Opinion: Why Nurburgring 24 Hours risks losing its have-a-go heroes
Motorsport.com columnist David Addison worked his way through the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but fears that the high standards of the big manufacturers could push out the little guys.
I have decided that I dislike progress. Everywhere you turn there are new and exciting innovations that run the risk of knackering something that is already terribly good.
I went to the Nurburgring 24 Hours last month, the first time I’d worked at the event. Like most people, I was simply wowed by the scale of the event and it is fascinating to compare it to other 24-hour races.
It is also interesting to see how many manufacturers buy into the event because although you’d expect the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi to have a strong presence, add in Nissan and Toyota for example and you have two key brands that eschew the DTM but spend a small fortune to be in this event.
So, you have a full grid of 150 cars and more. You have manufacturers bringing high-quality entries and star drivers. You have a varied grid, although the bulk is now GT3 cars. And here comes the rub… The speeds are going up, the costs are going up and the gulf between the pros and ams is widening dramatically.
Spare a thought for the amateurs…
So, the backbone of the event, the privateers in their weird and whacky Astra vans or elderly 3 Series BMWs are both being priced out and with more stringent measure in place to allow drivers into the event, like tackling more VLN races for example, the entry level is dropping.
A friend of mine has raced in the event numerous times, won his class even. He knows the circuit well but he drives a desk most days and not a racing car. I saw him in the media centre, queuing for the mandatory sausage and ketchup, and I asked why he wasn’t racing. Largely it was cost: he’d have to do more VLN races, and that cost money.
He isn’t inexperienced at the Nordschleife so he felt that it was unnecessary for him to plod round for the sake of it just to tick organisational boxes. So, he didn’t look for a drive.
His point, though, is that lots of others feel the same and so as the privateer element dwindles, it is the manufacturers that prop up the event.
So who’s to blame?
Well, the manufacturers could be blamed for creating the situation: they bring red-hot GT3 cars and star drivers and increase the speed, so the driver-ability criteria has come about as a result of the speed increase and speed differential – plus Jann Mardenborough’s tragic accident in a VLN race last year.
Hence as the event embraces the benefits of manufacturers, including the financial aspect, the privateers, the once-a-year adventurers, fade away.
The entry is 2016 was down a little on previous years but the long-term fear is two-fold: one is that there will be a big accident and that the GT3 cars will be binned, and that leaves the entry massively depleted.
The other is that all the non-GT3 teams back away as they aren’t competitive and aren’t comfortable on the same track as the faster machinery and the entry keeps dwindling.
Either way, the event needs careful future planning.
What’s the answer?
Would fans care if the GT3 cars left? Probably not. As long as a monster entry drives round, they’d be happy. Look into the campsites and see the enthusiasm, not to mention outlandish structures that they build, and you know that these guys are here for a party, irrespective of a car’s lap time.
They want cars, beer, whacky baccy, more beer, barbeques, more beer, tents with neon lights, even more beer and very loud Godawful rock music.
In an age where run-off areas have their own zip codes, it is refreshing to have a circuit and event like this one.
Long may it continue but measures, like the inclusion of TCR cars, need to be put in place to safeguard the future if the event and make sure that the entry continues to be as vast as it currently is.
And after 24 hours of racing and the lead changing on the last lap, it is a real racer’s event for sure.
If you’ve not been before, go! You won’t regret it.
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