Why the Nurburgring 24 Hours is better than ever

A visit to the Nurburgring 24 Hours opens your eyes to an event like no other. But with the race becoming more professional every year, it's worth experiencing first-hand sooner rather than later

Why the Nurburgring 24 Hours is better than ever

The nature of motorsport is that it always changes. With that in mind, now is the perfect time to experience the Nurburgring 24 Hours, which is enjoying its halcyon phase in the present day.

The spectator areas are mini-villages, with six-foot fire pits, impromptu sofa grandstands and reservoirs of kegged lager; while behind the wheel drivers take on Earth's most daunting race track. The place is unique. It feels raw, dangerous and seriously fun.

It's impossible to entirely encapsulate the magic of this race. There's the good-natured debauchery in the Eifel forests rocking hard through the muddy night, like Glastonbury but with better noise. In the pitlane there is a sporting spirit that comes from another time, perhaps derived from the fact that works teams like Audi and Mercedes are pitched together in bays with privately-run track specialists. They even share a fuel bowser.

There is also the tremendous manufacturer rivalry ramping up year-on-year. No less than eight factories brought works-backed efforts to last weekend's event, while Porsche topped the list for most cars present - 37.

And then of course there is the extraordinary driver's challenge that is the Nordschleife.

Circuit veteran Peter Dumbreck calls the Nurburgring 24 Hours the ultimate challenge for the mind. "Once you have got into a level of fitness, racing is all in the mind - and this place stresses the mind more than anywhere else," says the Falken Porsche 991 GT3R driver.

"When you get it wrong here, the tendency is you are going in the wall. The cars are so reliable now the weak point becomes the weather and the driver, but it ultimately ends with the driver."

GALLERY: 2016 Nurburgring 24 Hours

With an estimated 250,000 people in attendance to watch the 159-strong multi-class field (ranging from full-blown GT3s to Renault Clios and Opel Mantas), the manufacturers are ever more interested in harnessing the event - which as Dumbreck says is changing the nature of the race: "More GT3 cars ultimately means it's safer, because it means there's less amateurs out on-track, but it also means that it has become far more competitive.

"Twenty years ago, when it was more of a club event, you could have a fairly decent car that was reliable. You wouldn't have to push it to 100 per cent and you could still finish on the podium. "Nowadays, it is like a full-blown endurance sprint race and it's about managing the track on the limit."

Le Mans 24 Hours winner Earl Bamber was only able to complete practice laps in the Manthey Porsche over the weekend, before it crashed on the second lap of the race. But it was enough to convince him that the race is one worth investing himself in.

"I love this place," he says. "It is one of the most amazing tracks in the world.

"I like it that you have consequences here. If you make one small mistake you generally destroy the car. Many tracks now, if you make a mistake there is zero penalty."

RACE REPORT: Black Falcon wins with last-lap pass

Bamber is a model factory driver, dropped in wherever he is required around the GT-sphere. And when you consider the enormous efforts thrown at the race by the likes of Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW, as well as the Le Mans-level hospitality units that filled the GP circuit's paddock, it seems hard to imagine the race will stay this crazy, this PC-free, for that much longer.

You can sneak under the spectator rail, stand by the fence and ask the marshals who is in the lead - and rather than tell you off, they'll tell you the order. It's like being back in the '70s, but with iPhones.

But Bamber, like so many others, hopes that those in charge of it remember what makes the Nurburgring 24 Hours so magical.

"I just hope they keep the small cars in it," he says. "A friend of mine comes all the way from NZ to drive a BMW 325 each year with a bunch of German drivers, and that's what it is really about - the challenge of conquering the race. Finishing is one big achievement in itself."

Dumbreck, with 13 attempts at the race to his name, adds: "What you learn here is to instinctively have this feeling for what is going to happen next. In the end, you have to keep your mind open, accept what is going on with the car and just try and learn."

Through the scene on Sunday morning, with corpses of blow-up dolls propped up against the fence at Plfanzgarten, long-discarded by reveling Germans caked in mud and avidly cheering on a bumper-less BMW M3 as it gets airborne over the hump, I am oddly reminded of Cuba and how often friends have told me to visit the place before it changes out of recognition.

The same goes for the Nurburgring 24 Hours. It is one race you must experience before it changes, as everything does.

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Black Falcon Mercedes wins Nurburgring 24 Hours with last-lap move

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