Our Motoring Editor John Barker headed to the Green Hell last bank
holiday to take part in the Nürburgring 24 hours. He was part of the
Volkswagen team, driving one of their five Scirocco GT24 racing cars.
Bending tradition, though, his car was one of VW's pair of CNG-powered (compressed natural gas) coupes, so he was battling it out for class honours in the Alternative Fuel group.
The race kicked off at 4pm German time on Saturday May 23. Below are the updates as they happened.
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Fantastic last stint. The car felt as good as when we started and I had even more confidence to push it. I’ve never, ever driven the Nurburgring like this. OK, on PlayStation, but that most certainly doesn’t count. Even upshifting at the first shift light and going around the flat upper level at the Karrusel, the times were my best. I wasn’t expecting that our efforts in the last few hours would yield any sort of result – we dropped to around 140 - it’s just that the challenge of the Nordschleife is irresistible.
So, I never expected to be on the podium. Felt a bit awkward, being there in a Dunlop cap, spraying champagne alongside Dr Uklrich Hackenberg, and fellow journos Peter Wyss and Bernd Ostmann - although we finished 101st, we were still second in the alternative fuels class. The pukka success was our sister car’s, the 115 Scirocco of Vanina Ickx, Peter Terting, Thomas Klenke and Klaus Niedzwiedz, which finished 17th overall, just two places behind 15th placed Scirocco 118 driven by Jimmy Johansson, Florian Gruber, Nicki Thiim and Martin Karlhofer, which won its class. So, plenty of trophies and a very upbeat mood back in the team tent, even though everyone is utterly knackered.
What an event, what a car, what a team. Thank you very much, Volkswagen Motorsport.
I get the call from my team manager after two blissful hours of sleep. That makes a grand total of two hours, ten minutes sleep in 24. And there are still six hours to go. All the bad luck has come to us so far – we lost the bonnet at around 6am, necessitating another lengthy, costly, unscheduled pit stop – so we’re somewhere north of 100 in the overall standings. Nonetheless, there’s an unwavering determination to fight to the finish.
Around 9.30 we heard that the 117 Sainz/Depping/Simon/Kaufmann car is out but 118 is still heading up the rankings and is currently sitting in 13th while 115, the other gas car, is 20th and the remaining petrol car, 116, is 25th. Up at the front the Manthey Porsches now sit in first and second places with the number 97 Audi still in touch.
Car was fixed but not handling as nicely as before, reports Peter Wyss. Bernd Ostmann takes over but runs over some debris and loosens the underfloor, so makes a stop to get it fixed. Then, just about at the end of his stint at around 3am, he turns into the first corner at the end of the start straight and a Porsche drives into the right front corner, breaking the hub. Game over? Oh no. The Volkswagen Motorsport mechanics set to, replacing lots of broken and damaged parts. About 90 minutes later, I’m strapped in and ready to go again. Brilliant work.
This time I’m on cold slicks with new brakes, so have to take it easy, and the car does feel loose until the tyres have warmed up. I’m treated to the sight of four of the front runners come by in close formation at high speed down to Schwedenkruez . A couple of laps later the Scirocco is flying again, pulling over 240kph (149mph) at the same spot. It starts to get looser as the tyres go off but then, having been instructed to complete my last lap, at Metzgesfeld the gas pressure suddenly drops from somewhere just below 20 to zero and the car dies. After a tortuous 20mins or so, I manage to get it back to the pits.
Meanwhile the other cars continue their steady progress up the leader board. At 7.15 on Sunday morning 118 is in 14th place overall, 117 is 16th and 115, the other CNG car, is 17th. The sun has just risen in a cloudless sky and there are still about 9 hours to go. Is a top ten finish on?
Just woke up from a nap and a shower only to see that our car has slipped down the order dramatically. Turns out that it’s had a little off, clanged a barrier and damaged a gearbox seal. We hope to have the car back out shortly. Meanwhile the number 118 Scirocco of Johansson/Gruber/Thiim/Karlhofer is currently holding 17th overall, just four laps behind the leader, the number 1 Manthey Porsche, which has about a minute in hand over the number 99 Audi R8. The anticipated rain has not appeared and accompanying storm has not arrived.
Got in the car at around 20.15, got a new set of warm slicks and the car felt great. Committed it a bit more and, as expected, the car pushed back. Result? Much more pace, more confidence, and more pace again. Mind, some of the corners will always be scary, you’ve just got to make sure you don’t snag a kerb and knock yourself off line.
It was just getting dark when I’d done my nine laps,
so the carnival lights from the various campsites were just starting to
show, there was wood smoke drifting across in places and the flashes of
cameras were becoming more noticeable. Not much came past in nine laps
- a handful of top 20 cars with their blue strobes, blue Scirocco 117
and, just at the end, our sister car, 115. Top Scirocco is now the
Johansson/Gruber/Thiim/Karlhofer number 118 car, which is 20th overall
and first in SP3T. We’re 40th, just behind the blue Aston Martin works
V12 Vantage, while up at the pointy end the lead has been traded by
Porsche number 1 and Audi 99. At 22.30, 6.30 hours in, it’s the Porsche
ahead, just. I’m off for a kip – I’m due back at our pit at 20 past
Phenomenal, breath-taking first hour of the race, the pole-sitting Ford GT holding off the number 1 Manthey Porsche for about six laps, until the Ford got himself a bit of a gap, and then had a little spin. The on-car footage from the Porsche was amazing, the driving of both drivers - Dirk Adorf in the Ford and Marcel Tiemann (I think) in the Porsche was exceptional, especially when they got in amongst the back end of the grid and started lapping slower cars. Shame that the Ford, having got a few car lengths of breathing space, had to pit after a spin that resulted in remarkably light damage. So, a Manthey Porsche leading the 24 hours again. Can the Ford or the Audi R8 V10s take the fight to it?
In the second batch of starters including the Sciroccos, all are running well, the lead car being our sitster car, 115, which is running in the mid 30s with the three other petrol cars keeping close company and our CNG car not far behind them. They look superb pounding around the track in the brilliant sunshine as we approach the initial round of pits stops. Three hours before I get in. Am I nervous? Well, I'm getting there...
Race day has dawned sunny and warm. All five Sciroccos will be together in the first four rows of grid two for the start, which should make a good photo. In amongst them and just behind are a number of BMW M3s. The 170-odd cars are split into three grids rolling starts, with three minutes between them. On pole position is the white and orange Osram-sponsored Ford GT, prepared by Raeder Automotive, the team which has fielded a Gallardo in previous years. Sharing the front row is car number 1, the Manthey Racing 911 GT3 RSR, the team aiming for a fourth consecutive victory in the 24 hours, and on the row behind are two of the four Audi R8 V10s. The lap times of the fastest qualifiers are close to 8:30, about a minute faster than the Sciroccos. The top 20 cars get blue flashing lights to put in the windscreen so you know when they’re coming up behind – if you haven’t already seen the flashing yellow headlamps.
The race starts at 4pm this afternoon and being fourth driver, I’m due in the car for my first stint at about 8pm, so it will be just about dark when I clamber out again. Volkswagen Motorsport has access to it’s own weather station and the forecast is that there’s a good chance of rain around midnight. My second stint is scheduled for around 2.30am but I won’t mind if it’s wet – at the moment I’m more comfortable with the car in the wet than the dry. I’m aiming to raise my commitment in the dry gradually, a couple of corners per lap, through the sessions. Looking forward to it hugely. So much waiting around, though, which allows plenty of time for the tension to build.
There will be an estimated 200,000 spectators here, and judging by the number staggering around last night, some of them have jumped the start. Adding to the music festival atmosphere, Volkswagen is today handing out 30,000 flags with the company roundel on, so there should be plenty of support for the Sciroccos.
To see how the overall race is progressing, you can log onto the official site at http://adac.24h-rennen.de/en.html
Brilliant sunshine and warm asphalt for the daytime qualifying session, and a surprise result in the Scirocco camp. The petrol cars have an advantage of 20bhp or so over the CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) versions yet Peter Terting, in 115, our sister car, headed the five Sciroccos. The Terting/Ickx/Klenke/Niedzwiedz car set the 38th fastest time. A fired-up Wyss qualified our car, 114 (Dr Hackenberg/Ostmann/Wyss/Barker), just inside the top 50 out of 170 starters, and fourth Scirocco.
Friday 12.00: Qualifiying
It’s like driving through a funfair. At various points on the roller-coaster 25.4km lap there are coloured lights, and occasionally fireworks and the smell of campfires and char-grilled meat. It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced, and although I was quietly apprehensive about my first night laps at the Nurburgring, I actually enjoyed them.
It was raining when I drove the Scirocco out of the pits just before 11.00 for my statutory two night laps to qualify for the race, but I knew what the car would feel like on the Dunlop wets from the sodden four-hour VLN training race last month, so I was able to concentrate on finding my way. That I found pretty easy – all you have to do is recognise is the kerbs to find the line – but there was talk in the team that the lights could be better. Dr Hackenberg, member of the VW board, whose car I’m sharing, felt they could be better on dip and main, so perhaps come Saturday they will be.
I’m still on a steep learning curve, having put in
only two laps in the dry so far. You need to be confident in the car
and your ability find the exact line in some of the crucial corners,
and I’m still getting to grips with that and will be in the race. It’s
a huge, absorbing and fantastically enjoyable challenge, and to be
taking it on as a part of the crack works Volkswagen Team is a huge
privilege. I can’t wait for 4pm Saturday. John Barker