Imagine the all the intensity, raw power, edginess, drama, unpredictability, beauty and quirks of the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24), in a more condensed format. Imagine the 25km Nurburgring Nordschleife with a crowd big enough to create an atmosphere, but small enough to make the circuit’s wide variety of spectating opportunities easily accessible. Imagine fan access unparalleled in high-level sports car racing, with free grid walks, and garage access before and during the races and countless vantage points for fans, at no cost beyond the price of admission. Well, it’s not fantasy, what you’re imagining is the VLN championship, which runs throughout the European motorsport season.
The VLN championship, or Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring if we’re getting technical, does not feature the Nürburgring 24 Hours as part of its calendar, but much of the same teams and drivers compete in both. The drivers have to, to obtain a permit to race in the 24-hours in June, and the teams use the rounds as preparation for the big dance each year.
Over the years the Nürburgring 24 Hours has gained much exposure. It is far more of an international event than it ever has been. It maintains its ‘German’ feel, but has never been more accessible and marketable to the wider motorsport community. It doesn’t feel as much of a hidden gem as it did at the turn of the century. This is in part because the VLN championship, which runs on the full Nordschleife and runs with grids close to 200 cars, has become more professional and important. In recent years the Nürburgring circuit owners have gone to great lengths to ensure that racing on such a vast, unforgiving circuit is as safe as it can be for competitors and spectators alike, and required the competitors to step up their level of professionalism. This has made the racing better, and attracted the attention of the major manufacturers that now do battle with their customer GT3 programmes to win the N24 overall.
But heading to the ‘Ring for a VLN race gives you the best of both worlds. You still get a fleet of world-class teams and drivers racing up front in GT3 machinery, and a mixture of entry-level and mid-tier race cars following on behind. Crucially though, as a fan, it’s as accessible as it ever has been. You can still head onto the track for a grid walk pre-race, access the paddock easily and navigate the forestry surrounding the Nordschleife without the need to utilise the shuttle-bus system that the N24 now relies on. Instead, there’s space and time to drive your own car to the various car parks near the key corners such as Pflazgarten, Hohe Acht and Hatzenbach and come and go as you please.
Spectating at the full ‘Green Hell’ is an old-school experience, which must be savoured, treasured and preserved. Travelling the world, visiting circuits old and new for a living, as this writer does, you become somewhat of a connoisseur of motorsport venues. You can travel to Abu Dhabi for the modern, pristine feel that the Yas Marina circuit has to offer, Bathurst to marvel at Australia’s most celebrated racing amphitheatres, or Sebring to get a snapshot of rural America and its motorsport culture, but no circuit, even rival venues in Germany, matches the Nürburgring if you’re a fan of circuits that are as beautiful as they are steeped in history.
VLN races are either four or six hours long. There is plenty of time to take in the seemingly endless pre-race grid walk, dash to the Mercedes Tribune to watch the cars pile into Turn 1 at the start of the race, before heading out into the forest for an adventure. There’s something special about navigating the Eiffel Forests to find spectator banks and trails during a race. Those who have attended World Rally Championship events will be in their element, taking out a map, driving to a corner, and exploring the surrounding areas to find man-made grandstands, and climbing grass verges to get a glimpse of some of the more stunning backdrops that the ‘Ring has to offer. Why not start at Pflatzgarten and walk the trail that leads past Brünnchen, Eschback, Wipperman, Hohe Acht and all the way to a clearing where you’ll find the world-famous Caracciola Karussell. By taking in that sequence of corners you’ll see the drivers test their mettle in low, medium and high speed corners. It’s narrow, bumpy, with very little run off. The skillset required to win at the ‘Ring becomes far clearer.
If you’re new to the circuit as a fan, a trip to a VLN race isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds, and will prepare you well for a trip to the N24, where the crowds are far bigger and local knowledge is key to getting the most out of the experience. Once you’ve reached the famous horse-shoe, turn around, and return to your car, before heading to Adenau, where with Travel Destinations, you’ll be staying. It’s a friendly town, littered with petrol-heads and homages to motorsport culture. There the walk from Ex-Muhle to Kallenhard is another fan-favourite trail. It’s hilly, but work the trek, is the cars navigate the sharp turns and sudden drops. And that’s just two sections, for there are plenty more fan-friendly areas to touch on in future trips.
Outside of the race itself, there are many more opportunities to explore in region surrounding the circuit. It’s somewhat of a goldmine, full of restaurants, bars, landmarks and museums to visit. So prepare yourself. The Nürburgring is like no other circuit; you don’t just turn up, watch the track action and leave. There’s always something nearby that will either prompt you to stay after dark or return again soon.
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar
If you would like to experience the best of the VLN then we have something special for you. Take a look at our exclusive special offer for the finale of the 2019 VLN season. Experience hospitality and tours around the garage with our friendly driver David Pittard, currently racing for the Rowe Team. If you want to experience more he can even take you on hot laps around the Nordschleife. Visit our website or call 01707 329988 for details.