Experiencing the Nurburgring 24 Hours: Motorsport’s biggest party
Thousands flock to the German forests to check out the endurance race spectacle.
The Nurburgring 24 Hours is seen as one of the most iconic events on the endurance race calendar. Located at the famous ‘Green Hell’ in Germany, it’s a race that is known for its tortuous effect on both driver and machine, with miles of undulating and uncompromising tarmac facing each team looking to take home the win.
But it’s also seen as a real attraction for spectators, with thousands of people descending upon the ‘ring to create their own slice of motoring nirvana within the forest surrounding the circuit.
It’s billed as one of the ‘must see’ events for car fans, which is why I – having never been before – thought that it was something I should definitely check out.
The drive down to the Nurburgring is pretty straightforward, in truth. I’m lucky enough to be piloting Audi’s latest RS 6 for the journey south, with its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 seeming the perfect fit for a weekend full of petrol and noise.
Boarding the Eurostar at Folkestone feels like a rite of passage for trips like this. The ‘long’ carriage is the best option for the RS 6 too – I’ve been down the standard size train in cars this size before and ended up in a sweaty mess of worry trying to avoid kerbing every inch of wheel. Instead, the larger train allows you plenty of space to get on without any stress – it’s well worth getting the ticket if you’re driving something a little larger.
Funnily enough, I join the train just behind a colleague who is also heading to the Nurburgring. It’s got that real sense of pre-match excitement; like the 10 minutes before kick-off or the period prior to the plane taking off. We chat about the route we’re taking down south and, before you know it, it’s time to get cracking.
The breeze down to the Nurburgring isn’t all that exciting; we go across a small section of France, travelling close to Lille and slingshotting past Roubaix and into Belgium. From there, it’s an easy wobble across to Liege before heading south-west and into Germany. There’s a small blip of derestricted autobahn – where the RS6, unsurprisingly, feels very at home – before we’re nearing the Nurburgring area.
Everywhere around the Nurburgring feels like it has gone into full-on festival mode the moment you arrive. There are cars of all shapes and sizes, while motorbikes are numerous too. Flags flutter in the breeze and everywhere there’s a huge sense of excitement that can be felt.
And there’s a good reason for that excitement when the race gets going. We’re fortunate enough to see the race start from above the start-finish line, with 138 cars heading on to the 15.8-mile circuit. It’s hard to imagine the kind of mindset that the drivers are in knowing that there is a full 24 hours of racing ahead.
From there, the party really gets going. Again, that festival atmosphere is palpable everywhere you go, with the smell of cooking food and dance music combining all around the circuit. We wander around the behind-pit area, checking out the vendors who sell pretty much anything car-related you could think of. Fancy picking up a new set of race boots during your time there? That’s more than covered.
As the race gets going proper you can feel the pressure building. But it’s when the light fades away and darkness takes hold of the ‘ring that the excitement really builds and the forest comes to life.
Honestly, we’ve never seen anything like it. Many keen fans of the N24 pitch up the week before the race starts to get building and the fruits of their labours are nothing short of astonishing. We start hiking up towards the famous Karussell – a fearsome area of banking – and walk past three-storey construction with working bars, sound systems and strobe lights. There are fires blazing everywhere (inside metal bins with the Nurburgring circuit outline cut into them) while at one point we even need to cross the path of a huge rope swing jauntily drifting across the walkway.
There are caravans, tents, parked cars and scooters everywhere. The most striking aspect of it all is that everything is taking place just metres away from where drivers are going head-to-head in the pitch black. The background of techno music and heavy metal is underlined by the reverberation of engines.
We finish our first day at the Karussell. There, stood atop a huge scaffolding structure, you can see the race cars as they come thundering up to the bend. There are sparks as the undertrays catch tarmac and lights as the disc brakes glow hot under immense pressure. The sound difference between the cars is a huge contrast, too, with our highlights being the soaring V10s in the Audis and Lamborghinis. The V8-powered Mercedes-AMG GT3s don’t sound half bad, either, while the Porsche RSR models scream through the blackness.
For us, that few hours at the Karussell is the highlight of the race and one which captures the whole spirit of the N24. It’s utterly surreal; you’re there, surrounded by partying and music, yet while watching some of the very best endurance racing around all while being in the heart of the German forest. It’s superb.
The next morning and the cars continue to pound around, albeit while looking battered and bruised. Some have fallen by the wayside during the night, but a good number soldier on. When the chequered flag fell, it was Audi’s turn once again to hoist the gold trophy with the firm’s sixth win in ten years coming in this 2022 race.
But though the N24 is an event centred around racing it feels so much more than that. It’s an all-encompassing spectacle, combining high-octane thrills with the kind of atmosphere that many a music festival would love to capture. As we meandered back through Belgium and France, all we could think about was how long it would be until the next one.