The Nürburgring 24 Hours – one of the world’s toughest motorsport challenges. A 24-hour endurance race around a 25km circuit known as the ‘Green Hell’ that combines the legendary Nordschleife and Nürburgring Grand Prix Circuit. With weather conditions being so changeable, it could be snowing at one corner of the track and brilliant sunshine at another. All in all, it pushes a driver’s ability, concentration and determination to the limits.
Ahead of this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, which takes place on 27-28 May, Falken Motorsports driver and renowned Nürburgring expert Peter Dumbreck discusses the unique challenges of the race, why he’s decided to switch cars for this year and how the atmosphere at this iconic event cannot be beaten.
You’ve raced at most of the world’s major sports car events. How does the Nürburgring 24 Hours compare?
“This is the toughest race and by far the hardest circuit that I’ve driven. There’s so little margin for error; one little mistake leads to you going onto the grass and, most of the time, if you’ve gone onto the grass at the Nordschleife you’re going into the wall.
“It’s just crazy. Sometimes you wonder ‘what the hell am I doing out here’ and then there’s other times when it’s in the middle of the night, it’s dry and you’re getting absolutely every tenth out of the car that you think you can get. Then it all comes together and you climb out of the car after a 3am stint and think ‘that went well’.”
How do you prepare for an event like that?
“From a driver’s perspective – assuming you’re fit – a lot of it comes down to time on the circuit. You can do as much testing as you like on a traditional track – even the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit – but until you actually get onto the Nordschleife you don’t get the same sensations of the camber changes, the bumps and the different surfaces. You’ve got a huge variety of different corners and in some parts it gets slippery under the trees, so you need to test on the Nordschleife itself.
“From an engineering perspective, we put a lot of work into setup and we do a lot of tyre testing, as our team is run by tyre manufacturer Falken. The tyres we run here are specifically developed for the Nordschleife by Falken and we use the VLN Endurance Championship that runs on the circuit very much as testing. We always aspire to some sort of result – and sometimes we’ll go all out and race – but usually preparation for the 24 Hours is what comes first.”
You will make the switch from a Porsche 911 GT3 R (Type 991) to a BMW M6 GT3 this year – what challenges does that throw at you?
There are key differences between the two cars. With it being rear engine, the Porsche is a very physical car to drive and it tends to move around quite bit. It’s also quite a short car as well compared to the M6, so I find it’s got a good bit of grunt through the corners. The M6 has a greater amount of downforce through the medium to sharp corners so you can carry more speed through those faster turns, whereas in the Porsche you may brake and go down a gear. In some places in the M6, you don’t even brake you just lift in sixth gear! So the M6 is stronger in the the medium and fast corners but the Porsche fights back in the tighter sections. Falken has set this up as a battle and I genuinely think it will be.
So, is the objective to win?
It goes without saying that we would love to go out and win the race and from Falken’s point of view it has doubled its chances. It doesn’t matter which car wins. It has good crews in both cars. Personally, of course I want to win. The first target has to be taking a podium. Actually, to be honest, the first target for me is putting in good times, doing a good job, staying out of trouble and watching us gradually move to the front! The end result is the end result, as long as I have done a good job then what will be will be. I’ve been in this sport long enough to know that a certain amount of luck is involved so I keep my feet on the ground and just do my job.
24 hours is a long race – how do you pass the time during the night when you’re not in the car?
It is a little bit like Groundhog Day. I get out the car and normally I will get something to eat. I will get out my suit and start getting my kit dry, my helmet dry and everything sorted out – that will usually be the first thing that I do. Then I’ll note when I’m back in the car and try to lie down. Just try to just close my eyes to see if I can sleep for an hour or so. I don’t like to be woken up so much, I prefer waking up on my own. I have never slept all that deeply so I’ll sleep 30 minutes then wake up and go to sleep again. Half an hour prior to getting back in the car I will be up or the team will get me anyway. You also burn a lot of calories and lose fluids so you try to get all those back on board – even though we do drink in the car. By the time late morning comes you start to get really, really tired. Your energy levels are down and you’re straight into another stint.
How do you stay alert during the night?
The main way in which I stay alert is resting in between and the rest takes care of itself. I basically break it down to six races as there will be an order of which drivers are racing when. Of course, that can change and it does change but I prepare myself by thinking of it as six mini races. That is how I get through the 24 hours.
What’s your favourite part of the track and why?
I’d say from Adenau to the Karussell is my favourite part of the circuit. That is the big climb where you are basically sitting flat out up the hill. You have a curve, which is just a slight lift. It’s a gear down and brake in the Porsche, but in the M6 it’s flat out! You go through it at 220km per hour and is quite an eye-opener!
What’s your best Nürburgring anecdote?
Ummm… Not so much an anecdote but as technology has moved on we all carry cameras now. You cannot hide anything. If you make a mistake then it is there for everyone to see! Alex, my team mate three years ago when we finished third, pulled off this fantastic and seemingly impossible move. If you see Alex’s onboard you will see how he just squeezes through a gap ahead of the cars in front and behind him as there was nowhere to go. He was due for a very big crash had he not gone for the gap. He makes it through and the cars around him, maybe three or four, all crash out and we somehow survived without a mark on the car! It can be so brutal but other times it just goes to show how luck can be on your side.
Is it true you can smell the barbecues and campfires in the car?
Yes, you definitely can. Particularly at night time when the senses are more alert. It will be dark and the mist is coming but you will come up and see fireworks and fires at the side of the track but obviously, you’re really concentrating on the race. I love driving at night; it’s peaceful and you have already done a few stints so you are up to speed but it’s also a bit more dangerous. The amateur drivers tend to back off the pace during the night. Even the pro drivers will allow more margin for error during the night, so you don’t push as hard say on some of your bogey corners and the ones you are not so confident in. There will be smoke coming across the track and you will smell the barbeques and in a sense you feel everyone is having a lovely time yet you’re inside the car just trying to make it until morning!
Have you got any top tip for spectators?
The party zone around Brünnchen is pretty special. It is basically right by the normal road where all the spectators are and where it’s happening. That area will be full by the time I arrive on Tuesday before the race. That is a pretty cool part of the track with fireworks, discos and camp fires. It’s a good bit to drive too but from the fans’ point of view it is an amazing atmosphere. People build their own bars, they will build them really well out of wood and scaffolding, and every year people think of new things to include. You wouldn’t believe what they think of – hot tubs, fish ponds and grandstands. Everyone seems to know each other from previous years and they all bring something. It’s all just fantastic.
Is there a particular time in the race when you most like being in the car?
For me, the best time is as the sun comes up. If you are the one getting into the car at 4.30am, you know you are going to be seeing daylight at the end of your stint. But because you are constantly watching it is such a gradual thing, a little bit more and a little bit more. That is the best feeling when you can see the darkness turning into light.