N24 liveblog: the road to the 'ring

OK, so Le Mans will always be the 24-hour race closest to PH hearts. But there's another one in Germany this weekend that, whisper it, could even be its equal, certainly when it comes to the partying.

CJ will be following Nissan's fortunes
CJ will be following Nissan's fortunes
So we thought we'd better go along ourselves and do the 'ring 24 properly. When we say 'properly' we mean we've embedded ourselves with two of the major manufacturers with cars in the race, so beer money should be covered at least. I'll be reporting on the race from the McLaren perspective and following the fortunes of the stunning MP4-12C GT3s. And regular PH contributor CJ Hubbard will be doing the same with Nissan and its 'street' GT-Rs. We will, of course, be taking the wider view too and checking out the weird (that Audi A8 - yes, A8) and wonderful (the Manta for instance) among the ever-eclectic N24 grid.

Happily our respective teams have given us representative cars in which to attend. Which brings us to the first updates to the blog. Keep checking by too - we'll be updating them regularly as we go.


Incidental photos by Dan and CJ, track and action photography by Frozenspeed

Friday: Nurburging, 1930h - drifting the night away
You'd have thought if you're going to have a drifting event at the N24 you might at least put up a few signs. Several wrong turns and random queues of traffic later, we did manage to find it. Only to discover that everyone else had gotten there first - the grandstands were absolutely packed.

Hence the rather distant and blurry photograph. Sorry. Trust me, this is the best of a bad bunch. Good skills on the circuit though, especially the guys following as often their view ahead is entirely obscured by tyre smoke.

Funny who you bump into round here
Funny who you bump into round here
Sitting in the (first) queue, what should roll by a dark metallic red McLaren ... hold on a moment. Yep, by bizarre coincidence, Dan drove past at exactly the moment we were trying to exit the hotel overflow parking. The Macca looks awesome, it has to be said.

I'm getting increasingly comfortable with the GT-R's ludicrous urgency, so it's a shame the autobahn dual isn't going to happen. On the other hand, my neck muscles genuinely are throbbing from all the snap-brutality of sprinting between backroad corners. And something seems to have happened to the brakes.

Personally I suspect that something is called Chris Harris; the squeaking I'd originally put down to aggressive pad material just doesn't seem to want to say goodbye.


Friday: Bonn, quite a long way from the Nurburgring
Blimey, CJ's got a bit of a head start over us on the blogging. Enough GT-R already, let's talk maxing out the McLaren!

Sometimes the stars just align. My usual route to the 'ring involves turning off the E42 at Prum and heading cross country. But there's always been that tempting 'game on' sign just before the exit. And I just couldn't help myself. And then it got better. Just as I was getting up to speed an orange Gallardo joined the road ... and didn't even bother. Boo! Spoilsport!

Look Ma, we made it (eventually)
Look Ma, we made it (eventually)
OK, this 'new' route took a bit longer. But the back road to Daun and then to Kelberg was fantastic and, finally, I got a chance to really give the 12C some beans. More on this in due course. But I'm a fan.

Of course, all this larking about meant we thoroughly missed qualifying. Oops. But we did bump into CJ (not literally) in the chaos around the track entrance. Which was nice.

And the 12C is definitely turning heads in the jams around the circuit too, even with an Aston One-77 in attendance.


Friday: Nürburgring Dorint Hotel, 6:30pm
How's about that for a view from a hotel room? I'm lucky enough to be staying in the Dorint, which is right next to the Grand Prix circuit. I've just heard the end of qualifying (I'll let Dan fill you in about that - assuming he made it...), and am now being treated to the sound of various 80s rock classics blasting out from somewhere. ZZ Top, Status Quo and, currently, Rod Stewert. Hmm. You can almost smell the mullets.

Got to dash as I'm off to watch a drift event that's taking place down the road. A currywurst will be on the agenda at some point, too, with any luck...



Friday: Nürburgring, 5pm (blogging backlog now uploading!)
Well, I'm here. Standing in the queue to collect my media credentials I get a phone call from Dan - well, his other half - explaining that they're still an hour away. Keep up slow coaches. I thought you were in a supercar or something?

Anyways, the media accreditation centre for the N24 is awesome, as it's based out of the little hotel next to that petrol station. You know - the one with that model shop in it. I left my wallet in the car.

Lots of tasty vehicular spots already ¬- including, most unexpectedly, a Fisker Karma. However, I've been driving the entire way, so haven't been able to snap many shots. Suffice to say the GT-R certainly draws its own fair share of attention, we've had people waving and cheering and everything. Though perhaps it helps that we're travelling in convoy with a second, identical white and black Track Pack car. Does make quite the impression.

I did have time to grab this picture in the car park. Which gives us the chance to play a game of is it real. One tasty looking Porsche, but I can't quite believe it's actually an RS lightweight. Happy if someone can prove me wrong.


Friday: Spa Francorchamps, 3:00pm
Er, yes, so this would be the wrong epic European race circuit. But we decided that a detour via Spa would be so much more interesting than a straight shot down the autobahn. Even if it did mean experiencing even more varieties of Belgium motorway road surface. It is astonishing just how much difference this makes to the quality of life on board the GT-R - it's not so much the bumps but the sheer noise. It's like going snow blind. Only with your ears. Or something.

Following the detour we took an exclusively cross-country route down to the 'ring - which finally meant a chance to properly stretch the GT-R's twin-turbo legs without anybody watching. The Track Pack's stiffer springs mean it's even less keen on unexpected bumps, so you find yourself juggling the suspension settings between the additional compliance of Comfort and the greater body control of Standard. I did not attempt to put in R on the road. If I want my back cracking I'll pay a professional...


Friday: Somewhere in Belgium, 1500h
I've generously delegated Belgium to my long-suffering wife, who seems to be settling into the role quite nicely. "It stinks! It's raining! What the hell is he doing!" Yes, that'll be Belgium. Impressively smooth from the passenger seat of the McLaren though, I have to say. Even with the potholes.

These guys definitely deserve a big cheer
These guys definitely deserve a big cheer
I've not been idle though - I've been going through the entry list picking out the cars and drivers to watch during the qualifying we'll hopefully make and, of course, the race tomorrow.

I'm all for the Audi A8 guys who've ended up in the SP8 class, alongside all sorts of big hitters like the Ulrich Bez Aston Martin Zagato, the Team Nissan GT-R guys with Banzai nutter test driver Toshio Suzuki and the Gazoo Lexus LFA. Everyone loves an underdog, especially one in a proper smoker barge. We'll be cheering them along for sure.

The #65 Hankook SLS GT3 with DTM legend Bernd Schneider on the team should be worth watching too, along with the #44 Falken 911 GT3 with Peter Dumbreck and the #28 Porsche with queen of the 'ring Sabine Schmitz. The other GT-R will be worth watching too, Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi and first GT Academy winnerLucas Ordonez among the drivers there and the latter probably still pinching himself - a few years back he was doing this on his PlayStation and how he's racing a GT-R alongside Kazunori-san!

A special shout to friend of PH (anyone who lets us out in their 964 RS is a friend of PH!) Julian Perry in the #250 BMW Z4. It got a bit bent in practise apparently but Julian assures us they'll make the grid!


Friday: Eurotunnel check-in, 1200h
OK, so I had a fairly lazy start compared with CJ and any thoughts of a McLaren vs GT-R showdown on the autobahn will have to be shelved. For now... Frankly my MP4-12C experience so far has consisted of fairly restrained motorway cruising, which is all I'll have for the next few hours until we hit the roads beyond Prum for the final push to the 'ring. I'm looking forward to those. More than the schlep across Belgium.

Put your foot down man!
Put your foot down man!
I'm just about getting used to the attention the MP4 gets too. Lots of chatter at fuel stops and the rest, with everybody positive if not quite up to speed with what it is. "Brilliant! What is it?" is the usual response, which is at least more positive than you get in a Ferrari. People know exactly what that says about you and, as often as not, are very willing to let you know.

And while this threatens to descend into an endless talk about mpg I've been seeing some fairly astounding numbers on the trip on the McLaren. 29mpg?! I know, I know, must try harder and all that. But impressive in its own way.

Still not quite mastered the doors though. "Sure, I'll show you the interior, I'll just ... open ... hang on ... yes, it is mine ... you just wave your hand ... no ..." I need to get that nailed because it looks a little embarrassing.

We'll need this to catch CJ
We'll need this to catch CJ
And no Supras on our crossing. But there is a Back To The Future DeLorean!





Friday: Channel Tunnel, 7:30am
Well, we've arrived at the Chunnel already - considerably earlier than scheduled, but at least it gave us the chance to top up with supplies. Not least for the GT-R...

Just over half a tank of Tesco Momentum 99 (the closest you can easily get to this car's preferred 100 Octane proof tipple -check the fuel filler flap) works out at about £55, even at a surprisingly reasonable 140.9p. But no one ever said running one of these was an inexpensive business.

A high-octane ride. Literally
A high-octane ride. Literally
More pertinently, we also needed to pick up the complete stock of officially mandated travel accessories. About 7pm last night I was scrabbling around trying to find bulb kits and warning triangles, but could only dig up a single florescent jacket. Fortunately, the Chunnel terminal shop is well stocked with these things.

We arrived at the terminal to find the car park filled with Toyota Supras. Which all promptly left as soon as we rolled to a halt... We can only assume they were intimidated. After all the GT-R is every bit as fast as it looks.

I'm going to try not to bang on about that too much, but the big Nissan's performance does rather do funny things to your head. I encountered a police car just after joining the M1 this morning, and as I rolled by with the cruise control set to an indicated 71mph I found myself wondering, exactly what would happen if I stood on the loud pedal right now? The GT-R would have been a considerable distance up the basically empty road before the boys in blue would have even had a chance to react...

Needless to say, I gave my right leg a stiff talking to, and plodded on.

See you in France.


Thursday: Woking, after work
Accepting an invitation to follow the fortunes of the privateer McLaren teams running MP4-12Cs does, it seems, bring with it certain benefits. Earlier this evening I trundled off to Woking in the PH Golf GTI, abandoned it in a car park full of a pleasingly eclectic collection of cars (various Astons and Porsches, a W114 280CE Mercedes coupe, an early Integrale and all sorts of stuff about) and waited dutifully at the gatehouse for PR man Dan to bring round 'our' car. The security guy teased me by saying he thought I was getting one in the McLaren Orange on black wheels - probably my favourite colour combo. As it turned out I get Volcano Red on black instead. But what a beaut it is.

This'll be my first real go with the MP4 too and I'm really looking forward to some quality time in it. I had a quick go on a previous visit but the drive across France and Belgium tomorrow should be a real chance to bond. And better than the plod round the M25 and compulsory trip round the houses to show it off to various friends at home. I was in commuting mode and enjoying the surprising comfort, the wide-mouthed staring from cars around me in the rush hour jams reminding me I was in something worth staring at. Pick your nose in a car like this and the whole world knows about it. Heaven forbid that I should do such a thing of course.

Meanwhile in Harpenden fellow 'ring 24H first timer CJ was taking delivery of some wheels of his own... He's setting off earlier than me tomorrow I think. Can I catch him in the MP4? Looks like our own little 'ring 24 might be starting early. See you in Belgium CJ! Quite likely it'll be at a filling station...


Thursday: Harpenden, earlier in the day
While Dan's swanning off to collect his McLaren (have no idea if this is supposed to be a secret...) my ride to the 'ring is already here. You may find it looks a little familiar...

That's right, it's the same GT-R Track Pack Harris was giving death to on video just recently. The TGV number plate seems entirely fitting, as I'm going to be flogging it across France tomorrow morning. With any luck, this extended on-road blat will give me a slightly different perspective on a car that so far seems to be struggling to justify its £10,000 premium.

It arrived this morning, and I've already established that it remains a) very, very fast, and b) it's definitely still very thirsty. Neither of which should really come as a surprise. I think it looks stonking in white with all the black detailing, too - but this is never going to be a car you'll call pretty.

Of all the Track Pack mods, the front seats with their 'Magic Cloth' are the least convincing. However, with around 500 miles to cover in short order I'm fairly sure having these squishy chairs instead of hard racing buckets is probably a reason to be thankful.


Comments (33) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ravon 18 May 2012

    Would be really great if you could keep us posted on Joe911's progress ( joe911 was featured recently on PH with his black 964RS ), he's co-driving the Brunwick Motorsport BMW Z4 .

  • Mermaid 18 May 2012


  • Truckosaurus 18 May 2012

    I do like that metallic raspberry colour of the Macca. Looking forward to the rest of the trip report.

  • Repent 18 May 2012

    Truly wish I could come across to this, must be an amazing atmosphere and the line up really grabs me. Top marks on the coverage too lads, always enjoyed the front page of PH as well as the forums but the change of gear recently hasnt gone unappreciated, another great effort! Look forward to having my refreshes rewarded!

  • suffolk009 18 May 2012

    Driving a McLaren to a 24hour race at the 'ring. My weekend plans look rather poor in comparison.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment