Nürburgring 24 Hours Preview
In parallel to its FIA GT1 World Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series programs, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is involved this year in three prestigious 24 Hours races: Spa (which is part of the Blancpain calendar), Zolder and the Nürburgring. Having already won the first two races last year, it is now time for the Belgian squad to face what is probably the toughest GT race in the world, the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, held on the mythical and historic 23-km “Nordschleife”. The old track in the Eifel hills, with its 173 corners, is known as the “Green Hell” and this is also the nickname given to this unique race, which sees over 200 cars competing together, attracts huge crowds and has become one of the main goals in motor racing for German manufacturers. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will contribute to Audi Sport’s efforts by entering one of its R8 LMS ultras, entrusted to a top driver line-up composed of Oliver Jarvis, Edward Sandström, Allan Simonsen and Andrea Piccini. Many things are needed to take up a challenge such as the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and the first one is certainly … humility.
“This is a really special race”, confirms Team Principal Vincent Vosse, “it is a tough one as much as a fascinating one. We have prepared well, but we are conscious that this will be our first participation and we have therefore no specific experience. Clearly, we are not the top favourite, but we know that many things can happen in a 24 Hours race, and especially this one, and nothing is decided before hand”.
Part of the preparation has been to participate two weeks ago in a regular 4-hour event of the VLN championship, the endurance series whose all rounds take place at the Nordschleife and which rules the 24 Hours. “It was a very useful exercise”, confirms Vosse, “although a 4-hour race has nothing to do with a 24-hour race, but at least we got a taste of the track and of the car specifications required by the VLN rules, which are slightly different”. The Belgian Audi was not as competitive, in terms of performance, as other R8s that compete regularly in the VLN series, but showed good pace and proved reliable, which gives the team good hopes for the forthcoming big event. The need of having drivers with Nordschleife experience explains why Laurens Vanthoor is not behind the wheel this time, but the young Belgian will be present to support the team and it is foreseen that he competes soon in a VLN event in view of his future involvement in the 24 Hours.
For drivers, the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring are certainly a race similar to … none, which requires the full array of physical, driving and mental skills. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT quartet is comprised of drivers that have experience of the Nordschleife and the 24 Hours. This is why Oliver Jarvis and Edward Sandström are joined by endurance expert Andrea Piccini and by Denmark’s Allan Simonsen, who is the latest addition to Team WRT and brings his great know-how of the “Green Hell”.
Andrea Piccini comments: “The team has worked a lot and well to prepare this rendez-vous, as it always does, and I am confident. On paper we are not the top favourites, but we have a card to play and a 24-hour race has always many, many unknowns. The winner is not necessarily the fastest car nor the strongest quartet of drivers.” The personable Tuscan driver, who raced the 24 Hours last year for the first time at the wheel of an Audi TT, gives some interesting insights on the legendary “Green Hell”: “I’ve now done four races on the Nordschleife, including last year’s 24 Hours, so now I can say I know the circuit relatively well. But you never know the 24 Hours well enough. So many things can happen and there are so many variables to watch… Traffic, changing weather and track conditions, speed difference, darkness and many more.
Speed difference with respect to slower cars is a big issue. When you get close to a slower car, you have very little time to think whether and where to pass it. You make a choice and you just hope the guy in front has seen you in his mirrors… Paradoxically, I don’t think that driving at night is a problem. The fact that the track is narrow and the guard-rails are close give you a good sense of where you are exactly, better than in circuits with big spaces on the sides. But again, there are thousands of situations, sometimes funny. I remember last year when daylight was fading out on Saturday evening and suddenly visibility became very poor in the high part of the circuit. I lift off thinking ‘here is the first spot of fog’, just to realize after a few seconds that it wasn’t fog, but smoke from the barbecues of the spectators! It was dinner time and people were starting to roast their würstel. That also is the kind of things that you have to learn there…”
The start of the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring will be given Saturday at 4 pm, with free practice and qualifying taking place on Thursday and Friday, including a final top qualifying for the 40 fastest cars.
24 Hours of the NürburgringNürburgring (Nordschleife), Germany19-20 May 2012
Thursday 17 May 201214:30-16:00 Free Practice 19:30-23:00 Qualifying 1
Friday 18 May 2012 09:35-11:35 Qualifying 218:00-18:50 Top 40 Qualifying
Saturday 19 May 201216:00 Start of 24 Hours
Sunday 20 May 201216:00 Finish of 24 Hours