32nd ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours - Round-Up
Weekend In Green Hell
© Johannes Gauglica

The 32nd Nürburgring 24 Hours was still underway when we already had our first winner: the organising club ADAC Nordrhein. An official spectator count of 220000 was announced, up from 2003 by over ten percent, despite the vile weather, and despite the start of the Euro 2004 football tournament on Saturday. The field was extended from 210 to 220 cars, and still the entry was oversubscribed. Competitors from three continents for the most part had nothing but positive things to say about the race, the track, and the atmosphere in general.

There was some confusion behind the scenes over the gearchange mechanism on the Audis, and a deal was made to quietly resolve the issue: both Abt Sportsline cars had to come in for one additional weight control stop, which amounted to an unofficial time penalty of about two minutes. Still, the Audi TT-R had passed scrutineering before the race, apparently with no complaints. This situation resembles the hoopla around the Zakspeed Viper last year. The ADAC may be taking its competitor-friendliness, and its eagerness to have factory cars in the race, a step too far here; a car should be deemed legal or illegal by the officials in due time before the start, and this verdict should be binding, regardless of whether the car in question is a factory entry or not. As it happened, though, all this did not have an effect on the way the race developed; and regardless of such issues, this event is booming. Sadly, the #7 Audi 'boomed' into the barrier.


On the track, 2004 was a good year for white cars. Team Schnitzer's Charly Lamm acknowledged that after last year's fiasco on lap 1, the pressure was on them not to make any mistakes, and this is exactly what team and drivers managed to do, in the most difficult conditions. They were also luckier this year than in 2003: Team Schnitzer came within inches of being the laughing stock of Germany when BMW #43, just out of the pits on fresh tyres, spun right in front of #42, and the two cars nearly took each other out. But BMW went on to score a well-deserved double victory, and is now set to take on the FIA-GT cars at Spa.

As the sun set over the paddock, the white ex-JGTC NSX sat forlornly in the Honda tent, on its roof a sign that read "don't worry, I am just the show car!" - the real NSX was at this point running very competitively in or around tenth place. Those who had speculated that NSX Godfather Armin Hahne and his colleagues would have an early night were proved wrong. Although they did not see the finish, the sport auto Honda NSX crew had every right to be content with their performance. Georg Severich's GS Motorsport operation handled the technical side of the campaign, and he was happy to report after the race that from the moment it first took to the track on Friday, the NSX performed flawlessly, until the differential broke some 7 hours and 40 minutes into the race - the longest this car had ever run. With enough time to sort out the car's reliability, and continued support from Honda, the NSX will be a contender for victory, perhaps again with a Toda Racing engine. Mr. Toda himself came to Germany, to work on the specially built endurance version of the 3.4l V6, but unfortunately he wound up in hospital, with fractures to both legs, after a car ran him over in the desperately crowded paddock.

Timo Bernhard was no doubt happy to have come to the 'Ring; just as last year, the Manthey Racing team drove to third place, and was at times the only car able to keep up with the BMWs - no wonder there were smiling faces all round in the Manthey Racing garage, and all this on a fraction of the budget available to the factories.

Another winner is the "alternative fuels" class with 19 entries, exclusively diesels this year. The winning car, an Alfa 147 JTD with an experimental 2.4l engine that will soon go into production, finished in 24th place overall. The most ambitious alternative fuel project in this year's race was undoubtedly the #369 Audi A3 TDI which ran on, wait for it, salad oil. And it ran fine until the unfortunate coming-together with the sport auto Honda NSX-R.

And with this, we come to the losers of the race. The production-based Honda NSX-R was in 11th position on Sunday morning when it tangled with the Audi A3, and careered into the barrier. dailysportscar's photographer Jan Hettler had to jump for cover when attacked by the errant NSX. For both cars, the race was over there and then; for Jan, it thankfully wasn't.



Another unlucky exit from the race was that of the diners Club Racing Saab 9-3, in a splendid 16th place until 23:10, when the engine let go in a spectacular way. Needless to say, 2001 FIA Sportscar Champion Thed Björk and his team mates were gutted, their statements not quotable.

But the dubious honour of Losers of the Year must go to OPC Team Phoenix, and Opel. They certainly profitted from BMW's early demise last year, and at least one car had a race free of major trouble; this year, the only luck they had was bad luck. Their current slogan, as seen on their Astra OPC racecars, is "fresh thinking for better cars", and it took them plenty of fresh thinking to not just pack up and go home.


What did it take for an operation that would put most Le Mans teams to shame, its headquarters only a few short minutes from the main gate of the Nürburgring, to nearly run out of spares? Six crashes in twelve hours is what it took, four of them for Opel #5. It was retired when it would have needed its third rebuild, the chassis worn out and used up beyond repair. Opel #1 soldiered on, and at least recorded the fastest lap of the race in its eleventh-hour struggle up the order, only to have a tyre burst minutes from the end. It was a forgettable race for Opel, and the culmination of a forgettable season so far, with a distinct lack of success in the DTM, the marque's main programme. Will they be back next year?

Most competitors, even the unlucky ones, have vowed they will be back next year, for another weekend in Green Hell.



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