Nürburgring – Ring Taxi and a 6 hour race

For the fourth time since 2015 I travelled to the Nürburgring. It is one of my favourite tracks, mainly because it is so accessible (even if you don’t have a ticket) and there is lots to do. In addition it is in a beautiful area of Germany; the surroundings are stunning. The atmosphere has so far been very relaxed during race weekends and I enjoy driving a rented car from Düsseldorf Airport to the track.
Last year I was lucky enough to find a hotel at walking distance from the track which of course enhances the luxury aspect even more.
With a visit of five days it is practically a holiday and for me it truly is just that.

Part of the Müllenbachschleife and the surrounding area in the background.
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Like previous years I went for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the World Endurance Championship race. Unlike before, however, I went one day early and arrived on the Thursday. This happened to be my birthday and I treated myself to something special: a lap around the Nordschleife, also known as Ring Taxi. I opted for an Audi R8 V10 for additional enjoyment (the ‘standard’ car is a BMW).

The Nordschleife is the largest part of the Nürburgring. It is visible from the Müllenbachschleife, but I had not been there yet. It is quite thrilling to go to such an iconic track with such a rich history, but also a reputation of being tricky to drive and downright dangerous.
Of course I trusted my driver to be experienced, but when we arrived there were well over 100 cars out on track and obviously I didn’t know how many of those drivers knew what they were doing. This track is notorious for having very few run off areas, so there were some nerves before we took off.

The video can be accessed by clicking the link above, but I have to say that the video doesn’t do the experience any justice. There is no indication on the video how fast we were going and I only peeked every now and then, as I didn’t want to miss the drive itself. I do know that we went into some corners that seemed safe at 50 km/h with a speed of 90 km/h or more and on the final straight we did reach 260 km/h. The speed was also noticeable under braking. I am by no means a feeble female, but I was shaken in every direction in corners and especially under braking. The pressure when speeding up was also considerable and, to be honest, very nice. And of course there is the roar of the engine…

It’s not cheap, but if you get the opportunity I would recommend this experience. It is nothing short of awesome.

One of the Porsches which couldn’t keep all wheels on the track at the Veedol chicane.
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The rest of my stay (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) were all about the WEC 6 hour race.
The weather was changing throughout the weekend, including some serious rain, but Sunday was fairly cool and, at times, windy.
Throughout the weekend I explored various parts of the track and so enjoyed different views wherever I went. The support races were once again very entertaining.
Especially seeing the Porsches almost jumping through the Veedol chicane was a wonderful sight. They were all racing exceptionally hard and quite a few didn’t make it through the chicane and instead had to cut through or go over the grass.

After attending the 24 Hours of Le Mans I was possibly even more excited about this race. Normally there are several months between the races I go to (Silverstone and then Nürburgring), but Le Mans was still very fresh in my mind.
It was strange to realise this would be Bykolles last race of the 2017 WEC season. They will be focussing on next season and testing their car. Even though they compete in the LMP1 class, their car is not hybrid, so they are practically a subclass by themselves.

The Bykolles LMP1 car.
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This race was unusual in the sense that there was no Full Course Yellow, no safety car and no red flags at all. The result was of course 6 glorious hours of uninterrupted racing. It was a rare treat to see what would happen when teams had the opportunity to fight it out on track without the race-changing possibilities mentioned above. As always it was beautiful to watch and it was a bonus to watch it at such a wonderful track.


Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, Nürburgring (2016)

Only last year did I discover Blancpain and I am already hooked. So much so that I went back to the Nürburgring (second visit this year) to see the Endurance Cup finale.

If you follow this series you will know there is a very large number of cars on track. There is huge variation in cars and the action never stops. Additionally, the races are never predictable. Anything can happen and will happen, often in the last minutes.

Practice happens before all the action, early in the morning.
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I have a habit of arriving early at the track, but usually not before all the action starts. This time I had a hotel a few minutes walking away from the track, which meant I got there around 8 in the morning. I never realised the marshalls have practice time!
The safety car, medical car, etc. all head out on track while the marshalls go through all the options: yellow flag, safety car, red flag, etc.
During this weekend I also heard that the marshalls should be able to see to the marshall station before and after them. Due to very heavy fog on Sunday they most certainly could not. As a result Q1 and Q2 for Blancpain were cancelled. At times the fog was so heavy I could not see the track at all from stand T4 (which is at the end of the pit straight). Quite a contrast with Saturday when we had lovely weather.

Hugo de Sadeleer during the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC race on Sunday morning after the fog cleared.
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There are several supporting races during a Blancpain weekend. One of those is Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. They did manage to race on Sunday morning, but initially the cars almost completely disappeared in the mist. I believe the race was shortened due to the weather. It really was a strange weekend with sun, fog, overnight rain and a lot of wind. Of course that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it all less…

Another supporting race which I have mentioned before is the Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Like Blancpain this series has a large grid. There were 40 cars in total. That’s 40 Lamborghini Huracans. That’s a lot of horsepower!
The Huracan just looks great as a race car and it’s mighty fast. With a field that large you’re guaranteed to have a lot to look at. I watched the Lamborghinis from T3 (which is along the pit straight) and saw a lot of very close racing. Roughly translated that means the drivers tried to fit as many cars through that one hairpin as they possibly could (or couldn’t, as the case may be).
Just imagine a number of Huracans speeding down the pit straight as fast as they can, then braking hard trying to prepare for that sharp corner, but then four or five simultaneously. It just doesn’t fit and some had to pick something other than the ideal racing line.

The Lamborghini Huracan of Leipert Motorsport.
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Being at the track for the entire weekend means I could admire all that horsepower, regardless which series they appeared in, for two full days. Unfortunately I also saw the #7 Bentley crash at the end of the pit straight during practice. It was a sickening, very loud thud. The moment the marshalls started to cover the scene your heart sinks. Thankfully Steven Kane, who was driving at the time, was declared fit shortly after. Even better: Bentley had been running some tests in Spain and “commandeered” a car which arrived on time to race on Sunday.

The Aston Martin of Oman Racing
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Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention Aston Martin.
There is only one participating in Blancpain this year – Oman Racing. After putting the car on 6th position (overall, first in class) during qualifying they were unceremoniously pushed off track shortly after the start (that damned hairpin again!) and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up. It was a tall order and they never got close to a class podium. But hey, that’s racing!
I still thoroughly enjoyed watching the Aston chasing the other cars in its class. I was lucky enough to see a few beautiful overtakes (not only by the Aston, mind you), so there was enough to keep me happy.

The #23 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 exiting a corner.
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Like the previous races, whether I was there at the track or watching them on television, this race had it all: close racing, some scraps, cars breaking down, teams having to catch up. Non-stop excitement for three hours. Unfortunately that was it for this year. Rest assured, I will be back to witness another year of Blancpain Endurance in 2017.

6 Hours of Nürburgring, 2016

Going to Nürburgring last year was a spur of the moment decision I never regretted. It was quickly decided I would go again this year, this time with my best friend. Despite the weather (either very hot or very wet) we were not disappointed.

We got there early on Friday morning and spent the morning in the paddock. As usual not that many people go to the track on a Friday, so we had plenty of room to ‘loiter with intent’, as we call it. That means you hang around near either the hospitality tent or the box of your team of choice, hoping to catch a glimpse – or, even better, a signature or selfie – of your favourite driver(s). With the WEC drivers being such a friendly bunch, that was not very difficult.

At noon free practice 1 (more commonly referred to as FP1) started.
Even though everyone knows you can’t really tell anything from practice sessions, everyone keeps on looking at the times and speeds. FP1 saw Aston Martin Racing hold its own very well: second and third fastest in GTE Pro and fastest in GTE Am. After Le Mans the BoP (Balance of Performance) regulations had been changed slightly, this time in favour of Aston Martin Racing. It was certainly good to see the Astons perform well overall.

The #97 Aston Martin during FP1.
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With four classes on track it is absolutely no problem to support more than one team. This year we are also supporting newcomers RGR Sport, the Mexican team which has Bruno Senna on board. During the public test day in France (Circuit Paul Ricard) it became very clear that all three drivers are very friendly and approachable. They also showed enormous enthusiasm, clearly ready to start their first season. They were ready: they won in their class (LMP2) in the first race at Silverstone.
During FP1 at the Nürburgring they were sixth fastest, nicely in the middle of the 11 competing teams.

We stayed the entire day and also watched FP2.
During this session RGR Sport ended up seventh fastest, Aston Martin Racing first and fourth in GTE Pro and fourth in GTE Am. Romain Dumas’ Porsche suffered a brake failure, which caused him to crash – very close to where we were sitting. Thankfully he was ok, but the car did not come out again during this session.

Romain Dumas was unharmed after his crash during FP2.
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On Saturday we were back at the track early to catch FP3. However, the weather gods decided otherwise. Rain and some wind caused issues for the medical helicopter and the practice session was delayed for 45 minutes because of this. With the track still wet anything could happen. There was some sliding going on, but a bit of water won’t stop WEC drivers.
RGR Sport were once again seventh fastest in their class. Aston Martin Racing didn’t fare as well as on Friday: fourth and sixth in GTE Pro and fifth in GTE Am.
Considering the mixed results in three practice sessions for only four cars (RGR’s LMP2 and AMR’s three GTE cars) it goes to show that practice really doesn’t tell the observant WEC fan anything. To be honest, we only watch these sessions because we enjoy seeing the cars out on track and especially hearing them. It doesn’t get exciting until qualification.

The #43 of RGR Sport.
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First qualifying session was for the GTE cars (Pro and Am). The track was still not entirely dry, so it was no surprise the positions kept on changing until the very last car crossed the finish line at the end of the session. We were two very happy fans, though, as Aston Martin #95 took pole position in GTE Pro followed by #97 in third position and #98 was to start from third position in GTE Am. The sixth and seventh positions RGR Sport got in the practice sessions were turned into a respectable fourth during LMP qualification. All in all a good result all around.

The pit walk for Sunday was moved to an earlier time and, surprisingly, was open to everyone. Last year pit walk tickets were sent out, but it seems no tickets were checked at the gate. Seeing how busy it was then I expected it to be even worse this time around, but it was actually reasonably quiet. This may be due to the earlier time of 09:00 with the autograph session starting at 10:00 instead of 10:30.
To celebrate RGR Sport’s maiden win at Silverstone I had brought one of my photos of the #43 to be signed by all three drivers. After that we made our way to the Aston Martin Racing boxes where it was very quiet compared to RGR’s box.
This did give my friend the opportunity to have her Aston Martin tattoo signed by all AMR drivers, some of whom wondered if the image was a transfer. Errr….no, it isn’t. The ink has now been washed off, but the photos and memories remain.

The ‘no, it’s not a transfer’ tattoo with signatures by all Aston Martin Racing drivers.
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Saturday’s rain had disappeared and instead we had sunshine, lots of it. I believe the temperature was mostly around mid twenties. Sitting at an uncovered grand stand was therefore rather hot.
The action on track didn’t help in that respect.
At 13:00 the race started and the action simply never stopped. In LMP1 the Audis had secured both front row spots during qualifying, but they didn’t hold on to them for long. Porsche had a very good race and managed to keep both Audis behind them.
In LMP2 our attention was firmly on RGR Sport. They fell back considerably early on in the race, which meant catching up was required. I don’t want to say anything bad about Ricardo González or Filipe Albuquerque, because they are both good at what they do. But catching up is what Bruno Senna does best and boy, did he do just that! At the end of the race RGR Sports finished in second place, two laps ahead of number three.

The #97 Aston Martin literally ran into some trouble; or rather: they got bumped by a LMP2 car. They lost a lot of ground due to having to pit for a new door (even though only the wing mirror was damaged). Richie Stanaway and Darren Turner gave it their all, most of the time going faster than their opponents, but they never made it further than fifth.

The #98 Aston Martin.
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The #95 had its own problems. Initially Nicki Thiim managed to build up a 15 second lead over the second placed car, but eventually couldn’t hold of the competition. Lady Luck was especially harsh towards the end of the race. Very close to 18:00 the #95 pitted for the last time. Mere moments after that pit stop a FCY (Full Course Yellow) was issued to remove some debris from the track. That means ‘free’ pit stops for anyone who wants them. That worked beautifully in favour of the other teams and the #95 fell back to fourth. Thanks to a penalty for Ford the Dane Train still made it onto the podium in third. It was later confirmed that on average Nicki Thiim was the fastest driver on the day.

In GTE Am the #98 was doing rather well. At first it seemed they were struggling, but eventually they made it to first spot and stayed there. The team drove an exceptionally solid race.

Of course there is much more going on than the trials and tribulations of RGR and Aston Martin Racing.
Like at Silverstone a LMP1 Porsche and a GTE Porsche came together. The LMP1 was worse off and had to pit for some quick repairs.
The most heart breaking moment was probably when the #4 ByKolles (LMP1), driven by Oliver Webb, had to retire with technical issues. Somehow it’s always hard to watch a driver’s disappointment when they cannot finish the race. It may not have been as dramatic as what happened to Toyota at Le Mans this year, but the disappointment seemed to be as great.

The winner of LMP1: the #1 Porsche.
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And that is part of what makes WEC so fantastic for me. There are so many teams and drivers, so there are as many different fans. But it makes no difference who you support. I think everyone wants to see all teams finish and there is sympathy for whoever has bad luck and concern for whoever crashes. In the end we all cheer on our team(s)/driver(s) of choice, but without the other teams we wouldn’t have a race. And that’s what it’s all about.