In the middle of a forest clearing, an elderly gent is cavorting with an inflatable doll. All around, campers have empty bottles strung to their guy ropes – an alcoholic league table, of sorts. It’s riotous but endearing. If this were a British city centre at kicking-out time on a Friday night, you’d likely run a mile. Here, though, drunkenness is strictly amiable. It’s a huge social occasion that happens to have a motor race taking place a matter of metres away. And the sound of a Bentley Continental GT3 at full tilt between the trees might just be the best anywhere in sport…
More than 30 years after it last hosted any events of such stature, the Nürburgring Nordschleife returned to the FIA’s global roster this summer with a brace of three-lap World Touring Car Championship races (won by Citroën drivers José María López and Yvan Muller) – a nice touch, but very much supporting acts to the 43rd annual 24 Hours.
GPS-monitored speed restrictions were imposed at certain parts of the track for the main event, in response to the death of a spectator at a VLN endurance race in March (when Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan became airborne at Pflanzgarten and cleared a debris fence). This posed other potential hazards, Falken Porsche driver Peter Dumbreck pointing out that drivers were concentrating so hard on obeying limits that it might be easy to lose focus on surrounding traffic.
BMW Z4s dominated qualifying and led the race’s early stages – a fierce three-way tussle that had more in common with a Formula Ford 10-lapper at Mallory Park – but evening showers increased the customary disruptions and the race distilled to a close battle between Audi, BMW and Porsche, the WRT-run R8 LMS of Christopher Mies, Edward Sandstrom, Laurens Vanthoor and Nico Müller eventually finishing 40.729sec clear of the Team Marc VDS Z4 of Maxime Martin, Lucas Luhr, Richard Westbrook and Markus Pattala. Fourth in 2014, the Falken 911 of Dumbreck, Martin Ragginger, Wolf Henzler and Alex Imperatori completed the podium trio, one lap in arrears.
What’s the event’s appeal? “It’s the challenge,” Ragginger said. “At modern circuits we’re always being summoned by the stewards to explain why we’ve crossed kerbs or white lines. Here, we don’t cross the white lines…” Simon Arron