31st ADAC Nurburgring 24 Hours – First Saturday Report
Pre-Race And....

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...".

The minimum 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.

dailysportscar.com"A 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."

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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 ---

Hang on.

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.

For smaller 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 rivals.

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.

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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 today.

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.

We’ll try and keep up with the next 23 hours of this action...
Cy Bersdorf

 

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