The 24Hr Nurburgring experience
Landing in Nurburgring is undoubtedly a mystical experience, especially for a racing enthusiast. Particularly Nordschleife is the holy grail in the world of racing, which fortunately is not lost, remains present for all of us.
My first visit had an extra ingredient that could make me lose my mind, live the mythical 24 hours but within a Racing Team. Talk about the schedule, it was something that bristled the hair: more than 160 cars in the 24 Hours, a race of the WTCR, the «24 Hrs Classic», and the Audi R8 Cup, all during the same weekend and totaling more than 350 race cars of all types and times.
With all that panorama in front, it was easy to have the idea of losing your mind, but it wasn’t like that. Arriving at the circuit has all that you imagine in your dreams, nervousness and magic around one of the most historic places in world motor racing. 5 days before the race, it was already full of fans and spectators that filled the beautiful places of the Nordschleife, something simply impossible in our latitudes; The first impression of seeing these fans was that they really took it very seriously and that it was a real and tangible part of their culture.
In the circuit and entering the sector that corresponds to the teams, a city of magnitudes begins to grow that I never imagined seeing. Dozens of trucks, equipment and suppliers flooded huge areas of land, counting them was a virtually impossible task. 4 days before the race, it was too late to want to fill a space, everyone was already installed and working at full speed.
One of the most interesting and important processes of the race was the scrutiny through which each car must pass. Complying with the rules, procedures and every requirement of the organization is something that is respected without any question. At the time of starting the scrutiny, I understood that the preparation required for this career requires months of intense work. There are many competitors in the largest racetrack in the world, without a doubt the preparation and seriousness with which this process is taken, is something that can hardly be seen anywhere else in the world.
With much attention I appreciated and learned from each of the details and processes present in the scrutiny, which basically only culminates a long way of paperwork, reading manuals, regulations and many instances through which a team leader has already passed, weeks ago. However, taking the car to scrutiny is a ceremony full of tension, mixed with the joy of being with dozens of other competitors in the same place. For many, the race could be finished even before stepping on the pits with the team, so the scrutiny must be done with the utmost care in the details, it is even worse than a police check.
With the first victory under the arm and the badge of the scrutiny approved in the hood of the car, I went a little to admire what it meant to be there, for the first time I was in the pit lane and I could observe the work of the professional teams that They did not spent a minute preparing every detail.
This time, I was part of a team that has a long tradition in this race, Kurt Ecke, driver, owner, boss and mechanic of the team, already had several 24 hours in the body, so defining it as “amateur” is not the right concept. QA Racing by Kurt Ecke was presented with a Porsche GT3 Cup 991 in SP7 class, defined by himself as a «small team» with the main objective to enjoy and finish the race. I went with a mission, work and learn everything I could. After the scrutiny, I soon visualized that I was not going to be able to work everything I wanted, such a mission was very far from my knowledge and preparation, so to not take a bitter drink of this incredible opportunity, I decided to see it with another crystal: do everything what I could and learn, just learn.
Although at first I felt some frustration, it soon became forgotten. There was a very complex subject from which I had to learn: Culture.
I went with a fixed idea of learning in technical subjects, but the most important chapter was not precisely the technical. The philosophy and way in which they organize everything was what struck me the most and probably what I took most advantage of. Many times I heard Kurt talk about the team, the people and the experience. Little did I hear about the car or the race itself. Kurt tried to show me the background of the race, the human factor and the experience of living in a team was what really mattered.
The race has no protagonists, from the inside, until the last person of the team has an important role, as much as that of a pilot or mechanic. The task of completing a 24-hour race is of such size that it is only possible with the hard work of a large team of people with a common goal: Enjoy and finish the competition in the best possible place. No one stands out and no work weighs less than the other.
It was very difficult for me, as a fan, to keep a focus on all this. A week with several important races, I had many ingredients in which I could divert my contemplation. All that, was part of my dreams since childhood.
Having a plan, keeping calm and optimizing the use of energy was vital to survive a career that physically and mentally defeats anyone. The enormous amount of resources that must be had to participate, forces you to be careful at every step, the mission is long-term and a mistake can make you finish the race even before starting it.
The start of the race seems to be the eye of a hurricane. It is lived with calm and a spectacle of gigantic proportions is contemplated. Thousands of people filled a grid of more than 160 cars accompanied by tens of thousands of people in the stands. Without a doubt it was a moment that squeezed my heart to the fullest.
The start was a moment that I can never describe in words, the emotion of the thousands of people present mixed with the spectacular sound of cars starting, has a flavor that can not be described.
Living the race is a very long and complicated road. It requires that you be always focused and attentive, every step has its procedure, every pitstop must be done well, quickly and efficiently, but never in a hurry. The experience is intense and fatigue does not knock on your door until late at night. Adrenaline is probably the anesthetic that doesn’t let you feel tired.
My first big impression during the race was the number of people in charge of the organization, no detail can get out of control. I felt that concern to take care of the event and ensure its continuity over time. There were no random details or situations that generated danger, everything worked as the organization anticipated.
It is very difficult to contemplate the work of other teams or start looking at the race as a spectator, you have to be attentive and present 100% of the time. When night falls, it’s like being in another place, the lights, people and all the activity, make life in the circuit much more tangible. More like a fan, watching the cars go by at night is surreal, I could say it’s even magical.
There were moments we lived in common. We were so many people pursuing a goal, that at times, without speaking the same language, we understood each other perfectly with everyone present. An example of this was when the only team composed exclusively of women, managed to finish an engine repair that took all night. The girls shouted in excitement with the first breath of the engine, followed by a cheer from all the teams present in the pits. Something similar happened when an Opel Manta, in his last race after many years participating, returned to the track after an accident that left it in very bad conditions, the applause and fervor was felt in my veins.
When fatigue, which necessarily strikes you after several days of intense work, begins to wreak havoc, it becomes an impossible task to sleep. Maybe I managed to go to sleep for periods of 10 minutes or a little more, but more was impossible. Waking up thinking about the place of the car was what never let you fall asleep. When the sun reappears in the circuit it is already easier to be lucid. Unfortunately, the Germans defined an hour shortly after sunrise, as «the moment of surprises» and where anything unexpected can happen.
So it was, an anomaly in the oil pressure data and then an accident that delayed us in the positions, opened the chapter of the nerves during the race. After passing those episodes, it remained to resist until the end.
The end is the most human moment of the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, it is where everyone drops their emotions without limits and where you most feel the people who were around you. The race was finished in a good position and as was the norm of the competition, with the car passing the finish line. Probably from everything I lived in the several days that made up the race, the arrival at the finish was far, the most intense. At that moment I realized that all the work had a trophy, and that is what we all pursue without realizing it, happiness.
Without a doubt there are many things that I am not writing about, many details and topics that I am neglecting, but that are impossible for a reading article. Maybe one day it become chapters of a book.
I hope these words serve to convey some of this experience, full of unexpected learning, full of feelings and, above all, with many new friends.
In tribute to all the people who were part of the Q&A Systems By Kurt Ecke Motorsports, 24h Rennen 2019.