It's A Ring Thing


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Story and Photos by J.G. Pasterjak

It’s Burning Man minus the hippies and with a massive helping of gearheads. Every spring, over a quarter-million passionate fans pack the grandstands and hillsides of the world’s most famous 17-mile stretch of pavement to witness the spectacle that is the ADAC-Zurich 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

With nearly 200 teams vying for supremacy, there’s never a dull moment, even on the endless twisty track that winds through three whole towns in the Eifel Mountains of western Germany. Those exciting moments spill into the spectator areas, where fans set up elaborate party compounds and spend nearly a week in a motorsports-fueled dream state.

Being present for this spectacle is exciting enough, but this year we got to tag along as BimmerWorld’s James Clay led an Optima assault on the Nürburgring. Watching a friend compete in this motorized wonderland made it that much more special. Here’s a look at some of the sights from our weekend.

1.

The N24 is an extremely diverse event, featuring racing in more than 10 classes. This makes for massive speed differentials as factory GT3 machines run down club racers.

2.

When there are 180 cars on the grid, the pre-race fan walk is a mosh pit of spectacle that stretches for three-quarters of a mile. Despite the expanse, there’s little room for subtlety.

3.

The Land Motorsport Audi R8 was knocked out of contention with less than half an hour left in the race by a chaotic and disorganized pit stop that took minutes longer than it should have. But in the race’s most surprising twist, the lengthy stop turned into a blessing. Rainfall suddenly and unexpectedly returned while the Land car was still in the pits.

4.

The crew jumped at the chance to switch back to rain tires, allowing the car to run down the leaders riding on dry-weather rubber.

5.

One of our favorite support events of the weekend is Friday’s historic race. Historic and vintage racing in Europe is a hardcore affair, with drivers giving little quarter and fighting for every inch of pavement. Seeing some of our favorite cars in action is a nice bonus.

The 24 Hours of Nürburgring is practically a German national holiday. Nearly 300,000 spectators flood the surrounding countryside and cheer on their favorite teams.

The 24 Hours of Nürburgring is practically a German national holiday. Nearly 300,000 spectators flood the surrounding countryside and cheer on their favorite teams.

6.

With 17-plus miles of track to cover, full-course cautions are practically nonexistent. Instead, the Nürburgring uses a fleet of rapid-response vehicles that circulate with race traffic and are able to quickly get incidents under control. These hopped-up Audi wagons are piloted by a pair of course marshals and have everything on board needed for traffic control. Once they arrive on scene, the marshals throw up some pylons to slow race traffic in the area while they assess the situation and request additional support if necessary.

7.

Have an on-course incident? It could be a looooong way back to the pits. If you get a flat tow, that wrecker will have to snatch you off the track, then use local public roads to return to the paddock. Bottom line: Even a minor accident that forces you to stop can easily cost you the race.

8.

It’s not just the drivers and fans who come from all over the world. We met corner workers from the U.K.–part of the U.K. marshal teams who staff several sequential stations on the track–as well as workers from the U.S. who were well versed in working SCCA, NASA and IMSA events.

Veteran Turns Rookie

The ADAC/Zurich 24 Hours of Nürburgring has long been one of our favorite races. Its unique combination of massive, diverse fields, passionate fans, and decades of history makes for an experience that’s difficult to describe to the uninitiated. It tends to have a huge impact on folks taking it in for the first time, so whenever we get a chance, we like to debrief them a bit and share in their post-’Ring excitement.

In 2017, BimmerWorld’s James Clay–certainly no stranger to high-profile motorsports as a team owner and competitor in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series–teamed up with Optima Batteries to compete in the legendary German enduro. Although James has spent a measurable portion of his life lapping tracks in anger in North America, the N24 was an eye-opening challenge for him. We asked him to jot down some thoughts on the plane ride home from his adventure.

Americans love to throw money at things. We get a good race car, but we don’t just let the balance of performance make us competitive: We go out and spend ourselves into the cost creep that eventually we point to as the reason we can’t afford to race.

Germans get in, shut up, and drive the car.

Precision German engineering evident at the Nürburgring is not limited to race cars and espresso machines. The fan party encampments and structures were built as well as my house, and when we left the track at 6 p.m. on Sunday, not a trace of them could be found.

The N24 is an inclusive race. Factory GT3 cars and teams make up the fast entries, but there is an abundance of Porsches, BMWs and others at all levels. Have a really fast E36 with six of your best friends to crew? Bring it and race–and be welcomed! This is good for racing.

German drivers in general are good. And I’m not speaking specifically of racing drivers. I mean the Autobahn, where you’d better follow the rules, and quick. That level of precision driving on the street is a cultural thing and continues to the track. Of course the fastest drivers had a lot of talent, but even at the back of the field there were very few hacks, and this gave a ’Ring noob like me an additional level of confidence.

You’d better have your act together and then some. The race organization in Germany is very regimented, and there are a lot of procedures to follow. Don’t come here without your paperwork, thinking you can miss meetings and assuming you’ll figure it out. If you pull that act, you won’t be racing. It takes a lot of effort and some help to hit the multiple checkpoints and meetings that lead up to a race event, so plan ahead and be very prepared.

The ’Ring is no joke. Sure, I jumped into the deep end by learning the 17-mile track one day and racing on it the next day in a VLN series event (which felt like the German equivalent of a very crowded IMSA WeatherTech race, but with a wider range of cars). But while I am accustomed to learning new tracks quickly and working hard, it took every ounce of experience and skill I had to not get chewed up and spit out by the ’Ring.

Racing on a massive track winding through three towns in the German woods at night is wild. Visually, it’s almost the inverse of what you would expect. The hills beside the track are fully jammed with spectators who party all night long, so there’s lots of light off-track from campfires, generator-powered spotlights, etc. But the track itself is quite dark by comparison. It’s lit only by race car headlights and the occasional firework shot over the track that gives a few seconds of a better view.

German fans come in throngs. Almost 300,000 people are spread through the countryside surrounding the circuit. They drink, they grill, they party, but most of all, they all seem to have a deep respect for and interest in the racing. Despite their intense shenanigans and their seeming lack of respect for their own livers, their respect for the sport is evident in the fact that none of their partying flows onto the track–no stray trash, no pitched bottles or cans.

The best lap around a race track I’ll ever do in my life will quite likely be the warmup lap before the green flag of the N24. Tens of thousands of fans line every kilometer of the track. And when I say line the track, I mean line the track. Fans are allowed on the hot side of the spectator fences during the formation lap, and they form a tunnel of enthusiastic humanity the likes of which I have never seen before.

The Nürburgring is addictive. To obtain a credential for the N24, I had to run two previous weekends at the track in the VLN series. Every weekend was better than the last. And now that I’ve done the N24, I’m looking for more opportunities to drive the track in preparation for next year’s race (which of course I plan to do). As is often the case in racing, don’t come here once thinking it will be your last time.

–James Clay

BMW M235i Racing

The M235i Racing is BMW’s first large-volume car designed for club and entry-level pro motorsports. This solid performer hits a bit under $100K, and considering development costs for this level of car or racing, that’s a great deal.

But at that price point, you need to have realistic expectations. As a mass-produced spec car, the M235i Racing has no real options–which, by the way, is what makes it inexpensive to run. It needs to be geared toward a limited set of guidelines and a certain level of “buildability” in volume.

Now, I’m not complaining. As long as you don’t go in expecting it to perform like a custom-built race car, you’ll come away impressed with the M235i Racing. It may give up a small amount of performance to more bespoke race cars, but the good news is it’s generally not competing with them anyway.

If you’re looking to enter racing at an advanced club level (or an entry pro level in some circumstances), this car provides enough adjustability, technology and performance to provide a solid competitive platform and a good learning tool. Best of all, the spec is locked down to the point where rules creep–and the subsequent cost creep that comes with it–is not a factor in the classes where it runs. That’s a bonus in any kind of racing.


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Comments
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Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
3/23/18 4:37 p.m.

So, JG, you're not participating this year?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
3/23/18 10:23 p.m.
Jerry From LA said:

So, JG, you're not participating this year?

http://www.mtwhitneyquest.com

They moved the race up like two weeks this year and the schedule just doesn't work out for me unfortunately. It's typically Memorial Day weekend or later, when my wife is out of school so she comes over after the race and we chill for a week. But with them moving it up it's right between the Mitty and the UTCC and flights are crazy expensive and she's still teaching. Fingers crossed they move it back later next year.

te72
te72 New Reader
3/26/18 10:48 p.m.

I wouldn't mind going on it one of these days. Fifteen years of driving on it in the virtual world, I feel like I have a decent grasp of the layout and quirks by now. That said, I'd much rather drive it in something like a Miata than something that I'd be afraid to gas it, that way I could focus on line placement more than worrying about the power.

 

It's a wicked track to drive in the digital side of things. Is it as scary in real life too? The bumps make things interesting (and have taught me the value of coasting haha), but I think my biggest hurdle with the Ring has always been that it just seems REALLY narrow. True of the real thing?

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