46 years later and the Nurburgring 24 Hours is better than ever
This year is the 46th running of the Nurburgring 24 Hours, arguably the toughest race on the planet, which pits man and machine, against the toughest circuit in the world – the Nürburgring Nordschleife – and often, unpredictable weather. And that’s the reason around 200,000 people descend on the Eifel region each year in western Germany, because it’s un-predictable, spectacular, and off the track, it is a wild party.
It may not have quite the international prestige of an endurance race like Le Mans or the Sebring 12 Hours, but when you’re there, you’ll realize that the Nurburgring 24 Hours doesn’t need it, as it isn’t lacking in any area. It is a spectator’s dream, with such a vast circuit to explore and watch from, and with unrivaled variety in machinery racing together on the same circuit, it’s hard to look away.
The race has been held since 1970, and in recent years has exploded from a quirky German event, with low powered touring cars and a few odd-ball GT cars, to a race which all the key European factories take very seriously. It is now an arms race between the German marques. At Le Mans, Porsche or BMW may bring two cars to the top GT class, but at the N24, where strength in numbers is key, customer teams oozing with factory drivers and support come in big numbers to help their respective manufacturer take an all-important win. What you’re left with, is a titanic battle between over 30 cars from the likes of Porsche, Mercedes, Audi and BMW, with other entries from the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and sometimes Lexus thrown in.
What are the factories racing with you ask? GT3 cars, and the odd N24 special like the fabled Glickenhaus SCG003C. At most circuits, GT3 cars may not seem like high-powered monsters, but at the N24, when they literally have to slalom through endless streams of lower-class GT and touring cars on narrow stretches of road, they look remarkable, especially towards the end of the race when they’re covered in battle scars. And yes, they do still get a little bit of air at certain parts of the circuit when the drivers push themselves to the limit!
The race itself – which is run on the full Nordschlefie with the GP loop on one end – is astounding. At night it’s an absolutely awe-inspiring event, and during the day, it’s got a similar ‘motorsport festival’ vibe that its French counterpart does. It’s not the easiest to follow, (but if you have data you can stream Radio Le Mans track-side for English commentary and view live timing), but you’ll be so swept away by the atmosphere that sweating over who’s leading some of the small classes won’t cross your mind.
It’s true, that the Nurburgring 24 Hours is still very much a German affair, but don’t let that put you off, in fact, treat it as part of the charm. Much of the fanbase who line the sides of the circuit and sleep track-side in ludicrously large tents, caravans, motorhomes, or a combination of all three, are seasoned veterans. They’ve been there, done it, and got the t-shirt, and while they can seem intimidating, as they can, and will, drink most under the table, they’re friendly, and have really come to like the new international feel the race has.
If you’re new to spectating on the full ‘Ring, you’ll benefit greatly by getting a map and planning which sections you wish to do before the race. Prepare to spend a lot of time during the race getting from corner to corner in your car or a shuttle bus, but once you get to each spectator point, you’ll realise quickly that it’s worth the wait. Especially as large parts of the circuit are accessible on foot, and linked together.
Don’t be afraid to start at one corner, and keep walking through the forest in one direction for an hour or two, five or six corners up the road, then turn back and do the same again in the other direction. It’s one of those places where, you’ll look down at your watch, and realize you’ve lost six hours seemingly at the snap of your fingers. The best places to visit as a spectator are Pflanzgarten – where the cars snake downhill, and in some cases leave the ground over the crest at the bottom – and Hatzenbach, where drivers have to really work hard to dart past traffic through the narrow esses.
The Schwadenkreuz is also worth visiting, as for drivers, it provides a great challenge. It’s a fairly gentle and innocuous- looking corner, but a deadly camber change mid-way through can seriously unsettle a car. Heading for the village of Adenau allows you to access the track and walk back in the opposite direction to race traffic. Starting at the Breidscheid bridge, you climb uphill with the circuit to your right, peering down through trees at the action below. You’ll eventually come to Metzgesfeld, which offers a nice view of the double-apex left-hander after Adenaur-Forst.
Another good entry point is Hohe Acht, towards the end of the lap. You’ll need to park up and walk along a forest path for about 20 minutes to reach the track, but once there you can walk down through a campsite to the world-famous landmark that is the ‘Karussell’, where you’ll hear the constant crunch of front splitters and undertrays hitting the ground as the cars negotiate the iconic banked hairpin. You can then walk back up the hill to Hohe Acht, before heading downhill in the opposite direction, walking in the same direction of the cars this time, past a series of sweeping left- and right-handers that drop down to the double-apex left at Brünnchen: home to a large and very vocal spectator camp. The track then climbs again, passing through the opportunity to ‘get air’ at Pflanzgarten, before it reaches Döttinger Höhe – the Nürburgring’s fastest section, where the cars run flat-chat for about two kilometres.
If you’re driving on the main road that runs parallel to the straight, turn off at the Bilstein bridge and park on the approach to it. Taller fans (or shorter ones on stepladders) should be able to peer over the advertising hoarding and get a stunning view of the cars cannoning down the straight towards them on the approach to the Antoniusbuche left-hand kink. Shortly after this point, the cars rejoin the modern Grand Prix circuit and begin another lap. You can also see it by standing behind the big iron gate by the Devil’s Diner at the tourist entrance.
Oh and don’t discount visiting the GP loop, which is a great place to watch the start of the race from, and if you get there early enough on the Saturday, you’ll be allowed to go on the grid for the colossal grid walk, by heading across to the paddock via the pedestrian tunnel by the Bilstein Tribune. But these parts of the circuit, are just the highlights, when you go there yourself you’ll likely discover somewhere that you’ll be certain nobody else has found – it’s that sort of adventure.
When you arrive, forget everything you already know about motorsport spectating, strap yourself in and prepare for a wild ride. There really isn’t anything like the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and that, is why you’ll want to keep coming back.
The dates for the Nurburgring 24 Hours change each year as it follows a public holiday. You can join Travel Destinations at the Nurburgring from the 10th – 14th May 2018 and then again next year from the 20th – 24th June 2019. You can reserve your place on our private trackside campsite now by calling 0844 873 0203.
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar