2014 Nurburgring 24 Hours: Preview

by James Broomhead
Audi and Mercedes will feature in the titanic GT3 scrap out front (Credit: ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours)

The ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours continues to be a major draw from manufacturers, race team and drivers, with this weekend’s edition of the race attracting the normal grid of over 150 cars.

The grid ranges from factory supported efforts from Mercedes, Audi, Nissan, Aston Martin, BMW, McLaren and Porsche pursuing the glory of overall victory at what remains one of the planet’s most testing arenas to privateer teams running cars that span the gamut of the ranges from the likes of Audi and BMW, with TT, A4, Z4, 1-series and the new-for-2014 4-series all having a place on the grid.

And everything in between.

Privateers continues to battle at the front of the race with their own GT3 cars, Team Falken Tire with a Porsche in their familiar colours, German brothers Dennis and Marc Busch with their Audi. Blancpain Endurance Series regulars Rinaldi by GT Corse add a Ferrari 458 Italia to the top class.

Gazoo Racing, the team a fixture at the N24 and the regular VLN races that take over the Nordschleife, have not one but two Lexus LFA at this year’s race the more familiar car, a front runner in the SP8 class, joined by a more modified version – the LFA Code X – place in a special class – SP-Pro alongside an Olaf Manthey run Porsche.

The man who now helms Porsche’s World Endurance Championship teams made his name at the ‘Ring, but with the Stuttgart brand pouring the focus into the twin class attacks on the WEC their N24 challenge is distinctly lacking compared to previous years with only two works drivers drafted in to join privateers with Patrick Pilet taking a seat in the Frikadelli Racing Team entry in a team that also includes Nordschleife and Top Gear doyenne Sabine Schmitz with Joerg Bergmeister joins the Haribo Racing Team for the weekend.

At the opposite end of the scale – arguably – lie BMW who will have four Z4 GT3 largely staffed with works drivers. BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert enter two cars while the Marc VDS run squad have another pair, the brand aiming to pick up from the dominating performance they turned in to sweep the podium places at early April’s N24 qualifying race.

Victory of BMW would be their first since 2010, when a Schnitzer run M3 GT2 took victory. However, victory for either Aston Martin, McLaren or Nissan – who have three GT-R NISMO GT3 contesting the top class – would continue a streak of different manufacturers taking overall wins that began with the M3’s success and truly reflects the unofficial GT3 world cup event the race has become since the specification became the top class at the race.

Mercedes, who showed pace in the six hour race in April but ultimately left unrewarded, will start as defending champions, the Black Falcon team that carry the #1 plate already having taken a VLN victory this season, as have Audi squad Phoenix Racing, the Frikadelli Porsche and Marc VDS BMW squads.

Audi have the strongest GT3 line-up at least in terms of sheer numbers, their count led by a pair for R8 LMS ultra from Phoenix Racing, boasting Le Mans winner Marcel Fassler among their driver line-up. There are also a pair of cars from the Prosperia-Abt Racing stable. However, the most interesting of the Audi teams to the casual observer will be where Pierre Kaffer, Frank Beila and Marco Werner are joined by world record holder parachutist Felix Baumgartner. 

Britain has several drivers in the top class, among them Richard Westbrook in the unfamiliar surroundings of a Prosperia-Abt Audi, Adam Christodoulou in one of the Black Falcon SLS and BMW works driver Alexander Sims, pulled into the Team Schubert line-up from his normal secondment in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. However, for many UK fans the main interest in the top class will be provided by Aston Martin Racing who return to the track with an effort spearheaded by the Bilstein sponsored GT3 Vantage a year on from being one of the surprise packages of a 2013 race blighted by torrential rain that brought racing to a stop overnight.

Further British interests down the class depth chart include Rotek Racing’s TTRS, which features British Touring Car man Robb Holland alongside WTCC champion Rob Huff, regular classic racer Richard Meins and American Kevin Gleason.

British team Jota Sport – a week on their LMP2 victory at Le Mans – will face a very different challenge in running a Mazda MX-5 in the V3 class where is will face competition from the likes of Renault Clios and Toyota GT86. The diminutive MX-5 will be shared between Japanese driver Teruaki Kato, German Wolfgang Kaufmann, former F1 driver Stefan Johansson and Brit Owen Mildenhall, a man familiar with Jota’s Mazda exploits having driven the machines in both Britcar Endurance Championship and British GT races in the UK.

With so many strong line-ups from so many different manufacturers predicting the front runners at the start, let alone the end of the race is near on impossible with the tight confines of the Nordschleife demanding the combination of not only reliability and mistake free pace but also a healthy dose of luck at a race where slower traffic is an ever constant hazard.

Those lower classes, however, far from simply interference distorting the overall order, can provide close racing across the 24 hours themselves, especially the single make cup classes – one for the latest shape Opel Astra and the newer category introduced this year for the BMW 235i.

Also, though the lie timing and streaming available through the weekend, try to track the events of the SP7 class. The class is a de facto Porsche Carrera Cup race in itself with teams from the Black Falcon, Manthey and Kremer Racing stables among the entry.

Discounting the unknowns of the pair of SP-Pro machines it is the SP7 Porsches that will take the main supporting role to the GT3 cars, encroaching upon the top 20 as the race goes on and the Nordscheife takes its toll on the runners.

www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have full coverage of the race with reports from each of the pre-race sessions before regular updates through the website and Twitter throughout the race itself.

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