This past June was the 48 Hours of the Le Mansburgring. Okay, that’s a rather lame combination of names, but this was a rather special occurrence. In a normal year, the Nurburging 24 Hours on the famed Nordschleife takes place a full month prior to the Le Mans 24 Hours. This year, however, was a little different: The Nurburging marathon was the weekend directly after Le Mans. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Maybe a reader can shed some knowledge on this. Regardless, this was endurance racing heaven two weekends in a row.
So why’s this important? Think about it: many of the top sports car drivers in the world compete in both events. That’s one mega race weekend followed immediately by another. It’s not just the 24 hours of racing (shared with 2 other drivers), but all the practice time and preparation involved as well. Finish Le Mans, and two days later you’re in the Eifel Forest. 8.5 mile track, then over 13 miles. That just sounds overwhelming! Respect is much deserved and due to the drivers and crew members who contested both annual racing extravaganzas.
Now let’s get on to the real reason for writing this, why I love endurance racing. It’s just the best, isn’t it? This is real racing, on the limit, go hard or go home (as Nicki Thiim says) driving for 24 hours straight. Gone are the days of preservation to ensure a car finishes, or sending out the ‘hare’ to entice others to push hard and consequently break down in sacrifice. GT cars have really never been better, either, between variety and durability (they just pound those kerbs). Say what you will about Balance of Performance, but the close racing it has produced cannot be denied. Okay, so BMW didn’t exactly do that well at either event this year, in fact they did rather dismal, but that happens; that’s racing. Some years things just don’t work out.
Le Mans and the Nurburgring are two of my favorite tracks in the entire world. There’s this level of mysticism and wonder about them that is nearly unmatched (Spa is just behind, though). It’s almost a wonder that both tracks are allowed to exist even in 2019 still. Each’s legacy is undying, and it’s the passion of motorsport and past triumphs and battles that has guaranteed this. Favorite corner on the Nordschleife? They’re all pretty good actually…many drivers call it the greatest track on the planet for a reason. Playing simulators my whole life, it’s my most often driven track virtually, even. And then there’s Le Mans, with the Mulsanne straight and daunting Porsche Curves that LMP1 can crush at over 150MPH. The long straights make for incredible side by side racing between all classes. Literally dozens and dozens of times this year were there instances of at least 3 GTE cars nose-to-tail and door-to-door blasting down the French motorway at 180MPH. Seeing who had the guts to stay out of the brakes the longest into a 70 MPH chicane never gets old.
This is where an endurance race differs from a shorter sprint race: it just keeps going. And going. And going, yet the racing doesn’t let up. The drivers are pushing, but never forcing 11/10ths, battling as hard in the 3rd hour as they would the last lap. The teams who run into trouble, it’s impossible to not feel empathy for them, even for a rival team to those whose shirt you’re sporting. Oh, the traffic, too. Traffic? I mean the faster car classes somehow maneuvering around the slower cars. That’s why the guys in LMP1 at Le Mans and the full-fat SP9 GT3 class at the ‘Ring are so freaking talented. Coming across cars with half the power and downforce in corners would be scary, right? Actually, it probably is, but the way guys like Alonso, or Buemi, or Vanthoor and Rast just negotiate around them like they’re not even present is bewildering to watch from inside the cockpit.
What pass? Kevin Estre on Dirk Mueller for the lead on the Döttinger Höhe Straight. At probably 170 MPH(?) Estre made his move for the lead and dropped 50% of his car into the grass. At over 170. LEGEND. And this was only 5 hours into a 24 hour race, reiterating the point of flat-out all-out for 24 hours. Absolutely fantastic racing.
I’ll miss the big BMW M8 from Le Mans next year. Unless the US-based Rahal IMSA BMW team comes to Le Mans next year, this was the end of BMW at Le Mans for the foreseeable future. Hopefully the Americans come out to play, as it’s a real shame for the WEC series to lose both the factory BMW and Ford teams in GTE. Luckily, IMSA still has a full-force GTE field still. The GT3 racing might be best though when it comes to variety at the ‘Ring and the Blancpain Endurance Series: Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, McLaren, Bentley, Nissan, Glickenhaus, am I missing someone? Astounding number of manufacturers, all going for it at the Green Hell.
I love endurance racing. I remember my first Le Mans in 2005, I tried to stay up the whole race, but kid metabolism defeated me. Each year I’ve done my best to watch as much as possible, missing maybe 30 minutes at most. If you’ve never watched either, I highly encourage you to give both races a watch next year. Make an event out of it, drink beers and barbecue with your mates while watching it. The unbridled enthusiasm in the teams and fans at each race is something else and absolutely bleeds through the tv screen. I hope to be among those same passionate fans one day trackside myself. I’m already ready for the next N24 and LM24. 11 months is too long…