy the chaos. At 3pm before the start of the race, the start/finish straight was filled with 200 cars, roughly 800 drivers, their crews, gorgeous grid girls, hundreds of spectators and a Highland marching band in kilts.
So what about the race? The favourite BMW M3 didn't win and I guess for many fans, a Porsche victory was almost a return to form after the marque's obliteration at Le Mans. The Porsche hybrids broke and the Ferrari P4/5 kit car didn't which surprised me. The Mercedes SLSs deserved to win a best soundtrack award and the Corvettes that were running were disappointingly quiet. The Donut King car (No 43) didn't live up to its Richard Petty 'winningest' number and only lasted 18 laps. For me, sat in the grandstands almost by myself on Sunday morning, the GP circuit looked like an over-enthusiastic Scalextric layout with the maximum number of turns and a very odd collection of cars. All of a sudden, there's nearly a pileup as cars come down the pit straight three abreast and an Aston overtakes on the outside to work round the double chicane. In Saturday's wet Porsche Cup race, this layout produced incredible spins and near misses but it was great fun to watch.
If you can't speak German, it's hard to work out what's happening at all especially as a lap lasts about 8 or 9 minutes. There were few giant screens and fewer graphics but great in-car video throughout the day and night. During the twenty-four hours of the whole race, you would only have seen the winner, an inconspicuous 911, 156 times which is a new record number of laps. Unlike Le Mans, there are no prototypes but there's an obvious rivalry between Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and VW. In this sense, it's a real local event - the winner will brag in German about their victory at the Ring, a circuit as iconic as Monaco, Laguna Seca or the Island.
I must say thank you very much to Gareth and Simon from Castrol EDGE who paid for our flights and tickets to the BMW M festival. I learned more about oil in four days than you can imagine and they were extremely courteous and generous hosts. Another highlight of the M festival was not one but two exciting product launches with the new M3 CRT (Carbon Racing Technology) and the new, fifth generation M5, or "luxury sport limousine". On Saturday night at the Hatzenbachhugel, a hill overlooking the track where BMW had built a stage and circular marquee, Hells Belles, a German AC/DC tribute band played so loudly you couldn't hear the cars but you could hear the band in the paddock about a mile away.
In short, it was amazing and yes, I bought a Ring sticker."