As is the way of the world, you’ll most likely know Peter Dumbreck’s name for that Mercedes incident at Le Mans – 20 years ago this month, in fact. His career has enjoyed considerably more success than drawback, though, with sportscar, touring car and single seater victories in Europe and Japan. Notably, too, he was the driver for the NIO EP9 record Nordschleife lap of 6:45.9, one that surpassed a host of conventional supercars and was only recently beaten by the VW ID. R – effectively a race car, really, despite also competing for that same ‘fastest EV’ record.
So who better to speak to about the 24 hours of the Nurburgring, with a podium under his belt from 2015 and years of experience racing with Falken? If anyone knows what it takes to succeed at N24, Dumbreck ranks high among them.
That said, the first, inevitable question can’t be avoided: how does driving a GT3 racer around the Nurburgring compare to a 1,360hp EV? He explains that the most obvious difference is the missing gear changes; the race car can apparently refuse the occasional downshift, which isn’t a problem with the Nio. While engine braking is obviously used more in one than the other, regen braking for the EP9 was limited to about 10 per cent “to keep things simple” for the record lap. Tyres are a huge factor, as well; you might remember the Nio had to be turned around and sent on its hot lap with cold tyres, an issue that a GT3 car doesn’t encounter thanks to warm-up laps.
As for the Nio’s future, Dumbreck says the car can certainly go faster, “but maybe 10 seconds faster, not 40. Every second costs money.” Don’t expect a dramatic retaking of the record any time soon, then, with Nio now focused on sales.
As a seasoned endurance racer, Dumbreck maintains that the first stint of any race is always most difficult: “It’s your bedding-in stint, you’re trying to get used to everything.” With more cars running earlier in the race (and so more risk of altercations), the track at is slowest and the car at its most unfamiliar, those initial hours are most challenging. Particularly for #33’s old hand, having not completed a race stint because of recent VLN chaos where snow brought a halt to the race. Rather presciently, he suggests that the first target was to be top 10, “then we work from there”, ensuring the team “don’t give absolutely everything to begin with.”
The night-time is no time to give it everything either, even if actual lap times are barely any slower. Problem? The other cars. The speed differential between the slowest and fastest cars at N24 is enormous even during the day – it’s one of the race’s most compelling aspects, in fact – and only increases at night “because the amateur drivers tend not to drive on the racing line, they often drive in the middle of track.” Understandable, quite frankly, given the intimidation factor of that circuit in the pitch black, but when you’re a pro it means homing in pretty rapidly on slower cars with “split seconds to decide how you’re going to deal with it.” It might sound OTT, but with the GT3 cars separated by such fine margins, every second counts.
Sometimes it even feels like the tenths might contribute, which sounds crazy given the length of the race but that’s how close the action is. It’s probably also why, when asked which section he’s not so hot on, Dumbreck immediately says “Brunnchen” – “I’m not really a very big fan.” And for those fearing YouTube notoriety, he reckons the left after Brunnchen II is also treacherously slippery – “like driving on ice”, no less – so it’s a section to be wary of. Again though, he maintains that as the track “rubbers in” and pace grows in the car, with others falling by the wayside, it becomes simpler. And quicker. Certainly anyone who saw the Falken M6 hammering around wouldn’t have questioned any pace…
Those who have experienced both the Le Mans and Nurburgring 24-hour races can vouch for their stark differences; ostensibly similar, yes, but polar opposites in atmosphere. As Dumbreck says of N24: “Essentially this is still a grassroots motorsport race, now with professional teams drivers and manufacturers.” Which is what makes it such an incredible spectacle, to have the access and immersion of much lower level motorsport, only with some of the best drivers and GT3 cars in the world also taking part. On the Nordschleife. It’s not as prim and proper as the Le Mans weekend (all things being relative), and probably all the more endearing for it.
Anyway, as a man with experience of both – and, most pertinently, the GT1 era – it seemed appropriate to ask Dumbreck about the upcoming hypercar regulations for the World Endurance Championship. He reckons it’s a good move, suggesting fans “might be disconnected” with LMP1, but that significant manufacturer involvement is key to raising awareness and bringing people back. With Aston Martin and Toyota having already confirmed factory entries, the signs are good.
Furthermore, Dumbreck reckons that the ACO needs to ensure a performance advantage for the hypercars; they will be slower than P1, but then the less competitive P1s are already only just ahead of LMP2. “You really have to think about how to fit the cars in”, he says, citing as well the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO of a few years back: “they could barely do a lap, could barely be in front of the P2s, they’re spending millions of pounds, and losing credibility.” He suggests that a GT-R GTE might have been a more sensible use of money. Point being that however the hypercars actually pan out, they need to be competitive – there’s a lot to lose.
Could we see Peter Dumbreck back at Le Mans? Seems unlikely, but nothing is ever certain in the world of motorsport. Certainly the pace is still there, as the weekend’s sixth place proved. Surely the ideal situation is as teammate Jorg Bergmeister did, racing at Le Mans and then N24 in consecutive weekends. Both are still extremely competitive in their mid-40s, after all. Those hypercar regulations can’t come soon enough…