31st ADAC Nurburgring 24 Hours – First Saturday Report
Early Saturday: After
yesterday's deluge and an exceptionally damp and foggy night, all
that moisture is still hanging in the air, the sun not yet strong
enough to clear up the mist. Unfortunately, yesterday's night practice
session has claimed some victims. The attrition rate has been quite
low so far, but on the list is "#114 - accident - Wehrseifen
- driver uninjured". The last two words indicate that while
the driver is fine, the car is not. #114 is the Alfa Romeo 156 of
Giles Groombridge's Brunswick Endurance Racing team. Giles told
me last evening that "we've got seven laps between the four
of us, so one of our drivers still needs to qualify - on the wet
track... - in the dark...".
qualification requirement here is that each driver has to complete
two laps in practice. This is what Peter Cate tried to do in the
second session, except that a Porsche got in his way. With the right
front suspension bent, the Alfa came to a halt at the far end of
the Nordschleife. The team had to put in an all-nighter.
suspension part went straight into the gearbox; we fixed that. We
also got the necessary suspension bits from an Alfa 147 Cup team;
but the damper is bent as well. There isn't a new one available
here so the Bilstein people are trying to straighten it." So
is Peter Cate qualified now? "Technically, he isn't... - but
the Clerk of the Course says it's all right." Yesterday, when
the Brunswick team was looking forward to a quiet second qualifying
session, Giles had time to comment on the quality of the field here.
"Even in the lower classes, the cars are amazingly well prepared.
Where do they find the money? You have teams that run a little Fiesta
or a Clio, and they've show up here with 40ft. transporters."
This is Giles'
(above) second 24 Hour race at the Ring, "and I haven't done
any driving here since last year. You don't learn this track by
heart just by driving round it a couple of times. You can do that
on the Brands Hatch club circuit, but here you have so many blind
corners, you are on the brakes most of the time on your first few
laps." And with the smell of barbecues and party noises all
around them, they then spent the night patching up their car.
Meanwhile, the support
races are over and done with, and final preparations for the 24
hour race have commenced; the barbecues are already up to optimum
temperature; hordes of people are on the move all around the circuit;
one of the glorious Audi R8s has just gone through scrutineering,
and a whole host of ---
An Audi R8 has gone through...?
Indeed, the Le Mans Prototype
class will return to the Nordschleife, if only for a demonstration
run of chassis no. 601, the 2002 Le Mans winning car, with - of
course - Frank Biela at the wheel.
Safety is an
important issue at any race, but to achieve it and insure quick
intervention in case of incidents and accidents on a track of this
length and difficulty, special measures are needed to make motor
racing possible at all. On most other tracks, you can send out a
pace car to catch the field in case of a more severe accident. Here,
this is physically impossible. "They last tried that in 1994
or '95", says Hans-Jochen Büttgenbach, the driver of Intervention
Car 4, "it simply didn't work. It takes too long to catch the
field." Instead, a whole fleet of safety vehicles is dispatched
whenever a situation needs sorting out anywhere on the 25 kilometers
of the Nordschleife. The race will continue all the while.
incidents that cannot be sorted out by the marshals alone, one of
four intervention cars is sent out. Once on the track, these vehicles
are consider regular entrants, in other words, no one has to get
out of their way; in fact, they themselves get blue-flagged if they
get in the way of faster cars. They carry light rescue gear such
as small fire extinguishers, and a healthy supply of cement to put
on anoil slick to dry it. They are also sent out for reconnaisance
laps to establish the condition of the track, and report back to
Race Control. For instance, this was the case last evening, after
the downpour over the Grand Prix track.
Then there are
the Rescue Cars, equipped with bigger fire extinguishing systems
and heavy gear for extricating drivers. These cars will also tow
immobile race cars out of harm's way. There are also medical cars
that will get med. personnel to the scene of heavy accidents. If
this is not enough, there are several big fire engines standing
by; and two helicopters are also at the disposal of Race Control,
one at the track, one at a nearby base.
Now, you may
think that "Race Control" sounds mighty grand; but it
is just that. There is an impressive control room with over 40 monitors
that display images from remote controlled surveillance cameras
on every part of the track; this is independent from the TV video
signal that can also be accessed if need be. Needless to say, this
room is manned round the clock. All this to keep a motor race going.
Let's hope they will have a quiet weekend. The Nürburgring
24 Hours commences at 3 p.m.
And here we
go already.....the #42 BMW M3 GTR of Hans-Joachim Stuck pulled out
of the formation and come to a halt only moments after the start
of the race. Looks like it didn't even last a lap.....Meanwhile...
#43 BMW M3 down to 30th and going down - slow at Bergwerk, warning
lights on. #42 is towed back to the pits. Disaster for BMW.
The Alzen Porsche
996 led the way, and immediately built up a lead. Uwe Alzen is behind
the wheel of this car, and attack mode is the only way he operates
in a racecar. Behind him, the Zakspeed Viper gave chase, always
harrassed by the #6 Opel. The Manthey Porsche dropped down to fourth,
and fell into the clutches of the #5 Opel. The works Audis chose
to fly in formation. Not going anywhere were the works BMWs; the
#42 car of Stuck / Said / Nielsen retired while still on the Grand
Prix track, #43 slowed half way round lap 1, warning lights flashing.
It looks like it's all over for Schnitzer, and BMW Motorsport. Now
BMW's hopes for a good finish are on the privateer V8 of Johannes
Scheid, which is just outside the top 10.
Also an early
casualty was the #70 Honda NSX, Armin Hahne brought the car straight
into the pits. This was the car that was way quicker than its class
On lap 2, the
leaders caught up with the slowest starters of Group 3 (the field
is released in three groups of 70 cars each, remember). The backmarkers
are doing their best to keep out of harm's way while running their
own race. The headlights were ablaze on the positively brutal looking
Alzen 996. Helicopter pictures of this car are revealing: it looks
much like an early 911 GT1.
The Alzen team
tried to draw away from the field as much as possible as the weather
forecast predicts a good chance of rain - in fact, thunderstorms.
The Alzen car's wide wheels make the car's wet handling very difficult
and unpredictable, as the team was able to find out during last
night's wet practice session. The Zakspeed Viper will have nothing
of this, however, and is currently hanging on for grim death. On
the grid, this car (as well as some others) had ice packed into
its front air intake. It is an exceptionally hot and stuffy day
The multiple winner in
the German Championship, Raeder Motorsport's Price / Bennett / Grossmann
/ Vosse Porsche, is running in an encouraging seventh place. The
turbocharged Manthey car obviously seems to be running its own pace;
it let the Audi convoy pass without defending its position much.
Meanwhile, its normally aspirated sister car was an early visitor
to the pits, on lap two.
A dejected and deeply
disappointed Hans Stuck would not comment on his car's early retirement,
except that he simply lost all forward drive. "Between 3rd
and 4th gear, it just went snap. This never happened in the USA",
was his only comment. Four laps into the race, and one 22 minute
gearbox change later, #42 made it back into the race - only to come
straight back in again, the engine smoking ominously. Meanwhile
out by the "little Karussell", the Viper caught up with
the Alzen Porsche in traffic.
Frank Biela brought the
#7 Audi into the pits for an unscheduled stop, the crew checking
the underside of the TT-R, and seemingly finding no fault with it.
Back out went the Audi, in ninth place, and it would appear that
all is in order with this car, at least.
try and keep up with the next 23 hours of this action...