The N24 is like no other race in the world. The Nürburgring plays host to 250 race cars and hundreds of thousands of fanatical fans from all over the world. This is the N24 through our eyes.
We’re all giggling like idiots, but at the same time we’re trying to comprehend the absurdity of what we’re seeing. It’s dusk on the Thursday before the N24 and we’re standing in the tourist car park on the Döttinger Höhe straight. The cars are on track for qualifying. “F**k me, they’re quick,” one of us says a few moments earlier as we approach the car park.
From a distance it’s hard to make out which car you’re seeing through the fence, but as we get closer, a green and blue blur streaks through my field of vision at an impossibly fast rate. I snap my neck to the right, nearly giving myself whiplash in the process, to see the rear of the car that just passed. It was a Renault Clio. Wow. Then the really quick cars come into view. An Audi R8 LMS, a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 and a Porsche 911 GT3R head towards us, weaving left and right, trying to catch a draft from one another. They roar by in a riot of color and noise, and our giggles turn to outright laughter and knee slapping.
It’s the moments like this that make endurance racing so great, and there’s no bigger endurance race in the world than the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. Over fifteen miles of tarmac running through the Eifel mountains, 250 cars and hordes of drunk Germans await. Here’s Drive Cult's best of the N24.
Best sounding car
Winner: Lexus LFA
It’s been harped on about ad nauseum, but the LFA really is a great sounding car. Its F1-like shriek is the kind of noise that gives petrolheads goosebumps. We all agreed that it was a bit quiet compared to the monstrous Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, but we have been assured by Lexus that they are looking into addressing this for next year.
Runner up: Mercedes SLS AMG GT3
If I had my druthers, the SLS would have taken top honors. The 6.2 AMG is a big engine in the mould of the Detroit classics, but with a very Germanic, hard-edged timbre. The SLS race cars sounded like rolling thunder as they swept around the Nordschleife. It also helped we were being flung around the Eifel mountains all week in Jack’s C63 AMG, which, while not quite as loud as the race cars, still has an exhaust note to die for.
Best underdog car
The number 53 Artega [Photo: Martin Spain]
Winner: Artega GT
The number 53 Artega GT started at the very back of the first group of cars, and ran virtually trouble-free to finish a very respectable 70th overall and 11th place in the SP7 category. It also looked and sounded very close to showroom spec, so if you’re on the fence about ordering one because of reliability concerns, worry not.
Runner up: Opel Manta
The number 160 Kissling Motorsport Opel Manta has been a crowd favorite for a few years now at the N24. It didn’t finish particularly high up the order in 141st, but the fact that a 25-year-old finished the race at all (again) is incredible. We doff our caps.
Best drunk German moment
Winner: Drunk German sawing wood on top of two trash cans
As Marty put it, this one was worthy of a Darwin Award. Easily the closest I've ever seen someone come to impaling themselves on a hacksaw.
Runner up: Drunk German nearly rolling into a fire
Whilst out spectating at Breidsheid, we encountered a German fan who had a bullhorn with a built-in siren, which he would set off whenever something funny happened. He was a little the worse for wear which meant just about anything was funny to him, but his comedic timing was pretty good. He probably wished he had something much louder than a bullhorn when his little brother, who couldn't have been more than 15, passed out drunk and tumbled down the hill, narrowly missing their camp fire.
Jamie Wolfcale meets the local fans at the N24
Winner: ”Yoo came all ze vay here for zis pile of sheet!?”
- Guy in the tiger outfit (above right) when I (wearing the propeller hat) told him I had flown all the way from California to watch the N24.
Runner up: “I think that's what my engineer would call an example of parabolic motion.”
- Richard Meaden to John Hindaugh during the Radio Le Mans broadcast when John was briefly distracted by the live TV feed, which was showing a very well-endowed woman in a skintight catsuit walking down the pitlane.
Winner: Manthey drivers
It couldn’t have gone to any other team. Marc Lieb, Lucas Luhr, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas drove their Porsche 911 RSR to victory from well down the field to bring the N24 trophy back to the Manthey garage. These guys own the Nürburgring.
Best place to eat at the Nürburgring
The great food and close proximity to the GP circuit make this a local favorite among the teams. We can highly recommend the pepper steak, the gorgonzola steak and the funghi steak. The steak on a stone isn't bad, either.
Runner up: Guesthouse Fuchsröhre (aka Michaela’s Place)
Top marks to Darren Langeveld of Ringweekends for clueing us into this place. Pizza, Bitburger and a basement bowling alley make this a great place to relax after a day of race watching. There’s even a Gran Turismo 5 setup for practising those virtual laps of the Nordschleife, complete with a Top Gear-style leaderboard for the ultimate bragging rights.
Best place to watch the race
Porsche Cup cars during the Carrera World Cup [Photo: Martin Spain]
We watched the manic 100-car strong Carrera World Cup support race and the start of the N24 from here. Two hundred and fifty VLN cars coming off the GP circuit onto the Nordschleife, lights ablaze in the wet, is truly a sight to behold.
Runner up: Döttinger Höhe
See first two paragraphs of this article for the reasons why. There aren't many straights this long in the world of racing that haven’t had chicanes added to keep speeds in check. The DH is the last of its breed.
Winner: Chris Harris
Evo’s Chris Harris took part in the very wet Carrera World Cup support race and was on the lockstops several times coming through the Hatzenbach. It may not have been intentional, but good man for putting on a great show. Ask him to tell you about his skid at the Steilstrecke...
Runner up: Jack Wood
Drive Cult’s own Jack Wood took part in no races over the course of the weekend, but this didn’t stop him from painting the tarmac black with Continental rubber in his C63 AMG. That said, I have a feeling it was a pretty normal weekend for Jack, whether he’s in Adenau or Manchester. The Mercedes is now due its fifth set of rear tyres!
Winner: Farnbacher Ferrari 458 GT
The Hankook-sponsored Farnbacher Ferrari 458 Italia GT was far and away the quickest car over a single lap during qualifying, and Dominic Farnbacher showed its full potential by posting a 8:23.764 lap and besting the second-placed Mamerow Mercedes SLS AMG by some two seconds. Unfortunately, the Ferrari ran into suspension problems early on in the race and lost four laps in the pits, a deficit from which they were unable to recover.
Best surprise of the weekend
Winner: Germans on mopeds at Ex-Mühle
The Wednesday before the N24 is pretty relaxed as far as security goes. So relaxed, in fact, that we were able to very easily make our way onto the track that night. While standing on the hill at Ex-Mühle, we heard engines and saw headlights coming towards us. Fearing that these were authority figures of some sort looking for trespassers to shoot, we dove to the other side of the Armco barriers. You can imagine our relief when we saw that it was nothing more than three crazy Germans on mopeds having an impromptu wheelie race around the Nordschleife.
Runner up: Level of accessibility
It’s pretty normal for ticket holders to be allowed access to the paddocks at most endurance races, but if you’re at the right place at the right time, you can find yourself in some interesting places at the N24, such as strolling down the pit lane during the race or on the wrong side of the Armco during the formation lap. It's this level of trust between the marshalls, officials and the fans that makes the N24 a very special race to attend.
Best looking race car
Aston Martin Zagato 'Zig' [Photo: Martin Spain]
Winner: Aston Zagato V12
The Zagato was unveiled only a few weeks prior to the N24 at the Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este in Italy, where it won Best in Show. Add a few carbon fiber aero bits and a race livery, and you end up with one very cool-looking race car.
Runner up: Audi R8 LMS
The R8 is getting a little long in the tooth, but it still looks spectacular as a race car. There was no shortage of R8s at the N24 and each one looked fantastic in their unique liveries.
Winner: Audi R8 LMS
To celebrate crossing the finish line after 24 hours of hard racing, the number 17 Abt Sportsline Audi R8 LMS pulled into the tarmac runoff area in front of the Mercedes grandstand, and proceeded to turn a number of gloriously smoky donuts. We need more of this kind of celebration in racing.
Runner up: mk2 Golf at Breidsheid
As we were walking down the steps back to our hotel, a mk2 Volkswagen Golf emerged from under the Breidsheid tunnel in a cloud of smoke, with the engine screaming and the front wheels ablaze. Fantastic!
Best free swag
Winner: Warsteiner party kit
Our goal was just to pick up enough beer to last us the remainder of the weekend, but thanks to Jack’s charming demeanor we got much more. The 20 pack of Warsteiners itself was only €10, but we also walked away with six additional citrus-flavored Warsteiners (which were surprisingly tasty), two German techno CDs, a 4-foot tall inflatable Warsteiner bottle and two jars of beer-flavoured mustard. Result!
Runner up: Free Live Strip pass
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess what kind of website live-strip.com is. They were sponsoring two cars in the race, and so had a very visible presence at the N24. At some point, Chris was handed a free pass to Live Strip (at least, that’s his story), which he then passed on to me. It gives you the choice of viewing either SexyAnja or Frank Jelinski. Hmmm, choices...
Best Racing Livery
Winner: Titanium Silver E46 M3
To be honest, there weren’t that many inspiring liveries at the N24, so top honors are going to a car with no livery at all. The Team Hiroyuki Kishimoto car looked like a bog-standard E46 M3 - very much like Martin's - with a set of race numbers slapped on it.
Runner up: "Boobs" car
If you were there or were watching the live feed from home, you’ll know exactly what this is. The Team Patrick Rehs 130i GTR was sponsored by another adult website of some kind, and featured a pouting topless woman on its flanks. Only in Germany. For educational purposes only, here's a link to it (NSFW).
Best moments of the N24
I had seen the chaos of the N24 pitlane while watching the race on the live feed in years past, but when Richard Meaden snuck me into the Aston garage, I really felt like I was in the middle of it - probably because I was! Engineers stared attentively at line graphs of computer monitors while racks of tires were being pushed in all directions and very important people stood around in Aston Martin fire suits and jackets discussing race strategy.
Then, the number 6 N24 Vantage pulled in to the pit. Fuel tank topped off, tires and drivers switched out, and with that, the Aston was off. After it was gone I got a little braver and walked out into the pitlane itself. I heard the high pitched wah-wah-wah alarm that warns of a car entering the pits from the track and soon after, one of the factory BMW M3 GT2s dives into the pit box right next to where I'm standing.
BMW M3 GT2 pits during the night [Photo: Jamie Wolfcale]
The mechanics immediately go to work. A full tank of fuel goes in while the mechanics check the car for damage. Then the wheels and tires come off with the accompanying sound of impact wrenches, and a new driver goes in. The engine fires up and the M3 rumbles back off into the night.
At this point I began to feel somewhat in-the-way of everyone trying to do their jobs, so I thanked Richard for the opportunity and met back up with the rest of the Drive Cult team in the paddock. It’s an experience that will be seared into my consciousness for the rest of my life.
In a world of top-level motorsport where teams eat in their catering trucks, drivers swan from their massage to an air-conditioned trailer, and fans are kept at arms length behind chainlink fences hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes, the best moments for me were ones where I felt I was part of the Nürburgring 24 Hours, not just a spectator. Sharing a restaurant with the teams the night before qualifying, wandering around the paddock as cars and parts were being moved, standing in the pitlane at the end of the race watching the winning drivers spray some champagne...the level of access was quite unlike anything else.
There was also an unusual level of respect between the fans and the organisers. For instance, the grid is opened to the public before the start, and fans can get up close to the cars and drivers. There were also stories of fans being allowed to stand right next to the track for the parade lap, then dutifully filing back to the spectator areas once the cars were past, thanking the marshalls for their generosity.
Even the campsites, with their scaffolding towers, repurposed shipping containers and nocturnal light shows, are accepted as people having a good time, and they really add to the character of the event. The organisers laid on firewood and clean water, and then those fans who were camping - who may or may not even have been aware that a motor race was going on around them - had a good time. I didn't see any trouble, only the occasional overly-loud PA system, and was impressed with the time, attention and detail lavished on these constructions.
If you ever get a chance to attend the Nürburgring 24H, don't just hang around the paddock and the nearby hotels. Instead, make sure to venture out to different spots around the track. Wander through the campsites, cheer with the campers, marvel at their ingenuity. It's unlike any other motorsport event in the world, including Le Mans; it's more akin to a week-long festival, and it rivals any motoring event around the world for scale and passion.
A 2:30am start may not be everyone's idea of fun, but there is something rather special about firing up a stonking great 6.2 litre V8 in the middle of the night with the prospect of a day ahead spent thundering across Europe in a fast car convoy. Those first few bleary miles as the engine comes up to temperature, that shove in the back as you push the accelerator to the floor and filter onto the motorway for the first of many times that day. A trip like this is always going to be epic, and there is no better grin-inducing way to start it.
A few hours later, with the light of recent dawn seeping through the side windows, I mutter the words “OK, I’ll catch up to you” into the phone. A rendezvous with the rest of my rapidly-moving convoy ahead on the road beckons. From a distance I can make out the squat rear of a 911 GT3 and the quad exhausts of a glistening M3, so I bury the throttle and buzz the duo with AMG thunder.
And we’re not even a third of the way there yet…
Everything just builds from there. Walking Ex-Mühle at night and looking back over the gaudily-lit campsite at Breidscheid, with a heady mix of German techno, Guns N’ Roses and ABBA blaring from mega-watt PAs. Touching the tarmac at Bergwerk, feeling how steeply cambered it is, and how on the racing line the surface is polished to a glass-like finish but a metre off it the asphalt is coarse and pocked. Standing with my face pressed into a mesh catch fence like a kid at the zoo as cars thunder past inches away at speeds that left the muscles in my eyes sore for days afterwards from trying to track them past. Hearing the revs flare as the cars go light over the jump approaching Schwedenkreuz. Being driven into the depths of the forest to almost inaccessible places in that most British of vehicles, a short wheelbase Land Rover, by someone so amazingly generous with his time as pro photographer Dave Shepherd. Three most glorious steaks at the Pistenklause. Beer that tastes of beer.
The reality was so much better than the theory of the event had ever been, at least in my mind. Had I made the trip on my own it would have been a great event and thoroughly enjoyable, but being lucky enough to savor every moment of what must simply be the greatest motoring spectacle on the planet with four other like-minded individuals made a simply epic experience.
Waking up to the sound of racing engines 50 metres away from the apartment window. The first question out of anyone's lips being, "Who's leading?" as we congregate for breakfast. Playing 'guess the car' from the exhaust note as it echoes through the forests. Tramping along a muddy path, only to emerge next to the crest at Schwedenkreuz and seeing the Porsche 911s practically achieve lift-off as the cars pass at 180mph. There are almost too many memories of the event to recount, but here's my favourite.
It's Thursday and the Drive Cult team is at the GP circuit, watching the cars out on track during practice. We've separated out, with Jack, Jamie and honorary DC-er Matt watching the cars exiting the tight Bit-Kurve corner while Chris and I have walked further down to try and grab some shots of the cars at speed as they rush along the straight up to the Veedol chicane. The weather is finally improving, the track's drying rapidly and the drivers are starting to push more.
Pan, click, pan, click, pan, click... Just as the drivers start to find a dry groove emerge from the wet track, I'm starting to find a groove behind the camera as well. I always need a little time to ease into photographing fast-moving racing cars, and my first shots are always a bit scruffy and cautious - much like a driver's first laps of a damp Nordschleife, I imagine. As I start to feel more confident, the results start to come, making up for my cold hands as I track the number 1 BMW M3 GT2 through the right-hand kink of Hatzenbects-Bogen. Pan, click... I look at the camera screen and I know my shot of the day is in the bag. I put the camera away and watch racing cars go past in the afternoon sunshine.
Be sure to come back in the next few days for more of our N24 coverage including more pictures and video.