The Nürburgring is an iconic location for motorsport fans across the world and the 24 hour race is the highlight of the year. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on this rural German town for a weekend of nonstop racing.
The 24 hour route combines the Grand Prix circuit and the Nordschleife (North Loop) to create a 25.3 km (15.7 miles) track that the teams lap in just over eight minutes. A track this long creates its own specific challenges and unique requirements that make it a formidable beast to overcome. Hence, its nickname the “Green Hell”. So, the Falken team invited us along to get a look behind the scenes at the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
The weekend kicked off with an epic drifting show on the Grand Prix circuit, showcasing a taste of just how capable Falken’s tires have to be for all aspects of motorsports. Tire smoke was thick in the air but this was just a small taste of the excitement the rest of the weekend had in store.
Currently in its 40th year, Falken is owned by the fifth largest tire manufacturer in the world, Sumitomo Rubber Industries. This year was also Falken’s 24th year at the Nürburgring and this time it entered two, new-for-2023, Porsche 911 (992) GT3 Rs. Car #33 was manned by Klaus Bachler, Sven Müller, and Alessio Picariello, whilst #44 had drivers Tim Heinemann, Joel Eriksson, Nico Menzel, and Martin Ragginger.
It’s hard to fully understand the scale of the Nürburgring and its cult following until you take a trip around the track itself. Granted, we were in a bus so it wasn’t exactly an adrenaline filled lap but seeing it from a driver’s point of view gives you an idea of the enormity of not only this track but the 24 hours that are about to ensue.
Over 200,000 people attend the Nürburgring every year for this epic endurance event. From the track you can see people lining the barriers, eager to get a look at this momentous race. People flock to the track side with tents, caravans, camper vans, Unimogs and scaffold structures with sofas perched atop, you name it, it’s there. They’re hidden in the forest and crowded close to the track for as far as the eye can see.
But the one thing that can’t be captured from the side of the track or even on camera is the steep gradient changes throughout the circuit. It’s easy to forget the track cuts through an exceptionally hilly landscape but this has a big impact on how drivers have to anticipate upcoming sections of the course.
At the start line before the race began, the track was flooded with fans eager for the race to get underway. A staggering 131 cars started the race on Saturday afternoon at 4pm and 88 made it to the end on Sunday. It’s a grueling track that can be very unforgiving at times but it keeps the teams coming back again every year with hopes to finally conquer the Green Hell.
As well as being a title sponsor for the race, eight cars from other teams also went out in Falken tires. As with any motorsport race, vehicle maintenance throughout is paramount but especially so in a 24 hour event. Pit stops are crucial to keep the car running in its optimum state but minimum pit times are enforced so these stops happen at a very different pace. Instead of rushing to change all the tires at breakneck speed, it happens at a leisurely pace compared to F1 but look closely and there’s a lot more going on.
That doesn’t mean it’s not frantic in the pits though. Generally, around every eight laps the drivers swap over, the vehicle is refueled, the windscreen wiped clean and any damage is repaired as quickly as possible. As a tire company, Falken also analyzes each tire that comes off the cars for wear, temperature and pressure. This data gathering goes towards optimizing the best performance tires for the track. To the naked eye they just look like hunks of rubber but there’s far more to it than that.
Arguably, the track looked more chaotic at times than the pit lane. With over 100 cars racing in 21 classes, there were plenty of traffic jams on the 15 mile circuit. Whether it was safety stretches to clear the track after a crash or faster cars catching up with slower competitors, there was never a dull moment. Unfortunately, the fan favorite Dacia Logan crashed out of the race overnight but it made a valiant effort until its demise.
Unusually for this race, aside from some fog as dawn broke, conditions were completely dry and clear the whole time. There were a couple of new cars on the track this year so the good weather helped the teams to assess the performance of the cars in the best possible conditions. There were seven new Porsche 911 (992) GT3 Rs including Falken’s two, and three new Ferrari 296 GT3 cars.
The dry conditions also afforded the drivers some more leeway for risky overtaking maneuvers, with some taking to the grass to pass traffic. The success of the race rests on implicit trust in the cars and other drivers on the track so vehicles can overtake safely but it doesn’t always go smoothly.
Overnight Falken #33 made contact with another car and hit the barriers on both sides of the track. Thankfully, Sven Müller was able to keep the car facing the right way and limped back to the pits, but the damage was too great to continue. In the morning, #44 emerged from the mist in 8th place and achieved the team’s goal for a top 10 finish, coming in 10th place overall. Frikadelli maintained its first place lead and finished the day as the winner, setting a new Nürburgring 24 Hours distance record of 162 laps with its Ferrari 296 GT3.
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