Held annually since 1970, the 24 Hours Nürburgring is the most exciting and enjoyable endurance race held in Europe. The tightness of the Nordschleife, the weather and the revelry of the fans camping around the circuit all make Le Mans look like a church bake sale by comparison. It’s usually held in late May or early June to have the best chance for good weather in the mountainous woods of western Germany.
This year, however, has not been like most years. Like nearly every other facet of life, the N24 had to come to terms with a pandemic.
The uncertainty triggered by the first wave of the coronavirus in March postponed the race to late September. As a result, the 15.77-mile combined track consisting of the Nordschleife and the GP Circuit saw only 97 entrees racing in 21 classes—around half the usual number of cars on the starting grid.
For the fans, there was even more bad news. Just like at Le Mans a week prior, the race was supposed to be held with no spectators at all, and with very limited media presence as well. That meant that apart from a few people allowed on the GP grandstands, fans had to watch from a distance while BMW scored a well-deserved victory by having two of its M6 GT3s on the podium. The N24 is legendary for its camping parties, but this year, the forest was quieter than it’s been in almost 50 years.
It must also be noted that the actual racing lasted only 14.5 hours due to heavy raining that called for a red flag just before the night. The weather has cut the racing shorter at the N24 before, namely in 1992, 1994, 2007, 2013, 2016 and 2018, of which the hailstorm four years ago must be the most memorable.
I braved the pandemic—with as many safety measures as I could muster, of course—to see if the N24 could still put on a good show despite 2020’s general awfulness. (As a result, most of the photos you’re about to see are from 2019’s race. I wanted to show you what a “normal” N24 looks like, and what we missed out on this year, with everyone socially distant instead.)
While this year’s event went down without a hailstorm over the Eifel mountains, there are the five things I hope to see back at the 24 Hours Nürburgring in 2021, maybe held once again in late spring or early summer, and hopefully way past the COVID lockdowns.
Your The Drive live reporting
Ever since I first drove to this race from Budapest in 2014, only to cover it while sleeping on the office floor of racing ace Robb Holland’s nearby garage, I’ve been hooked on the atmosphere and action the Nürburgring offers by default. The history, the community, the greenness of the region littered with random prototypes from major OEMs, plus the sheer surreality of this nearly 16-mile circuit that’s open to everybody just got to me.
This year, I was supposed to get a “Volkswagen Polo or similar” rental car on the other side of Germany, make my way to the ‘Ring in a day or so, only to drive James Glickenhaus’ first road-going SCG 004S prototype just after the company founder did his parade laps.
Looking at the whole weekend, I could have reported on how the only American team with its brand new center seater 004C achieved the fastest top speed overall at 175 mph, finishing at 14th overall ahead of a whole fleet of GT3 cars, despite its ABS system being totally not ready for a wet track. There would have been a story on BMW’s victory as well, and that’s only scratching the surface.
Instead, four days before my flight was due, Germany issued new quarantine regulations, making it impossible for me to report from the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2020. I shall see you there next year, hopefully along with an SCG that began making road cars in Connecticut by then. That will help with the FIA and the team’s GT3 dreams.