TopGear.com live from the Nurburgring 24hr race

Vijay Pattni: Greetings, assembled TopGear.com readers. This weekend, myself and TG.com snapper Katie Johnson have set up camp in the glorious idyll of the Eifel Mountains in a small village called Nurburg, in Germany. You may be familiar with this village, because it houses one of the world’s most notorious and challenging racetracks. Welcome everyone, to the Nurburgring 24hr race.

Formula One legend Jackie Stewart once labelled the ‘Ring the ‘Green Hell’, because it’s quite green, and it’s quite a lot like hell. Probably. It has a torturous 33 left turns and 40 right turns, runs to over 15 miles in length and was conceived with the single ambition of providing the most arduous expenditure of effort a car will ever face.

And the race itself is a tricky one. Over 200 cars (from a staggered start, mercifully) will compete for class honours along its narrow and winding asphalt, including entrants from BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi and Mercedes.

We’ll be bringing you live updates from the race, along with as much ‘Ring culture as we can cram onto our Internet. This may include Euro-hair, though our IT department is unsure whether the TopGear.com servers can handle such mullety uploads.

So, here we go. Qualifying kicks off today, the race starts Saturday at 4pm and ends Sunday, 4pm. This is going to be a good one. And let me know what you’d like to see in the comments below – I am your humble servant for the next three days…

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Update: 5.55pm, June 24, 2011

VP: So, it all begins. One of the world’s most famous, epic and challenging circuits gets ready to host a lot of race-hungry cars with an appetite for tarmac. We’ve just touched down at the Nurburgring, and it’s huge. It’s also been raining, ramping up the terror factor of this already quite terrifying arena.

But that’s nothing. Our Nurburgring guide – Andre, a man who enjoys intermittent swearing – assures us rain, while tricky, is nothing. “Once, it snowed here and it was too bl**dy cold”.

We had a quick chat with Falken Motorsport driver Peter Dumbreck. The British driver started his racing career in 1986 in karting and has been with Falken since 2007. He says Falken’s 911 GT3 R – a 490bhp wide-arched monster – ‘feels a little understeery’. Nice. It was also raining during his practice sessions yesterday so a bit tricky to get some solid lap times in. “Because it’s such a long course you’re always pushing for those few extra tenths wherever you can find them,” he told us. And on a track this narrow, that’s tricky.

Anyhoo, the second round of qualifying has kicked off and already we’ve had a few spin-offs and crashes. An R8, BMW Z4 and 911 have all felt the ‘Ring’s temper, and we haven’t even got started yet.

Also, as we’re in Germany, we decided to sample the local cuisine. This is what we found.

More to follow…

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Update: 11.35pm, June 24, 2011

VP: You have asked, and we have given. In response to @sweetlizard, and, I presume, many of you out there, I’ve tracked down some chief ‘Ring Big Brains to get a rundown on the bewildering number of classes all gunning for each other on the 15mile torture chamber. It’s not simple, and it’s not concise, (and I’m not entirely convinced they knew fully) but it basically boils down to engine size.

There are a raft of ‘SP’ classes all running from the SP3 class (1.7 to 2.0-litre naturally aspirated units) to the SP8 class running between 4.0 and 6.2-litre engines. SP9 is FIA GT3-spec machinery, SP8T is turbocharged, the D1-D4Ts are turbo’d diesels up to 3.0-litre capacity, and VLN-Series production cars. Got it? Good.

Qualifying has finished and the teams are all gearing up for tomorrow, but the ‘Ring never sleeps. We popped along to a drift session to see how the Nurburgring parties on a Friday night. It was mostly sideways, smoky and very enjoyable. There were affable, rotund and friendly gentlemen sampling some fine German export, along with petrolheads getting high from the plumes of tyre smoke and dead clutch.

Here are some pics for you to enjoy. This is how it goes down in Germany, race weekend.

Stay tuned for tomorrow though as the weather could be a bigger player than we imagined. Our fixer Andre tells us the ‘Ring has its own ecosystem. One minute it could be sunny, the next it could be thundering down…

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Update: 2.20pm, June 25, 2011

VP: Good afternoon folks – apologies for the delay but there appears to be some sort of sporting festival involving cars this weekend which has clogged up a small German village.

Well, the weather has played its hand. It’s cold, windy and seriously, seriously wet. And racing cars take to water like our cuddly little 80s hero Gizmo (Gremlins, 1984) does. The track is empty at the moment – the Porsche Carrera cup finished earlier today – so all the teams are currently gearing up for what could be a spectacularly crazy race.

We’ve been out and about in the paddock area to bring you a flavour of the festival. Surprisingly, the mood is quite chipper considering it’s Very Wet.

I can’t help but imagine though, the mood is less chipper on some of the campsites. And you have to question the choice of erecting a tent, on a hill. Yes, a hill.

As you can see, these young ladies are keeping well clear of the rain, brandishing a protective hand on the Moller Bil TT, and more importantly, protecting those shrinkwrapped gold leggings. Fetching.

News from the Porsche camp: we’ve just spotted Gazoo Racing chiefs shaking hands with Porsche motorsport, and both were wishing each other good luck. There was a genuine sense of appreciation and respect between the teams. To be fair, in these conditions both the LFA and the collected 911s will need ALL THE LUCK they can find…)

Anyway, we’ve just managed to persuade our Internet to wake up, and here’s some more action from the drift extravaganza last night. Should you want more (and I suspect you do), there are also pictures.

Click here to see more pictures from the Nurburgring drift event

Only an hour and a half to go before everything kicks off…

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Update: 3.45pm, June 25, 2011

VP: Guess what? Our favourite Person Who Can Lap The Nurburgring In A Transit Van Who’s Called Sabine is racing at the 24hrs!

Ms Schmitz, along with team-mates Klaus Abbelen, Niklas Kentenich and Tim Bergmeister are championing a Porsche 911 GT3 R on the field; a field which, as you can see below, is nearly ready to begin 24 arduous hours of challenging the Green Hell.

15mins to go…

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Update: 4.25pm, June 25, 2011

VP: And we’re off! The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Rowe Racing – driven by Christian Mamerow, Armin Hahne and Pierre Kaffer – leads the board, followed by Helco Motorsport’s SLS, followed by Black Falcon’s erm, SLS AMG GT3. All the classes have been released and – to be perfectly frank – it’s chaos. The 15mile course length allows for this monster grid of over 200 cars. All of which look fast.

Don’t forget, there’s quite a few interesting stories behind some of these motors, including Jim Glickenhaus’ P4/5 Competizione (running in the E1-XP2 class), Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi driving in the SP8T class in a Nissan GT-R, and of course, Aston CEO Dr Ulrich Bez driving that sublime Aston Martin V12 Zagato. Let’s hope Gaydon has a better 24hrs than two weeks ago at Le Mans.

Stay tuned for more pics from the start….

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Update: 5.25pm, June 25, 2011

VP: As promised, here are more pics from the start. Below, you can see the kind of madness on the grid just before the race got underway. There are cars in there somewhere.

And here they go!

Video: the SLS leads the board after the first lap. Has Mercedes got this wrapped up already or will someone else tackle the AMGs head on? Who are you rooting for?

And don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten. We are desperately hunting down Euro-hair but the rain is forcing the assembled masses to cover up their unshorn locks – TG.com snapper Katie’s mullet-watch cam is on red alert, so stay tuned.

Click here for more pics from the start of the race.

BTW, Hankook’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT is leading, followed by Porsche Team Manthey’s 911 GT3 RSR.

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Update: 7.20pm, June 25, 2011

VP: You don’t want to know who’s currently leading, do you? (Farnbacher’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT). No, what you want to know, is that THERE’S AN OPEL MANTA RACING AT THE ‘RING!

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present to you, Kissling Motorsport’s Ode To Old School, the Opel Manta. It’s running in the SP3 class, meaning its engine capacity is between 1.7 and 2.0-litres. Driver line-up comprised of four German gentlemen by the names of Olaf Beckmann, Volker Strycek, Peter Hass and Jurgen Schulten. It’s currently in 111th position, so roughly halfway up the grid and crucially, 6th in class. Best of luck, chaps.

In other news, Werner Schlehecker just flipped his BMW 318 is. He hit a bump, went across the track and flipped the MSC Wahlscheid Beemer over the barrier. More as we get it…

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Update: 9.55pm, June 25, 2011

VP: WE’VE JUST DRIVEN THE NEW BMW M5!

Ok, you want more than just a sensationalist, attention-grabbing headline? Fine. We’ve just been given exclusive access to drive the BRAND NEW 2012 BMW M5 on Forza Motorsport 4. The not-yet-available-to-buy Beemer will feature in the upcoming and rather splendid-looking Forza Motorsport 4. Obviously, Forza 4 will have the full ‘Ring layout, but we went for a quick blast around the GP section of the Nurburgring track, and… well, suffice to say, I won’t be troubling Ms Schmitz’s M5 Ring Taxi times, that’s for sure.

But, the game felt fantastic and I’m pleased to report that – adhering to strict TopGear.com rules of engagement – I got the 555bhp, twin-turbo V8-powered beast sideways and exercised full opposite lock. It was drifty. And fast. And good.

Can’t say much more than that for now, but stay tuned to TopGear.com in the coming weeks for more announcements. Elsewhere around the Nurburgring, Mamerow Racing’s SLS AMG GT3 is currently leading the pack, followed by Manthey Racing’s spiffing Porsche 911 GT3 R. Black Falcon’s SLS rounds out the top three. And speaking of Manthey Racing, we’ve got some rather astonishing footage of its 911 – and a few other 911s – on one of the most eye-catching pit stops you will ever see in your life. Seriously. Stay tuned…

Oh, and it’s getting quite dark here now. And this – as we found in Le Mans a couple of weeks back – is the magic of the 24hr endurance race. The sound of horsepower is filling the Green Hell, like some howling demon crying out for more.

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Update: 11pm, June 25, 2011

VP: Watching F1 pit-stops is like watching the hands of an exquisitely crafted watch tick around an expertly machined face. Watching one at the Nurburgring 24hr race is like witnessing chaos theory: somewhere in a jungle in another part of the world, a butterfly has flapped its wings, because in the pit lane, all hell has broken loose.

Guests and hangers-on crowd around the beleaguered pit mechanics as they desperately force their way around the assembled throngs – intent on snapping the action with the phones – waiting for the GT-spec monsters to roll into view.

And, just as they do, tyre-men, fuel-men – even the window cleaner – have to navigate the public to change vitally important stuff. Madness. Here’s a pic below, and we’ve got a cracking video in store, so stay tuned…

Click here for more pictures from the pit lane

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Update: 1.40am, June 26, 2011

VP: Remember that pit-lane madness we promised you? Here it is, in full. It’s a bit of a long video, but please, watch it through to the end. You get some idea of the sheer chaos that engulfs the garage, with mechanics serving cars like a McDonald’s drive-through. Just don’t ask to go large for 50p.

I’ve just heard that Falken Motorsport has had a horrid afternoon. Earlier today its 911 GT3 R was suffering from what the team thought were simple gearbox problems. They pulled the car into the pits and realised that not only did they need to change the gearbox, the Porker needed a new engine too. Suffice to say, the car was left trailing and on the last lap clocked in at 150th position on the grid. BUT, current driver Wolf Henzler has just put in the fastest lap time of the day so far, so clearly, a new heart and some fresh cogs proved effective.

Elsewhere, Manthey Racing’s 911 GT3 RSR – car number 18 – leads the pack, followed by Heico Motorsports’ SLS AMG GT3, with Audi Sport Team Pheonix in the R8 LMS in third. Jim Glickenhaus’ P4/5 Competizione is currently in 53rd position, but 3rd in class and has just stormed around in 9m 35s. Not bad when you can’t actually see ANYTHING.

But the 24hrs of the ‘Ring is so much more than just a race. We popped along to the campsites earlier surrounding the Adenau corner and found… well, TopGear.commers, you’ll just have to come back shortly when we’ve uploaded the pics. There was cheesy German euro-pop on heavy repeat. And some fireworks.

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Update: 2.05am, June 26, 2011

VP: Remember that Werner Schlehecker crash we told you about earlier? Here’s a video showing just how severe it was.

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Update: 3.30am, June 26, 2011

VP: You lot still awake? It’s still rocking here at the ‘Ring. A moment ago there was a hairy moment for one of the SLS’ in the pits – there was some damage to the driver’s left-hand side door and the mechanics were having difficulty getting the gullwing open. Anyhoo…

Manthey Racing’s 911 GT3 RSR is leading the pack, followed by Heico’s SLS AMG (last lap time, 9m 11s). Weirdly, both are first in class but the Porsche is more first because it is actually first. Sabine Schmitz’s team is gunning its MSC Adenau Porsche 997 GT3 R around at the moment, currently 9th in class and 12th overall, the P4/5 Competizione is in 40th position overall and still 3rd in class, while Kazunori-san’s GT-R is running 1st in the SP8T class and 24th overall.

As mentioned earlier, we popped along to witness first-hand some of the campsites dotted around the circuit. In every corner and every pocket of the ‘Ring, dedicated fans have set up camp, built tents, makeshift DJ booths, portable gaming stations (we saw one chap in the back of a van playing the Nurburgring – at night – on Gran Turismo) and even bonfires. We even saw a garden.

Most importantly though, we went up high on the corner to sample some of the action. Watching the racers barrel into the corner and then slam on the anchors, lighting up their disc brakes which glow bright orange in the pitch darkness, is worth every single minute of this race. Plus, as I’ve mentioned time and time again, listening to V8s, V12s and turbos whistling and growling against a pitch black sky is ethereal and frankly, astonishing. For our money, Jim’s P4/5 Competizione and the SLS AMG GT3s have the number on engine note. In fact, the Competizione sounds horrendously, magnificently and gloriously dirty. Mr Glickenhaus, we salute thee.

To give you some idea of how random this track is though, moments after that picture above was taken, a fire truck came charging through, sirens at full blast and leading a trailer carrying a burned-out classic Mini. Both pulled over to the side, slowed the traffic down and provided some trouser-changing moments for some of the racers hitting high speeds before turning the corner and facing a flashing light.

Seems many of the assembled crowd though, had already had their fill of the racing on offer. So much so, they turned their backs on the circuit and decided to engage in the art of ‘staring at my fire’, as well as random dance movements and sipping refreshments.

Below, these ambitious gentlemen had constructed a night garden. Here, they celebrate their victorious endeavour with garden gnomes.

Walk a bit further up Adenau corner and it felt like an eerily calm, civilised motoring rave.

Seems even The Dark Knight himself was being summoned to witness the epic race. Which car do you reckon Batman would approve of? We have an idea…

It’s almost majestic, don’t you think?

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Update: 4.40am, June 26, 2011

VP: It’s cold. It’s very, very cold. It’s also very, very loud. And the crowds are thinner than Bruce Willis’ remaining thatch. But, the Nurburgring racers are still pounding around, lighting up the timesheets and cooking tyres, brakes, clutches and a lot of other very expensive engine componentry.

The grid reads Manthey Racing’s 911 GT3 RSR up top, followed by Heico’s SLS AMG, followed by the two Audi R8 LMS’s run by Audi Sport Team Pheonix and Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, with BMW Motorsport’s M3 GT taking up fifth position.

As always, below is a shoddy and amateur video taken a short while ago to give you some idea of what the ‘Ring sounds like – and looks like – when it’s dark, noisy and fast.

FYI, the Aston V12 Zagatos – one of which, don’t forget, is driven by Aston CEO Dr Ulrich Bez – are currently in positions 47 and 69 overall, 3rd and 4th in the SP8 class.

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Update: 6am, June 26, 2011

VP: Have we ever mentioned we’re big fans of racing Lamborghinis? Well, we kind of are. And when Lamborghini wants to go racing, it turns to Reiter Engineering. The German racers started out in 1994 and debuted their custom Diablo GT – with the backing of Lamborghini itself – in 2000. Since then, the speed merchants have prepared racing Murcielagos and Gallardos, and this year are running something very special indeed. They’ve brought along a Lamborghini Gallardo LP600 to run in the SP9 GT3 class, and have enlisted the help of some rather talented  – and related – folk.

Step forward Mr Hans-Joachim Stuck, and his two sons Ferdinand and Johannes. And these three have pedigree: Hans-Joachim’s father was none other than Hans Stuck, a famous hill-climber who competed in an old Merc SSKL and taught young Hans-Joachim the fine art of oversteer on the banks of the old Nurburgring itself. Now, 60-year-old Hans Joachim is currently hammering around the ‘Ring with his two sons in that Lambo you see below, with slightly more decals, obviously.

The three members of the Stuck family are joined by Dennis Rosteck, and are sitting in 16th position overall, 11th in class. There is a genuine feeling of admiration for this racing family here, and we wish them all the very best for a good, clean finish.

At the top of the board, since you asked, it’s none other than Manthey Racing’s 911, followed by Heico’s SLS (surprise) and the Audi R8 LMS run by Audi Sport Team Pheonix.

And sorry @Mark, Zig and Zag have come into a spot of bother. The pair of Zagatos (moments after I published the earlier comment, I fear) ran into some problems: one had sensor difficulties and the other needed a gearbox change, both dropped down the grid and are now 106th (Zig) and 115th (Zag), scoring in 5th and 6th in the SP8 class. Shame, really.

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Update: 7.30am, June 26, 2011

VP: Quick update folks. As you can see from the grainy image below, light has reappeared, though not the sunshine that was forecast but rather a grey, overcast and foreboding rain cloud seems to linger.

Good news for Sabine’s team: her team’s Porsche is sitting in 11th position overall and 8th in class – not bad considering her competition is pretty much the front running SLSs, R8 LMSs and leading 911. The Stuck family maintain 16th overall position while at the top, Manthey Racing lead, Heico are second and Audi Sport Team Pheonix’s R8 LMS brings up third position.

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Update: 2.30pm, June 26, 2011

VP: A very good afternoon to you all. Sadly, night gremlins had hijacked our telephone lines and threatened to bring down the whole Internet! Luckily, myself and TG.com snapper Katie fended them off valiantly to recover our connection and bring you some more loveliness from the Nurburgring 24hr race. And, with just over an hour to go, we can happily report that it’s now very sunny indeed. As reported earlier, the clouds had threatened to make the finale of this 39th ADAC race very interesting, to say the least. But from around 12ish onwards the sun put his hat on and came out to play.

Quid grid update: Manthey Racing’s 911 is still topping the boards, BMW Motorsport’s rather tasty M3 is now in second place, and the SLS AMG of Heico is in third. While the gremlins had taken charge of our cables, we decided to pop out onto the track to bring you some more flavour from the race. You’ll see sunrise. You’ll watch some on-track racing. You’ll want to come next year to the Nurburgring 24hr.

A little bit glorious, right?

Some track action. No, this isn’t zoomed in, we were actually that close. Being that close to a GT3 SLS is scary. It shouted at us.

Despite the fact this track is TERRIFYING, this couple find time for a spot of romance. Aww

Some more track action, now in a format of moving pictures

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Update: 4.30pm, June 26, 2011

VP: Porsche wins the 2011 Nurburgring 24hr race!

Manthey Racing’s 911 GT3 RSR takes the chequered flag and powers into the loving embrace of hundreds of Porsche fans dotted around the grandstands. Standing ovation for a quality drive from the drivers. BMW Motorsport’s M3 GT takes the second spot while Audi Sport Team Pheonix’s R8 LMS takes the third spot.

The exhausted drivers take a well-earned rest – we’ve just spotted Queen of The Ring Sabine Schmitz necking a cold one and smiling profusely. She scored 9th overall which is an astonishing drive in the GT3 Cup. Nice finish from Zig and Zag – both crossed the line together to a raucous round of applause. Despite their setbacks, there is still a lot of affection for Gaydon’s latest, Zag finishing 94th and Zig 118th. The Stuck family finished a very respectable 15th in their Reiter Engineering Lambo, Glickenhaus’ Competizione finished 40th overall (3rd in the E1-XP2) class, Kazunori-san’s team scored 37th overall and finished 1st in the SP8T class, and Falken Motorsports clocked in at 49th – not bad considering the significant earlier setback the team suffered.

We’ve got a few vids and some more pics coming up so stay tuned…

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Update: 5pm, June 26, 2011

VP: As promised, a few more pics from the finish of the 2011 Nurburgring 24hr race…

Vids coming soon…

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Update: 5.50pm, June 26, 2011

VP: Jubilant scenes in the Porsche area as Stuttgart’s Motorsport chiefs congratulate one another on an epic victory. And, here are those videos – the first is from the finish line (Kissling’s Opel Manta finished!), the second from the champagne-soaked podium.

 

 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. It’s been a wonderful race, and you’ve been wonderful company. A sleep-derived delirium is now setting in to everyone here (including TG.com), but you have to admit, it’s been a good one. Myself and Katie apologise for the lack of Euro-hair and mullety goodness; it seems ze Germans have been introduced to 2011. Anyhoo, we’re off, so we hope you’ve enjoyed it. Auf Wiedersehen!

Gallery: TopGear.com’s best bits of the 2011 Nurburgring 24hr race

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