Opinion: a beginner's guide to the Nurburgring 24 hours
Fantastic machinery, crazy fans and action-packed racing should make the N24 a fixture on any petrolhead’s calendar
The Nürburgring is a place that enjoys hallowed status within the collective psyche of petrolheads everywhere.
For decades, the treacherous 15.5-mile Nordschleife circuit that scythes maniacally through dense forest and over rolling hills has been a place where car and driver alike have been put through their paces physically, mentally and mechanically. Not all come out unscathed; the ‘Green Hell’ has destroyed more than the odd race car over the years.
Car lovers from around the world make the pilgrimage to this petrolhead mecca practically all year round. But until last weekend, I’d never been. And as far as first times go, mine was a pretty special one. The circus that is the Nürburgring 24 Hours endurance race had rolled into town, bringing with it some 150 race cars, around 580 drivers and a 230,000-strong horde of fans.
Even as someone with only a passing interest in motorsport, I found it impossible not to get caught up in what is one of the racing world’s most outrageous carnivals. Part of this is the freedom you have as a punter to stick your nose where it probably shouldn’t be. Before the race starts, you can wander the pit lane and access the garages, all of which are shared by multiple teams. Nothing says ‘immersion’ like being shouted at by a mechanic as you try to snap a grainy smartphone image of the teams at work.
The grid is open ahead of the race, too. The air here is thick with the smell of sweat and petrol, and fans swarm in their hundreds to get a closer look at not only the cars, but the drivers and teams as well. Taking a walk down between the columns of cars really hammers home the diversity of the field. Here, GT3-class Ferraris, Porsches, Audis and Lamborghinis race at full throttle alongside tricked-out BMW 1 Series Coupés, Renault Clios, KTM X-Bows and everything in between. Some brave souls had entered an ancient Mk3 Volkswagen Golf that, rather surprisingly, turned out to be one of the loudest cars on the grid. It’s a bonkers place.
But not quite as bonkers as what goes on in the woods surrounding the track. The camping areas among the trees near Karussell, Brünnchen, Metzgesfeld and Adenau are where you’ll find the ultra-fans. Many have been camped out since the beginning of the week, having arrived early to erect huge viewing platforms, makeshift bars and even stages out of whatever materials they were able to bring along. A lot of the time, the examples of engineering you find off the track are just as impressive as those you see on the track.
Exploring these camps after dark is about as close to sensory overload as you can get. Headlights dance among the trees. Fireworks erupt. Death metal and the more hardcore varieties of techno music play at full volume, fighting to be heard above a chorus of flat sixes, V8s, V10s, turbocharged four-pots and inline sixes. The acrid smell of bonfire smoke fuses with body odour, beer and barbecue as thousands of campers take part in a bacchanal of epic proportions.
If you want an authentic N24 experience, this is where to find it. Admittedly, camping might not be for everyone. But if you love racing and haven’t been before, go. If you don’t care much for motor racing, go. Even if you don’t have an interest in cars whatsoever, I’d urge you to give it a try. You may find that changes.
Source: Autocar Online