Wednesday, 19 May 2010

38th ADAC Zurich 24h Rennen - aka Nürburgring 24 hours

An excellent weekend at the Nürburgring for the 24 hours. Drove over in my S4 Avant (did I mention my S4 Avant already? What a nice car!) via the Channel Tunnel with Graham Goodwin for company and had a troublefree journey in each direction.

Radio Le Mans (dotcom) operating out of the Aston Martin Hospitality Lounge, and a very pleasant place it is too. A limited view of the track (from the corner of the lounge where we are squashed), but access to the catering facilities, which are really, really good. It’s above the press room too, so access to information is good, although we probably didn’t make as much use of it as we should have done.

And – a first for the Nürburgring 24 hours – Radio Le Mans covered the whole race without a break. And why not, for the race was truly enthralling. There are doubtless better places than this if you want to find out what happened, but as Manthey Racing had provided the winning car for the last three years, and had a strong entry this year, it looked like a safe bet to me. But when it fell out as a result of a collision with a VW Golf that bounced off the barrier and into its path, the race looked to be turning to Audi. The R8s had looked somewhat on the edge throughout, but Marco Werner must have hoped to stay in the lead for somewhat more than the ten corners that he negotiated between passing the Golf / Porsche contretemps, and arriving at the Pflanzgarten and having a collision of his own.

As the other Audis also fell foul of traffic and breakdown, so the Manthey Hybrid Porsche established a lead that looked unstoppable. Until it stopped, victim of a broken gearbox. Which left us with a battle between the Hankook Ferrari and the Schnitzer BMW M3. The Italian car had previously been overhauled by the German one, as a result of some particularly slow laps during darkness, and but for that, a thrilling chase for the flag might have ensued. Maybe the Ferrari could have won. But a Nürburgring 24 hours with the first Porsche in only fifth place is certainly a sign of an unusual race.

With the 24 hours at Le Mans not many weeks away, a spot of reflection. First, I like the fact that the Nürburgring race is certainly not a sprint. Driving safely, and to a strategy, is the secret to success. On only a couple of occasions did it seem to me that an R8 would reach the chequered flag first, and on those my vision was of a smouldering, shuddering wreck of a car that wouldn’t complete another lap. The BMW looked nearly immaculate at the finish.

Second, it is very, very easy to crash at the Ring. With 197 starters, and back-markers being encountered on the leaders’ very first lap, traffic is inevitably a problem. More of a problem is the width of the Nordschleife and the fact that the barriers are not very far away. Thankfully, although there were incidents aplenty, none was serious and the race was a safe one.

Third, I am not sure about this business of being allowed to get a tow back to the pits if you stop on the circuit. It’s a good way of ensuring that the rate of attrition is not too high, but it has all the potential to change the strategy altogether. Why not take a risk here or there if you can get someone to bring you home and resume your race? With so many classes, many of which have few entrants, it is possible to get a good class result despite being stranded. The Aston Martin Vantage ‘Kermit’ still finished 3rd in class despite needing a tow back from somewhere out in the woods on the back of the Chairman’s Rapide. More significantly, it thus finished ahead of five other classified finishers in the class. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

My only other gripe is the way that the time-keeping system works. For some reason the no. 76 BMW Z4 was credited with 3 minutes (I think) which made following its progress very difficult, especially when you compared it to what was happening on the track. There might be no better way of doing it (just as towing cars back to the pits might be the best way of keeping as many as possible in the race), but it doesn’t seem quite right either.

Apart from these last two things though, I am really, really glad I went (thanks John, for having me! – and Eve). In some ways I would have preferred to go to Spa and miss Nürburgring, but I am very glad I didn’t miss that one. And I am looking forward to seeing another cracking good race again next year… maybe a proper race between Audi and Porsche?

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