At 4pm on Saturday June 25th, 202 Cars from 170hp to 670hp all left the starting grid. Combined there were 1200 drivers. total crew members for the race was likely over 3000 people to keep the cars driving 25.3 kilometer laps for 24 hours.
24 hours later only 135 cars drove over the finish line. One on only 3 tires.
Our car was #215, an E36 M3 running in V5 which is a stock class for gas engines between 2.5L and 3.0L in size. There were 13 cars in our class.
We had 4 drivers in our car. It was equipped with stock rotors/calipers running performance friction pads, 295 HP from the oem M3 engine, Manual Transmission 5-speed. Yokohama slicks and rain tires. It had 4 Xenon driving lights in the oem light housing.
In order to drive the 24 Hour race you need a few things.
1) FIA Group B International License.
2) FIA approved gear (Helmet, Hans, Suit, Underwear, Shoes, Gloves).
3) At least 2 completed races under your belt at the Nürburgring.
I'll add these helpful traits. Not mandatory, but they sure help!
4) A couple screws loose upstairs.
5) Should not be afraid of darkness, speed, walls, flying, and combination of those at any point.
7) Hearing the phrase from co-driver, "Zee brakes may not work" does not affect you from jumping into car and driving as hard as you can. (refer back to requirement 4)
The feeder series for the 24Hr race is a set of 10 endurance races held at the track called the VLN. [URL="http://www.vln.de"]http://www.vln.de[/URL]
I drove in Race 2 (4 hour race) and 3(6 hour race) earlier in the year with a different team running a BMW 130i. These were my first races on the track. I drove my 100th lap on the track in my first VLN race. After the 24Hr race I now have 166.5 laps on the track.
I have been driving on the Ring since 2006 but only going regularly since I moved to Germany in summer 2009.
ok, enough of background, here is how my weekend went.
2 days before the race.
Practice 1 and Qualifying 1 (at night)
I was familiar with the E36 M3 from owning and racing one back in the US briefly however I never drove the "real" E36 M3 with the 321hp S50 motor and 6 individual throttle butterflies so I was very excited! I drove a 130i in SP5 class for my first two stints and its actually a little faster car however the short wheelbase makes it a tad bit nervous when braking without being completely straight such as the 240kph turn at Tiergarten on the front straight. The first practice session goes off without a hitch and I feel right at home in my new M3. (The car was actually built with entirely new parts from the ground up in 2010).
Racing on the Nürburgring during the day is no picnic. For qualifying and the race itself you must drive as fast as you can and 90% of the field is in faster cars. You are told to hold your line and the overtaking car must go off line to pass, but I will tell you that they can easily take the line right from you and in a spot you really do not want it to be taken away at so for the most part you try to make sure the big shot, big $$$, professional teams such as BMW ///Motorsport are not too disturbed from claiming glory for an entire corporation and throngs of fans. On the other hand just because someone has a GT3 cup car behind you does not mean they know what they are doing. You go as fast as you can until you are told to stop. The ideal racing line is the line that makes for the shortest lap time. Try to drive it with 201 other cars at the same time and you will see not a single lap goes by where you can drive that ideal line. You have to make thousands of adjustments on every lap. There is never a quiet time in the office when racing. Since there are so many classes racing together you get used to chasing down your next competitor or keeping in front of the guy behind you then to turn that off and become moving chicanes for charging MB SLS, Audi R8 GT, 911 GT3 R, and M3 GT2's…not to mention the occasional $4 Million P4/5 competitione and $1 Million LFA GT. Usually you see them coming in your mirrors, can't miss the yellow lights. then you see corner workers waiving blue flags frantically. you pick somewhere that you can maintain your speed and stay the f@ck away from the freight train going double your speed. Don't worry if you can't get out of the way, just be predictable and the overtaking drivers handle the rest. I was passed in the middle of the karussell by a GT3 dropping almost right on top of my car. It must have dropped 5 feet before hitting the pavement and it kept going. Anyways, I have "THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE".
By the time I drove the 24 Hour race all of this is old news. been there, done that. Lets see what driving at night is like. HOLY SH1T!
Yes, driving at night is way more hard. Its insane and I love it! All of your reference points you used in the day are gone! they are absolutely not there anymore! In most cases you just have to remember. The track is very very dark. No lights at all illuminating the surface except your car's lights. Every car has tinted rear windows because without it you would be blind when another car approached you. Since you can't tell how fast cars are approaching anymore you now play a game of watching lights. if they look bigger a few seconds later, watch out. if they look the same, still watch out as its probably a different car and that other set of lights is now a GTR right on your blind side.
On a long lap your eyes play tricks with you. When you are relatively alone they adjust to the darkness. then you have fans taking photos all around the track. you see christmas lights in all the camps around the course. I swear I saw a ferris wheel. You also smell all the BBQ's going on and it makes you hungry! Better hurry up so you can go in! The good part about racing at night is you also don't see as many walls so you can go even faster :-D
1 day before the race.
Qualifying 2 (afternoon)
The next day, the team decided to skip qualifying/practice. There were 10 cars that crashed the day before and earlier so they don't even make it to the starting grid. It had been raining most of the day so I think it was very wise to sit it out. It did give us time to practice driver changes though.
You would think in a 24 Hour race you can be leisurely changing drivers….nope. You may very well lose due to one slow driver change. BMW lost by a measly 4 minutes. If they reduced driver changes that would have made up the time. There is a lot going on in a drivers change that I won't get into here, but you are fully occupied and usually doing multiple things at once. You can read more about it on my blog. Anyways, we got it down to 50 seconds which is the time it takes to refuel.
We qualified at P7 in our class and P129 overall with a time of 10:11.613 set by our fastest driver, Michael Rebhan. If you take the time of the GP track off the lap time we were running in the low 8 minute lap of the Nordschleife. Not bad for a 15yr old car is it? Our car is listed [URL="http://adac.24h-rennen.de/Teamdatenbank.4147.0.html?&no_cache=1&tx_stinno24hteamdatenbank_pi1[uid]=26631&cHash=61596fb20f"]here[/URL]. Our car weighs 1300kg or 2,866lbs.
To compare, the fastest M3 GT4 which runs in SP10 class weighs 1380kg (3,042lbs) and did a 9:18 lap time. There isn't a stock class for the E92 M3 so its not easy to compare but I would gamble it would be very near the E36 and E46 M3's lap times.
Since I had some time i did a little sight seeing and got to see the new M5, M3 CRT, and looked at my competitors. I drove the E90 M3 to the race btw…good to show up in an M3 and racing an M3! :-)
So finally I get to the big day….very long day too! The race starts at 4pm. I was on track at 11am. Since I'm the newb on the team I didn't start. We left that to our hot shoe. Instead during the pre-grid I got to walk around and take some photos.
I got to talk to Jim Glickenhaus and wish his team good luck. I met him in an earlier race.
Since there are over 200 cars and only 34 pitboxes you get lots of neighbors. The P4/5 team was right next door on this race. I did see an interesting car in my bay, a 911 GT3 Cup car…which is very common place, but it said C Harris on the doorsill…hmmm I wonder if thats who I think it is?
Why yes, its Chris Harris :-)
After checking out the other cars I headed back to ours to wish our starting driver good luck. We got a nice photo of all the drivers together.
So 4pm comes and off goes 200 cars! Actually the grid is split into 3 groups. The first group being the fastest. We are in the 3rd group. The cars do a single lap and then there is a running start on the start/finish line in front of the paddock on the GP track. The roar of all the fast cars is like nothing you have ever heard. They are so fast by the time the 3rd group is on their first flying lap, the 1st group is already beginning to overtake them.
I am the 3rd driver so its looking like my first stint will be around 6:40pm. Well in a race shit happens. Our second driver came into the pits early after nearly losing the car. He said the cars rear end jumps away from the body during cornering. The car is in the pit with wheels off in 1 minute and 8-man/woman team is inspecting the suspension on all 4 corners at the same time. The crew then gets the entire rear drivetrain and exhaust off the car in 8 minutes. The team discovers the rear subframe bolts have sheered. This is somewhat common on E36 race cars. since the subframe is reinforced, the weakest link is now these bolts. Unfortunately they don't have another set of bolts so off they go to the other teams looking for the parts. They find the necessary parts quickly enough but they are different so some more ingenuity is required to make it work. We got the car out and had our lead driver check it out by about 9pm.
My first stint in the car is night laps! I drove at around 10:30pm until 11:40pm. Adrenaline and fear are plenty to keep me awake and focused. My laps fly by. We have a radio to talk to the crew while driving so this is a great comfort. Just in case though each driver resets the trip odometer. you can count in multiples of 25 to see how many laps you do. After a few laps its very easy to forget and its really not good to run out of gas! For me, the radio was not working. luckily i reset the trip odometer like I was trained to and I could tell how many laps I did. I came in after the 6th lap since the gas lamp was on.
After I got back to the pits I had about 3 hours of rest. When the driver before you is driving his laps you have to be on standby just in case something happens. I hopped into the bed in our team trailer and took a quick 1 hour nap. Just before my hour was up, I got a call from my co-driver. He was the driver that took over after me. He told me that he wrecked the car in Tiergarten and apologized for ruining our weekend. I first asked if he was okay and when he said he was fine, then I told him, I don't care about the car. As long as you are okay. Shit happens!
The crew chief later told me that they were waiting for the car to be towed back and they would see if they could fix it or not. My co-driver told me he was overtaking a car and started his braking about 3 meters past the normal braking point. the car had enough speed that it understeered into the berm and then launched into the armco. He was probably going around 90kph at the moment of impact.
After about an hour of waiting the car made it back to our pit box.
The entire front left corner was smashed in. The impact was hard enough to break a motor mount and moved the transmission over enough to break all the nuts holding the shifter in place. The front bumper reinforcement moved about a foot to the right.
The crew didn't even look over it. They just grabbed sledge hammers and tools and just went to work on the poor car.
After much bending, they found the engine still ran fine, the radiator did not break, and even the electric fan still ran.
The team worked tirelessly for over two hours throwing out broken parts and putting in new ones. Next came lots of zip ties and racers tape.
The car was finally ready to go at about 4:30am
With the crew pushing the car out back into pit lane a small crowd had formed and everyone was cheering!
Unfortunately the driver couldn't get the car to move and back it went into our pitbox. The drive shaft snapped and completely failed. At that point I was utterly exhausted and had to get some sleep. I took a one hour nap and was woken by my co-driver being shaken to go drive. It was 7:30am and we had a lot of racing to do still!
After just one lap however our driver came back in the pits. The front right wheel had about a 45 degree camber on it. The top of the strut sheared off from the upper strut mount. This was now our third incident! After the strut was replaced, Michael went out and did his fastest lap of the race! I jumped in right after and also drove my fastest laps! Maybe it was due to the weight reduction?
I was amazed at how well the car drove despite all the damage. I could only give credit to an amazing team! The crew did not sleep and along with bringing our car back to life, they also supported our 2nd car which managed 2nd place in class, a BMW Z4.
After 24 hours, 8 hours in intensive care, our team crossed the finish line!
We finished in 8th place in our class out of 13! We were 134th on the field. only 134 cars crossed the line…but we did cross it! because of that we were one place higher than even the mighty BMW Motorsport GT2 M3 #7 which placed in 135th.
This race is so special because it allows amateurs to mix it up with the big fish on the worlds longest and most challenging race track. I'm humbled by the talented people involved in making this race happen, drive their hearts out, and keep the cars running. I'm looking very much to my next race in September and 24 hour race in 2012 hopefully ;-)
Here are some photos from previous races at the ring.
I was able to meet Sabine a few times. She is super sweet just don't get in her way on the track though!
My last race before the 24 hour race our neighbors was the BMW Motorsport team. I looked out my door and there was Mr. M himself! Dr. Mario Thiesen, the BMW Motorsport Director! Very friendly guy! I asked him if he had any openings and he said he would get back to me ;-)
Here is my 130i catching air and landing! I didn't know it at the time but the 2nd M3 behind me in this photo is the very M3 I drove in the 24Hr race. I'm sure that car will be back and better than new in no time.
Thanks for reading!
aka karussell - yes my favorite corner on the track!