If 24 hours around any track is a challenge then 24 Hours around the Nurburgring Nordschleife – perhaps the most (in)famous race track in the world – must be perhaps the biggest challenge of them all.
Though the sound of F1 engines has long since disappeared from 'Green Hell' the Nordschleife regularly hosts endurance races, with the VLN series racing solely on the circuit. These races alone are huge affairs on vast circuit but the Nurburgring 24 Hours – with more than 150 cars on the starting grid – remains an event on a unique scale.
Few entries will have the manpower, the speed and the luck to arrive at the Nurburgring with hope of overall victory. Instead primary aim for most of them will be class victory with the competitors split into nearly 20 different classes.
With BMW's works endurance racing squads shelved in favour a return to DTM the battle for the overall victory looks likely to be a fight between three more German marques and their GT3 machinery/ Audi are represented by a fleet Audi R8, Mercedes by a squadron of gull-winged SLS and Porsche with the ever-present 911 and a contingent led by defending champions and Nordshleife legends Manthey Racing.
BMW's sole – and surprise – win in 2010 is the only blot on a spotless copybook of wins for Olaf Manthey's team itself led by the green and yellow Porsche almost synonymous with the team and the modern editions of the 24 Hours, which celebrates its 40th running this weekend.
Manthey's two car SP9-GT3 class effort is perhaps the most packed with talent, with a bevvy of Porsche works drivers squeezed in. Mark Lieb, Richard Lietz, Romain Dumas and Lucas Luhr share the no.11 car, Marco Holzer, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long sharing the no.10 car with Nick Tandy – one of a handful of drivers pulling double duty, driving in both the 24 Hours and the Avon Tyres British GT Championship which forms part of the support package for the weekend.
Trying to pick a winner from these three manufacturers, let alone a winning crew is all but impossible. Predicting a winner of a 'normal' endurance race – a Spa, a Le Mans, a Daytona – is hard enough. Trying to spot a winner on the Nordschleife on the starting grid, let alone the entry list, is pure folly.
Start to mentally factor in the unpredictable weather of the Eiffel Mountains in which the 'Ring sits, it's gargantuan length and – in spite of that – the travails of the top drivers overtaking slower cars on a frighteningly undulating cascade of tarmac that is – in places – just wide enough for two cars. This is a race that will do its best to defy prediction.
Add in additional entries – dark horses in increasing shades of grey from Team Haribo Racing – a single car effort with a Callaway built Corvette charged to factory drivers Jan Magnussen, Richard Westbrook, and Tommy Milner alongside German GT3 car Daniel Keilwitz – BMW – the Bavarian roundel now represented by the successful GT3 spec Z4 but with those members of Schnitzer run team not on DTM duty spread between several teams. Also running a Z4 are the Marc VDS team. The squad are already victorious this year in the Blancpain Endurance Series and bring a team with three of the regular drivers – Maxime Martin, Markus Paltalla and Bas Leinders to Germany for the weekend. The final marque represented in the SP9 class is McLaren – the sleek MP4-12C an apparent misfit amongst the bigger GT cars around it.
Outside of the top class highlights of the entry include the Gazoo Racing Lexus LFA and a factory supported Aston Martin Zagato – as the manufacturer continues its close association with the event. However, leading the bumper entry – and carrying the no.1 plate for the weekend is the P 4/5 hybrid with a three man driving crew that includes double BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi and Nicola Larini.
Giovanardi who departed the BTCC – for now – after a final flourish at Thruxton at the start of the 2010 season and the British GT drivers are one of a few names that will be familiar to followers of national motorsport in the UK.
Ginetta regular Mike Simpson joins the Italian run Nova Race squad in a GT4 Ginetta G50 while Nathan Freke and Colin White – more familiar names to Ginetta with their British GT and GT Supercup exploits will share a Jaguar XF-S with VW club racer Rob Carvell.
Also making the trip to Germany at Britcar racers Guy Povey, Kevin Clarke and Ian Donaldson who share a BMW M3.
Ahead of all the competitors lie a 90 minutes practice session and an epic four hour night qualifying session on Thursday. A further two hours of qualifying follows on Friday morning before a new for this year top-40 shootout.
The race itself begins at 4:00pm local time (3:00pm UK) on Saturday May 19.