It has been interesting – and fun – for me this year to be able to follow, in some detail, the goings-on in the VLN series of endurance races on Nürburgring’s Nordschleife. Just like Creventic’s 24h series that I wrote about recently, the VLN consists of a myriad of classes, with the fastest cars – and overall winners (usually) – being GT3 machinery, but with large fields made up of various other GT and Touring Cars, the speed differentials during races are significant.
The VLN is a funny series, which I have struggled to get my head around at times. The fact that radiolemans.com was asked to provide English language commentary for the live TV stream is an indication of its increased profile this year. But consider that the average entry for the nine rounds held this season has been over 150, and with at least four hundred drivers taking part in each race you can see that for those involved, it is a very big deal indeed.
The status that goes with the championship positions should not be overlooked either, although you may be forgiven for saying “who?” in response to a look at the leading championship contenders. Be well-assured that the efforts made to lift the various trophies in the VLN are serious indeed.
Prior to round 8, at the beginning of this month, the lead of the championship was held by Marcel Manheller, but following a fierce battle in the so-called “Barbarossapreis” (VLN-8) the lead for the V4 class changed on the final lap – possibly more than once – and he finished less than half-a-second ahead of the Pixum Adrenalin team car. Despite his maximum points haul of 9.72 points, however, Manheller still dropped from the lead of the championship to fifth in the standings as the drivers of the V5 class winners (for larger-engined “production” cars) Norbert Fischer, Christian Konnerth and Daniel Zils took over the championship lead (by 0.09 points) going into the final round.
This was due to the fact that drivers had to drop their two best scores, and meant that as the cars lined up for the final round last weekend, the championship favourite was Michael Schrey, who had driven all but one round alone in the Bonk Motorsport BMW M235i.
Because more points are available in classes with more starters, Schrey’s objective was to seal the championship by winning his class in the final round, regardless of the efforts in the other classes which had fewer starters.
But even that wasn’t simple, as after just two laps, Schrey brought the BMW into the pits, in order to switch to the TCR-class VW Golf of the Matilda Racing team, co-driven by Andreas Gülden and Benjamin Leuchter. To score points, Michael had to complete just one timed lap: which he did, and ended up winning the championship by a mere 0.2 points (67.47 vs 67.27). Schrey’s championship win was his second in two seasons: he won the 2016 title alongside Alex Mies.
As I said before, the names may not necessarily be familiar ones, but the intensity of competition is no less fierce for that. What I find truly staggering is that no less than 875 drivers’ names appear in the 2017 championship table!
VLN stands for “Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring”, which roughly translated means “Association of Organisers of Endurance Trophy Nürburgring”. The point is that each round of the championship is organised by a different club. In global terms, this is not really important, but it does mean that the administration of the series is easier – although a lot of responsibility inevitably falls on the VLN organisation itself, and its chief representative Karl Mauer. A great deal of the credit for the success of this year’s series lies with him.
All but one of the rounds take place over a four-hour race duration, the exception being the six-hour ADAC Ruhr-Pokal-Rennen in August. I have had the pleasure of covering five of the rounds this season, in addition to the six-hour “Qualification race” for the ADAC 24 hours, and what has most surprised me is how quickly the time passes, even though we have been watching the races on a TV monitor in London with a sometimes rather flaky link to the timing systems.
The races themselves are an eclectic mix of professional drivers and teams along with the VLN trophy hunters and the weekend warriors, all out on the Nordschleife together.
Another aspect – and a reason why these races are attracting more and more attention – is that you need to have raced on the Nordschleife to get the licence required to participate in the ADAC 24-hours of the Nürburgring: and there are a lot of drivers who want to have that particular box ticked on their CV, whether it be for a chance of outright victory, or just as a wide-eyed participant.
If you should happen to find yourself in that part of Germany when there is a race going on, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is no admission charge to get into the circuit, except if you want to visit the paddock or the grandstands in the start/finish area. Even then, the charge is a “family-friendly” €15.
If the atmosphere is anything like it was twenty-five years ago when I spent a lot of my time there, then it is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon – especially if the weather is kind.
You might also get to see some of the ‘experimental’ cars that have graced the series this year: Mercedes AMG gave their GT4 car its competition debut in the VLN this year (running in the SPX class, as it was not properly homologated as a GT4). Then in the final two rounds, we saw Manthey Racing with their Porsche 911 GT3 (also running in the SPX, non-homologated class) with Fred Makowiecki and Lars Kern (in round 9) and Kevin Estre and Matteo Cairoli (in round 8) giving the eagle-eyed an opportunity to spy what Stuttgart might have on offer for its 2018 customers.
It is difficult to disentangle the VLN from the ADAC 24-hours of the Nürburgring, but my plan is to do exactly that and to reflect on that race in another post in a week or so.
But before closing this entry, I really want to mention Ben Lyons and his crew at Viken Motorsport, who wrote to me after VLN-4 when Jonny Palmer mentioned a “very-standard looking” BMW being passed by the leaders in the closing stages of that race.
Ben used social media to get in touch, and explain how he had been driving that BMW, and was inspired to enter the VLN following the coverage of endurance racing provided by radiolemans.com over the years. Their car is prepared in a tent in Scotland and brought down on a trailer for the three rounds in which Ben competed. He finished 413th in the championship table – nearer the top than the bottom! Check him out on facebook here
I have no doubt that Ben will be back. So will many others, although they will most likely take their inspiration from loftier ideals than radiolemans.com. But it is the series itself that is the greatest inspiration, and the opportunity it gives to compete on one of the greatest circuits in the world with some of the best drivers in GT racing.
In 2018, the reins of responsibility for the VLN will pass from Karl Mauer to Ralph-Gerald Schlüter and Michael Bork. It is to be hoped that they will continue the tradition and that the VLN continues to thrive.