LIVE: Nürburgring 24h 2013

The pace, reliability and consistent performance of the victorious #9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS and its drivers make it a worthy

Drive Cult are back in Nürburg for the 40th running of the fascinating Nürburgring 24H marathon in the Eifel mountains. There will be regular updates to this blog following each of the sessions and throughout the race, so check back often for more news and photos!

Finish - the Black Falcon Mercedes SLS wins

I'm aware there's quite a gap between 8am and 5pm, but with the 8.5 hour stoppage overnight, all of my plans for the race and photography went out the door! I was fortunate in that I chose to stay out when the rain first started, and thus managed to get some shots from the night, and in the rain - but this meant I'm short on corners covered for the circuit.

So, to make up for this I spent almost all of Monday track-side - starting at the Karussel and then heading round to Pflanzgarten, mini Karussel and Schwalbenschwanz before heading to the GP circuit for some pit shots and the finish.

In the end, the #9 Mercedes won the race, but not before a dramatic finale where Maxime Martin climbed back into the Marc VDS Z4 with 40 minutes left before the finish, and proceeds to sets the fastest lap of the race by some margin, passing two of the ROWE Mercedes (#21 and #22) on the penultimate lap, before chasing after the #9 car. If the race had lasted a few more laps he might well have caught the leader before the finish, though Sean Edwards at the wheel of the Black Falcon #9 car almost certainly had performance in the bag to respond if necessary.

The result means that four different manufacturers have won the N24 over the last four years: BMW in 2010, Porsche in 2011, Audi in 2012 and now Mercedes in 2013! Perhaps Aston's luck will come good in 2014?

  1. 1. Edwards/Bleekemolen/Schneider/Thiim (Mercedes), 88 laps
  2. 2. Buurman/Göransson/Martin/Piccini (BMW) +2m 39.7s
  3. 3. Bastian/Graf/Jäger/Seyffarth (Mercedes) – 1 lap
  4. 4. Arnold/Jäger/Roloff/Seyffarth (Mercedes) – 1 lap
  5. 5. Fässler/Rockenfeller/Stippler/Winkelhock (Audi R8 LMS ultra) – 1 lap
  6. 6. Adorf/Hürtgen/Klingmann/Tomczyk (BMW) – 1 lap
  7. 7. Bernhard/Dumas/Lieb/Luhr (Porsche) – 1 lap
  8. 8. Ammermüller/Stippler/Stuck/Stuck (Audi R8 LMS ultra) – 2 laps
  9. 9. Biela/Jöns/Ludwig/Rusinov (Audi R8 LMS ultra) – 2 laps
  10. 10. Lamy/Mücke/Simonsen/Turner (Aston Martin) – 2 laps

Restart at the Karussel

When the race resumes at 8am, I head up at the Karussel to snap the action.

Maxime Martin in the #25 Marc VDS BMW Z4 has a great first lap at the restart, passing both the Manthey Porsche and the Aston, and repeating his antics from the Spa 24h last year by lapping 10 or more seconds per lap faster than most of the other front runners in the wet conditions.

The #9 Black Falcon Mercedes with Bernd Schneider at the wheel is able to keep pace with him, though, and there is a long tussle for the lead as the morning goes on. Manthey are hampered by some poor tyre decisions with their #18 RSR, and a small transmission issue with their #50 car.

These issues are minor compared to the misfortunes experienced by other teams, with the treacherous conditions seeing the retirement of many of the top Audis and BMWs.

Restarting at 8:20am

Wow. That was unexpected. I've managed to grab 6 hours of sleep, albeit interrupted by regular alarms to keep checking what time the race will restart. Have just got word that there'll be a pace car lap at 8am, followed by a full restart at 8:20a, so it's time to get up and dig out the waterproofs once more since it's still raining very heavily.

The #007 Aston Martin of Lamy/Turner/Mucke/Simonsen will resume in the lead, hotly pursued by the #18 Manthey Porsche RSR of Lieb/Luhr/Bernhard/Dumas and the #50 Manthey Porsche GT3 R of Holzer/Tandy/Bergmeister/Lietz.

The 007 Aston Martin may be leading for now, but in 2nd and 3rd places lie as Radio LeMans call it: "The Manthey Steamroller"

The first six hours - now RED FLAGGED

I'm too tired for words right now. The race has been red flagged due to extreme rain and fog, and there's a chance to grab some much-needed sleep, so for now it''ll be mostly pictures, with a few words!

Audi led from pole position with the #4 car from Phoenix Racing piloted by Frank Stippler, initially breaking out a bit from Pedro Lamy in the #007 Aston Martin Vantage, but this lead is short-lived.

As the race started late this year (5pm) I decided in advance that I'd do a long first stint - going from the grid to T13 (which was helped by the wonderful people in race control granting me permission to walk across the track!) and then working my way down to Hatzenbach before heading back to T13 as the light begins to fade.

This worked pretty well as there's a number of different angles and corners to shoot, and it ensured I was never far from the action.

Positions until 00:00 (Red Flagged)

  1. #7 Aston Martin Racing - Aston Martin Vantage GT3
  2. #18 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 RSR
  3. #50 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 R
  4. #26 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS - BMW Z4 GT3
  5. #22 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3
  6. #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix - Audi R8 LMS GT3
  7. #4 Phoenix Racing - Audi R8 LMS GT3
  8. #25 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS - BMW Z4 GT3
  9. #23 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3
  10. #29 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT - Audi R8 LMS GT3

Race Day

Audi set Pole
Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS #4 sets pole with a time of 8:17.212

Race day is under way, and Michael Schumacher will be running on the 2011 Mercedes F1 car for a demonstration lap on the track later which we'll hopefully be able to cover as well. It's hectic here and we're heading to the grid now - more later!

Top 40 Qualifying

Manthey RSR vs R
Spot the difference: Manthey Racing are still unsure as to whether the Porsche GT3 R (top) or RSR (bottom) will perform better! R is fastest over a single lap, but RSR is more economical

The Top 40 qualifying format was introduced last year, and was such a success that it's repeated again this year. The top 40 fastest cars from the previous sessions get to do 2 flying laps, without any of the slower cars on track. This means they can push hard with no fear of being held up in traffic, providing a great show for the fans who get to see the fastest cars on the limit.

Qualifying first on the grid isn't necessary to win the race, but it can be a nice boost for the team to see that their car is 'fastest' - the quotation marks are there to highlight that some teams in the past have not bothered much with qualifying, but then have passed every other car early on (e.g. Marcel Tiemann in the Manthey Porsche in 2010).

The top 40 qualifying session saw the sun break through the clouds, and for a minute or two it looked like Pedro Lamy in the 007 Aston Martin GT3 car might take pole after a cracking lap, but Audi unleash their number 4 R8 LMS car, piloted I believe by Frank Stippler, which set a stunning time of 8:17.212, over a second clear of Lamy, and also a second quicker than the pole time Alzen set in the Schubert Z4 last year!

The top 10 are separated by under 5 seconds, with cars from Audi, Aston, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche showing that the Balance of Performance this year seems to be fairly close.

  1. #4 Phoenix Racing - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:17.212
  2. #7 Aston Martin Racing - Aston Martin Vantage GT3 - 8:18.362
  3. #2 Prosperia-C Abt Team Mamerow - Audi R8 LMS GT - 8:19.073
  4. #50 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 R - 8:19.838
  5. #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:20.025
  6. #9 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:20.320
  7. #25 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS - BMW Z4 GT3 - 8:21.007
  8. #20 BMW Team Schubert - BMW Z4 GT3 - 8:21.036
  9. #10 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:21.373
  10. #29 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:22.055

Qualifying 2

Lexus LFA #79
Gazoo LFA is by far the best sounding!

Saturday starts with the news that it's STILL dry! - the rain has held off overnight, and now even the mist has lifted.

This has a dramatic effect on the lap times, with the top 20 all within 10 seconds, the top 10 all within just 4 seconds and the top 5 within 2 seconds. However, one thing doesn't change: the Black Falcon Mercedes SLS #10 is still the quickest car, lapping in 8:23.558.

The best sounding car by far is the Lexus LFA though, in what is likely to be its swan song at the N24. There's only one LFA howling round this year, and you can hear it from miles away. The LFA is definitely a quick car - capable of lapping in just under 8:40 - but has never really stood a chance of competing against the full-house race cars for overall victory, so Toyota should be given huge credit for continuing to bring this crowd pleaser, even after it's no longer in production.

  1. #10 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:23.181
  2. #29 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:24.034
  3. #4 Phoenix Racing - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:24.768
  4. #2 Prosperia-C Abt Team Mamerow - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:25.083
  5. #22 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:25.175
  6. #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:25.724
  7. #7 Aston Martin Racing - Aston Martin Vantage GT3 - 8:25.803
  8. #18 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 RSR - 8:25.826
  9. #11 Frikadelli Racing - Porsche 911 GT3 R - 8:25.859
  10. #21 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:27.582

Qualifying 1

Black Falcon #10
Mercedes continue to set the pace in Qualifying 1. Black Falcon #10 now on top

As darkness falls and night qualifying starts, a remarkable thing happens - it stops raining! The conditions aren't exactly clement though, as a gentle mist envelopes the circuit and catches the lights on the cars as they drive through, giving an atmospheric aura. It seems to enhance the sound of the cars as they power through the Mini Karussel.

For a long time it seemed that the Schulze Nissan GT-R, driven by (amongst others) Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi might be on the top spot, but they finish Q1 jsut two seconds behind the leading Mercedes SLS GT3, which continues to set the pace in this session, the SB Möbel BOSS advertising on the side of the #10 Black Falcon car seeming appropriate as it thunders round in 8:39.989.

  1. #10 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:39.989
  2. #123 Schulze Motorsport - Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 - 8:41.767
  3. #2 Prosperia-C Abt Team Mamerow - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:51.767
  4. #45 Timbuli Racing - Porsche 911 GT3 R - 8:53.416
  5. #9 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:53.851
  6. #18 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 RSR - 8:54.607
  7. #29 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:56.718
  8. #3 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 8:56.910
  9. #19 BMW Team Schubert - BMW Z4 GT3 - 8:57.237
  10. #63 Black Falcon - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 8:59.072

Free Practice

ROWE Mercedes SLS #123
ROWE #123 Mercedes SLS AMG is the pace setter in a very wet Free Practice

The heavens around the Eifel region are in the process of emptying as I arrive at the Nürburgring for this years 24 hour race. It is raining everywhere, although thankfully by the time free practice starts it eases up a little so I can work without transforming into a drowned rat straight away!

I choose to head to Wehrseifen for free practice, and am soon treated to a variety of howls, roars, growls and screams from the two hundred or so race cars competing in this year's race. There are cars from Audi, Aston, BMW, Chrysler, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Ginetta, Honda, Hyundai, Lexus, Lotus, Mercedes, Mini, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Seat, Subraru, Toyota and Volkswagen.

In and amongst that gargantuan list of makes, there are over thirty factory-backed or factory-supported vehicles - either through provision of drivers, parts, or in some cases running the whole show, and also over thirty cars in the top SP9 GT3 class for FIA GT3 cars. In other top classes (SP7 and SP8) there are a further half-dozen cars capable of competing on comparable pace too, ensuring that the result is virtually impossible to predict.

Elsewhere there are some interesting entries in some of the smaller categories - a near standard 991 Carrera being entered into the V6 Category by some Swedish drivers, which if it survives ought to be capable of competing for class victory - it looks quick!

It seems the new small race car to have is the Toyota GT86, since there's a plethora of them running in near standard form in the V3 class as well as a few more modified ones in SP3.

However, despite the 200+ entrants this year, it does feel like there are fewer privateers, fewer Clios and Minis. While this has been more than covered in terms of competitors by the factory-backed offerings, it does raise concerns about what will happen if the factories lose interest. Thankfully the Opel Manta is back for another year - it's good to see that car!

During free practice Mercedes lead the way with their SLS AMG, the #123 car run by ROWE Racing setting the fastest time of 10:18.667.

Due to the conditions times are further apart than usual, with the top 5 being separated by 15 seconds!

  1. #23 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 10:18.667
  2. #29 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT - Audi R8 LMS GT3 - 10:19.723
  3. #44 Falken Motorsports - Porsche 911 GT3 R - 10:26.136
  4. #22 ROWE Racing - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 - 10:29.713
  5. #18 Manthey Racing - Porsche GT3 RSR - 10:31.947