To get you in the mood here are some great shots from our man with the camera, Frozenspeed's Jochen. These are from qualifying yesterday - plenty more of this as we go on too.
Sunday: CJ's hotel balcony, 1600h
So it's over! And in typically N24 fashion, the #11 Manthey Porsche losing third place to the #66 Heico SLS literally yards before the finish line after battling all the way round the final lap, conking out just over the line and then having a Clio crash into the back of it, meaning winners came round to waved yellows as well as the chequered flag. Mental! The smoke in the pic is fireworks, not the Porsche, which is obscured just behind the explosion.
And the R8 is, finally, an overall Nurburgring 24-hour winner! Congratulations to all the drivers in the winning #3 Team Phoenix car - Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase, Markus Winkelhock and Frank Stippler. And with the #26 Mamerow Racing R8 in second that's a 1-2 for Audi. Bad luck for the hard-charging Z4s though - the best they could manage was the #29 Marc VDS Racing Team in fifth after dominating the event until the small hours this morning with the Team Schubert cars.
And there's still a McLaren running at the N24 - ours! Time to hit the road and head home...
Popped into the Nissan pit garage. Where it was if not manic then certainly charged, and I found no-one prepared to say anything until after the race. Given there’s only two hours to go, I guess that’s not really a surprise. Another set of tyres now beckons…
At the top it remains R8-R8-SLS-911 – although the teams have changed. Audi Sport Team Phoenix (who conveniently have a shop in the Nurodisney complex here – which I suspect is probably currently doing a brisk trade) are leading the way in car #3, while the dominant SLS force is now Hancook-Team Heico, with car #65 in third and #66 in fifth; Mamerow Racing’s R8 is in third.
Worth a mention, just because we haven’t yet is car #1 – the awesome Competizione P4/5, which is one of the easiest cars on the circuit to identify by both sight and sound. The cackling noise it makes on the over-run rivals the strafing thunder of the SLS for greatest ringtone potential of the event.
Considering the car is unique – albeit based over well proven Ferrari mechanicals – for it to be running 14th right now is a superb achievement. Living the dream.
So, just over an hour to go and it looks like Audi could well be onto finally take an overall win for the first time here with the R8 LMS. That Ultra bit has obviously done the trick. Rotten luck for the various BMW Z4s that have looked massively quick all weekend but have fallen by the wayside in the final hours.
That chap in the photo with his back to us is Stephan Reil, boss of Quattro GmbH whom I met in Geneva earlier in the year. This is his patch - the customer R8 LMS and TT RS very much Quattro products while Wolfgang Ullrich takes charge of the Le Mans and DTM cars. Either way, it's looking good for Audi at the 'ring - less good at Brands where they're trailing the Mercs and BMWs.
I’ve downsized. Instead of driving the GT-R Track Pack back, I’m going home in a 370Z – which should prove an interesting comparison. Although it is already obvious that both cars share one thing in common: a lack of genuinely exciting noise. Nissan needs to sort this issue, stat.
Anyhoo, while I haven’t quite got official word about what happened to the #23 race GT-R – it really is that chaotic here – it seems that pretty much everything important on the car had to be swapped over during the night. To be honest, given how har it was going round the corners when I was stood with Dan in the middle of the forest at 2:30am this morning I’m not entirely surprised.
Heading to the garage in a little while to see if I can get some proper confirmation. Meanwhile, the R8 and the SLS GT3 cars continue to duke it out for the top four spots, the Z4s are closing up again, and the #11 Manthey Porsche is still lurking in position number 5…
The One-77 Dan mentioned what seems like days ago? It’s been parked outside my hotel all weekend, along with about six showrooms’ worth of other Astons. Snapped it knapping this morning. Not sure you can call it a pretty animal, but is it a better Aston than the one next to is?
This is just one of many Cygnets in the vicinity, (there’s a, well, lime yellow example outside the front door, and another in the lobby), the Dorint apparently being Aston’s home for the duration as well. Gazoo Racing are also here – and all things considered I think I’d much rather be driving its supercharged version of the iQ, which is parked in the Nürodisney shopping complex just up the road.
If the iQ isn’t your thing, what about the 320hp Gazoo Racing GT86 which makes its public debut here, looking ever so much like Toyota’s potential answer to a 911 GT3. Albeit one that says the hell with natural aspiration and hello twin charger technology.
As you’d expect the place is awash with tweaked up German metal – even the security people are riding around in brand new RS4s (yes, as in the one that isn’t even really out yet). So it takes something special to really stand out from the crowd. Despite what Herr Durheimer was telling Dan yesterday morning, however, I’m not sure that really excuses fitting a Supersport with yellow wheels…
Well, shucks. The last time I mentioned the GT-Rs number #23 was approaching the top 30; by the time I actually hit the track again it was down in 97th – and when I woke up this morning it had slipped back again. Clearly the overnight rain didn’t benefit the GT-R’s four-wheel drive system.
As Dan’s already mentioned, actually trying to figure out what’s happening at the circuit while at the circuit is tricky to say the least, so beyond hearing about a stop and go penalty yesterday evening and discovering it’s spent at least three hours in the pits, I can’t yet say for sure what’s happened to the car.
The #123 car is still going steady, however, currently sitting in 38th spot and proving consistency is as important as speed if you’re racing for an entire day.
Getting a decent amount of kip is also crucial – there have been a number of incidents this morning in the drying conditions that suggest fatigue is really starting to set in for some teams.
Sod's law as soon as I wimped out and went off to the hotel all hell, well, rain broke loose and the race has been turned upside down. So it's bye-bye #19 BMW and its #2 Audi is down the rankings, the lead now taken by the #22 Rowe SLS that apparently won the battle of tyre choice.
Radio Le Mans and checking the N24 website than I did in several hours trackside!
What you miss of course is the atmosphere and sheer childlike glee that makes me want to jump up and down with excitement as another tightly packed gaggle of cars screams past and then off into the woods once again.
And what was I saying about the Porsche's looking relentlessly consistent? The Manthey car is up to fourth. It's still the only one in a top 10 dominated by R8s, SLSes and a couple of Z4s. But those boys are past masters...
A brief one this; I'm knackered and need some kip. I know, I know, I should man up and see it through...
Anyway, I went back up to the woods after dark and there I found all manner of weird and wonderful things. Lots of catastrophically drunk people keen to leer all over the McLaren. Fires. The most incredible improvised viewing platforms ever devised. More drunk people. More fires. Terrible techno music. And eventually the track.
Seeing these cars at night is something else. The SLSes are the coolest, side exhausts and brake discs glowing, V8 thunder echoing across the forest as they pass. The P4/5 is pretty epic too, spitting out bangs and pops as it goes. But, boy, those Z4s. Absolute weapons and, when I left, the pole sitting #19 Team Schubert car (Alzen, Muller, et al) was still leading, though trading places with the #2 Team Phoenix Audi R8 and chased by the #22 Rowe Racing SLS. The most shocking thing? Only one Porsche in the top 10 when I last checked. But you rule them out at your peril. They look relentlessly consistent.
We'll see how it's looking once day breaks...
Saturday: media centre, 2100h
Want to see what a lap of the 'ring looks like at night? Dan from McLaren just shared this clip with me from free practise the other night. Blimey.
I was hoping to share with you a link to the McLaren Pitwall page that hard working PR man Dave Eden has been diligently updating with all the latest on the MP4-12Cs – a lot more diligently than I have this blog it has to be said. You can still look at the link. But, sadly, there’s no good McLaren news to report with all three cars tragically knocked out in accidents on track. This is especially tough given that the Gemballa car was making steady progress and had made up over 20 places from the 39th place qualifying position.
It’s a bitter blow and I’m gutted for the McLaren guys who look utterly crestfallen.
The race goes on though and we’re back from a trip out into the woods and it’s a whole different picture out there. THIS is the Nurburgring and a world away from the sterile GP track. I’ve been watching, open mouthed, at the bottom of the hill leading to Pflanzgarten 1 as the cars peel into the downhill run to the yump, lights ablaze with the faster cars flashing their headlights to clear the way, bottoming out after the jump with a skrrrfff of carbon fibre and then powering through the right hand exit. Mesmerising stuff. The Gazoo LFA sounds awesome, its searing V10 howl cutting through both the forest and over the sound of the other engines. The Z4s – number 19 has been leading and is now in third after some pit stops – look savagely fast and efficient, the R8s and SLSes wickedly quick too. Oh, and there’s the odd Porsche or two that sounds pretty good too, the difference in pace between the top 20 or so runners and the rest of the field really noticeable. Seeing a pack of half a dozen cars made up of an SLS or two, a 911, an R8 and one of those screaming Z4s bouncing around, rubbing door handles and sweeping backmarkers out of the way with utter disdain is just awesome stuff. Can’t wait for it to get dark – bet it’s even more impressive then.
Dropped back to the hotel room to do a quick bit of copy filing and charge the laptop. The race coverage here is so sorted that as well as looking out of my window and watching the cars go by I can also view them on the TV. Flick up a few channels and I can view the timing screens, too. Handy – if I were staying in one place.
But I’m not, I’m heading out into the forest to try and find some of the real action. The stuff that involves barbeques and beer.
I’ll be packing a coat, though. Sun since the about an hour before the start means there are plenty of people now pink with sunburn – but I overheard one of the Dunlop tyre techs telling the others they’d just had word that rain was coming between 10 and 11 o’clock.
We’re in for a wet night, he reckoned. That would certainly shake things up a bit… let’s see if it turns out to be true.
Just been watching some pits stops as the race enters its fourth hour. The grid is so massive here that multiple cars share the same garage - so the teams looking after the two Track Pack GT-R cars occupy the same space as a pair of BMWs.
These are less well-specified cars, so no air jacks or centre lock wheels here. But it took me a moment to realise that the mechanics are lifting all four wheels off the ground using just two jacks, and then balancing them using a pair of supplementary axle stands and whole lot of bodies. Presumably there's some kind of regulatory reason for this behaviour...
Mizuno-san is looking relatively pleased with the performance of his #23 car so far - it broke into the top 40 at just after 7pm, and is currently running at 31 as I type this. As I was in the garage Michael Krumm ended his stint; he looked hot, but was smiling, feeding back to Mizuno and the Dunlop tyre engineers.
So they're off! And the carnage has already started with an incredibly high attrition rate even for 'ring. But not before my somewhat incredible opportunity to sit beside Juha Kankkunen for a parade lap of Bentleys to lead out the field. And what a dude Kankkunen is, chatting freely about his collection of Group B cars, how he and Bentley Le Mans hero Guy Smith have been talking about coming here "for a play" and how he reckons the Nordschleife feels more like a tarmac special stage than a racetrack.
Time to get out there amongst them and cheer some McLarens on. One of the Dorr cars has already been in the pits and another just spotted bouncing across the grass so hopefully things can only improve from here.
Since I'm lucky enough to be staying at the 'ring, I haven't had quite such an early start as Dan. But it's been a busy one.
We started out trying to grab a few local flavour shots of the GT-R Track Pack, on the hopeful basis that the roads would be quiet. No chance. This place is already buzzing - I even ended up in a procession with a bunch of other UK-plated GT-Rs. Hello whoever you are!
Pictures bagged, I then hustled off to an interview session with Mizuno-san - Mr GT-R himself. This guy is awesome. Within minutes he was up and scribbling away on a giant notepad, illustrating the difference between the road going Track Pack and the car driven by the team he's managing in the race.
We'll cover this in more detail in a full feature shortly - there's plenty to discuss - but suffice to say there's a plan here. One that may go someway to answering some of Harris' questions about the current Track Pack car.
Finally, there was just time to grab a quick interview with Michal Krumm - the GT1 world champion who's part of the driver line-up for this very development car. He spoke very frankly about the challenges of driving a road car in a race like this. This covered the issues you'd expect - like the brakes (astonishingly, they're running the standard discs and pads) - but also ones you wouldn't. Like the fact the GT-R is faster than practically all of the GT3 cars on the straights... This, as you can imagine, brings some unusual challenges.
I'll talk more about this later if I get time. But for now I'm off to the grid...
Slightly manic morning running round chasing folk and bandwidth to throw some updates up. There's so much to take in it can get a bit bewildering. Help, I'm being pushed into the path of a Porsche being moved through the paddock! Look, some idiots are driving go-karts round the whole Nordschleife/GP lap!
Track Pack GT-R is just one step in his five-year plan for GT-R development.
I was also keen to check in with the GT 86s, Toyota Europe man Danny Chen giving us a tour of the wildly busy pit garage containing the two near-standard cars run by the Swiss importer and the two not at all standard Gazoo cars. The relationship with Gazoo seems odd. They're kind of in-house but nobody at Toyota professes to have any clue what they're up to or how. So the Gazoo cars are modified. But nobody's saying how. The all-Japanese crews with them are all production line guys and enthusiasts who've offered themselves up for a European adventure and who can blame them. Two of the drivers are development guys rather than out and out racers too, which would indicate an interest within Toyota to take the GT 86 further. Whether that extends to the 320hp twincharger concept I'm intending to check out further at some point remains to be seen though.
And what of the race? The official site is a good source of qualifying information and other stuff like that but the Z4s look ominously quick (and very mean), likewise the Audis. The McLarens are a little off the qualifying pace, the fastest back in 27th. But this is a marathon not a sprint and all that...
A heavyweight industry interview wasn't quite the way I expected my N24 adventures to begin but Bentley asked if I'd like a chat with Wolfgang Durheimer, ex-Porsche man and now the chap in charge at Crewe. Er, OK. One should always approach such interviews with due preparation and seriousness so I necked an extra large gulp of Day Nurse, did some frantic last minute swotting and made it to the Lindner just in time.
This after a fun run through the Eifel in the MP4-12C. The road up to Hohe Acht was entertainingly twisty, especially on the slithery hairpins. I say entertaining, PR man Dave beside me did make a grab for bits of interior as we gaily understeered towards the trees on a particularly greasy bend. That cooled my boots a bit and from that point it was back to proper supercar detail - namely slowing to a crawl, engaging first and then nailing it any time we went past a campsite or group of camera wielding fans. Lots more thumbs up for the McLaren here - it's getting a lot of love.
Now off to the media centre to try and make sense of quali and the race ahead.