“Nurburgring is Nurburgring,”says Richard Westbrook. “The only thing you can do to prepare for the race is the race. You only feel like you’ve learnt on your last lap there after 23 hours and 59 minutes.”
It is, as Westbrook suggests, impossible to compare the Nurburgring and the annual 24 hour race there to anything else. The sheer scale of the event – the size of the track (16.1 miles), the size of the field (180 entries in 20 classes) or the assault on the senses offered as the track swoops, climbs and twists its way through the forests past camp sights packed with fans chopping down the same forests to fuel the camp fires whose smoke lingers over the track.
There may be other endurance races with a longer history but the Nurburgring 24 Hours remains a unique challenge for teams and drivers and a unique spectacle for the fans who travel to the track for the long weekend.
Despite the clouds of uncertainly that continue swirl about the Eifel Mountains track drivers have once again flocked back to take on the challenge, with the GT3 class that should include the overall winner including manufacturer backed entries from Porsche, BMW, Nissan, Aston Martin and defending champions Audi.
A year on from taking their first Nurburgring 24 victory Audi are represented by eight R8 LMS GT3, with the #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix car including three of the four winning drivers from 2012 with Marc Basseng, Frank Stippler and Markus Winkelhock joined by Marcel Fassler trying to add N24 success to his two 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. The man he takes the place of in the team – Christopher Haase slots into the Team WRT Audi squad.
Elsewhere in the Audi camp lie Rene Rast – winner of the Spa 24 Hours of WRT with Stippler and Andrea Piccini last July – and Rolex 24 at Daytona GT class winner (and another part of Audi’s Le Mans squad) Oliver Jarvis who share car #2 with Christian Abt and Christian Mamerow who scored a surprise second last year.
All four drivers from the winning line-up in the Dubai 24H can also be found on the entry list – Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Sean Edwards in the #9 Black Falcon SLS, Khalel Al–Qubaisi in another of the team’s GT3 Mercedes.
As well as endurance winners works drivers lend their weight to the race, Aston Martin Racing fielding a Bilstein sponsored GT3 Vantage for the foursome of Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, Allan Simonsen and Pedro Lamy.
With ten cars in the GT3 class alone, including the Haribo liveried #8 that Richard Westbrook will try and help to victory of Porsche’s peripatetic stable of works drivers only Patrick Long is excused. Patrick Pilet is part of the team that also includes Top Gear’s Nordschleife heroine Sabine Schmitz and while Wolf Henzler remains part of the Falken Tire set-up as he is in the American Le Mans Series the remaining seven drivers are split into two cars run by Olaf Manthey, the man who now helms Porsche works World Endurance Championship team.
The works quartet of Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz, Marco Holzer and Joerg Bergmeister are entrusted the lead Manthey GT3 car while the combination of Marc Lieb, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Lucas Luhr should – at least on pace – dominate the Porsche dominated SP7 class, with all but one car – a Nissan 370Z – being from the Stuttgart manufacturer. However, the Porsche battle will likely only be the front of the fights through the entire order for class supremacy.
Certain of the 20 classes are dominated by a single car maker, or in the case of the SP3T class VAG brands with Audi, Volkswagen and SEAT clustered together. V3 is dominated by the Toyota GT86 but other categories offer diversity on a par, or even exceeding the GT3 class that will steal the headlines.
Just as the GT3 class SP8 features its own works backed teams. Gazoo Racing enter a pair of Lexus – the phenomenal LFA and the IS F – with Hyundai Germany entering a Genesis Coupe. Pushing the number of different marques in the class to eight are the only Ferrari and Corvette in the race. Aston Martin have three cars in the class, including two V12 Vantages with long-time N24 visitor Mal Rose part of the Aston Martin Test Centre team.
As well as a petrol-hydrogen hybrid Aston Martin Rapide in the name’s centenary year there is strong Aston Martin representation in the GT4, the three Vantages making it the most populous brand in the class facing up against Porsche, BMW – with defending class winners Bonk Motorsport – Ginetta and Lotus with a Cor Euser Racing hoping to add to their Dubai 24H class win, driver Shane Lewis trying to add a third 24 hour class win to his 2013 after winning the GX class at Daytona in January.
theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will follow the full Nurburgring 24 Hours weekend, with reports on each of the sessions in the build-up to the race that starts at 5pm local time (4pm UK) on Sunday May 19 to take advantage of the holiday weekend in Germany.