The 2007 Nürburgring 24 Hour Endurance Race

In late April 2007 I was offered a drive in the 2007 Nürburgring 24 Hour Endurance Race. I've always wanted to just drive a quiet lap around there in something like a fast rental car, but this offer vastly exceeded even my wildest dreams so naturally I said yes!
The team manager/owner is Colin Osborne and he's a very sucessful racer in Australia, being Aussie Production Car Champion several times. The #2 driver was Western Australian Paul Stubber and he too is a very successful racer. I'm just a very lucky guy in the right place at the right time ...
Colin and his team have been there twice before, Paul and I have never been there at all. Since there's over 110 corners in the 25.3km circuit I decided to do some practice on the computer with a racing simulation called rFactor as it's pretty accurate and there's a very good version of
Nürburgring to use with it. I ended up doing over 150 laps and it really helped to learn the track. But as people said, no sim or video can prepare you for how 'vertical' the track really is.
I saved a copy of one of my sim-laps on Youtube, and it's to be found here. I also managed to get some very good controls for the computer from the Aussie company Advantage 1, and they too helped a great deal. Here's what they look like.

(most photos here were taken by a friend of mine, Michael, who is an excellent photographer. Lots more of his photos can be found here, and he also ran a blog of the event. I also took some with my Canon 350D, and a few of the poor-quality ones are with my mobile phone-camera. I also tried to get a video of a lap, but even though I made sure to charge the batteries in the video camera before I left home, they were flat when I turned on the camera in the car, so no video sorry)

The Leadup

The Nürburgring track was built in the 1920's, to create a permanent track for the local area. No-one back then realised that it would, close enough to a century later, that it would be perhaps the foremost race track in the world. It used to be just a ~20 kilometre track that all the cars ran on, but it became too dangerous in the 1970's for fast cars, such as Formula One, so it was closed for such events and in the late 1980's a new & modern 5 kilometre track was built and most races were run there. The 24 Hour Endurance race is run on both tracks and is 25.3 kilometres long. The old part of the track is technically called Nordschleife (North Ring) now, to differentiate it from the F1 track, though many people still call it Nürburgring and the new track the GP circuit. It's large enough so that four small towns are located inside the track boundaries.
(Wikipedia link)
Because I was going to be a driver of a professional race team, I had to wear the team race suit.  I'm fairly large so I couldn't just get an off-the-shelf fitment, and so I sent my current custom-tailored suit down to Sydney where the new one was made to the same size.
I arrived at the track on the morning of Tuesday the 5th, to do the required driver training day. All that day was spent with the instructor talking about the track, and how dangerous the corners were! We then - two groups of about thirty each - all piled into two buses and drove slowly around the 25 kilometre track, stopping every now and then to have a good look at some areas that either needed a lot of caution or could be taken a lot faster than you'd first think.
We stopped a lot in the 1 ¾ hours it took to do one lap ...
Apparently, according to our Dutch instructor, pretty much every corner was seemingly, "scary in the wet". On the left is about a kilometre into the Nordschleife section, near Veedol-Schikane and on the right is the famous Karussell curve. Most of the track is covered in graffiti from the enthusiastic spectators, and it really adds to the character of the track. (note the Aussie flag painted on the guardrail)
On the left is about 17 kilometres into the Nordschleife, and perhaps ironically this is where a few days later I stopped in the race car with the front wheel about to fall off.
It's only two corners away from the very long Döttinger Straight.
The next day had us driving around the track in our own cars, which in my case was a frightfully slow Ford Fiesta rental car. Technically since the track is a public road so the rental car was okay to run around in, but I guess I might not have read the rental agreement all that well.
On the left is the day before when driving to the track - the car goes okay down the hills on the highways, but was really slow uphill, to the detriment of all the other racers in their faster rental cars behind me. On the right is the little Fiesta being thrashed up the short straight that sits between the Nürburgring and Nordschleife tracks.
Later on Wednesday, there was a big carnival in Adenau, where our team was staying, and so Colin put on some NSW number plates and just drove the race car into town, to park it outside our hotel. These are only phone camera photos sorry.
Here's a better photo of the car outside the hotel. Part of Adenau sits inside the track, with the track passing over it by means of a bridge. I could hear the cars running around the track through the hotel window as it wasn't that far away.
Another phone camera photo on the left, of an Audi R8. I thought they were only a prototype car, but they must be in production as a few days later there were two sitting at the track, both registered.
On the right is a Porsche 997, and it looked gorgeous ..... !
There were a couple of other races as well as the big 24 hour one, and these Lamborghini's were part of that. And yes, they sounded wonderful.
On the right is some sort of small car, converted to hold a very powerful sound system that filled the whole back of the little car. The doors opened out and they were lined with speakers as well.
Dodge had a display and were showing their latest V-10 Vipers. There were also a couple of Vipers in the 24 hour race as well, and they were rather fast indeed.
BMW had a much more inpressive display in a couple of ladies dressed in nothing more than a g-string bikini bottom and some body paint. Oh yeah, they got a lot of attention .... !
There were some novel ways of getting around the pits and track, as you can see with the odd-looking bike on the left.
This Lamborghini made it all the way to the finish of the long race, but lost its engine cover at some point - This photo was taken after the race.
This was our pit bay, which we shared with five other cars. Tony Quinn of VIP Pet Foods fame in Australia had two of the other cars, both very fast Porsches. He'd bought the one in the photo on the right shortly before the race and hadn't had enough time to get it all setup the way it needed to be, and so his team worked flat-out on the car right from when it arrived up to just before the race. They changed item after item, and also had to buy (at great expense) some components at the track. But in the end it was worth it as the car was very fast indeed.
The Thursday before the race was pretty much a day off for us, and so Michael & I went for a good wander around the track.
On the left is the drop down from Wehrselfen, just on the edge of Adenau town. We'd come belting down the hill in 5th  gear, then brake and drop back into 4th for the turn that you see at the bottom of that photo.
On the right is the climb up to Karussell, and you can see the camp a small group of Aussies had made there. Our Corolla would start the climb up that hill in 3rd gear, then into 4th, then back to 3rd for the run through Karussell.
Here's a good photo of how much the cars drop when they go through the Karussell corner - It's quite an angle!
On the right was taken from up near Karusell, looking back down the hill. As you can see, some of the spectators make themselves as comfortable as posible.
I'm not quite sure why, but one of the spectators brought a complete engine with him and mounted it on a stand near the fence. It was set up to be as loud as possible and spit long flames. All part of the local colour!
One of the cars on the Thursday race was a 1960's-odd Mercedes, and it belted around lap after lap ..... not all that fast but at least the guy was really enjoying himself.
The cars in that race were many & varied to say the least - From very tired old Ford Escorts to very fast Porsche's, and including this well-presented Morgan.
I took these two photos from the highest part of the track - Hohe Acht - which is a full 1,000' or 305 metres higher than the lowest part. The poor chap in the BMW on the right spun just after cresting the hill and did a little damage to his car in the spin and recovering back onto the track.
Back to our pit bay on the Friday, for qualifying. This was how crowded it all was there, and we were lucky as some pits had eight car squeezed into them. In the bay next to us was the famous German touring car driver, Klaus Neidzwitz, who was driving a Honda NSX.
Speaking of squeezing into things, on the right is the cockpit of our Corolla. I was really worried I wouldn't be able to get in but as it turned out once I was in there was plenty of room. But getting in & out took a lot more bending than I would have liked. Because the track is so large, a simple radio system can't cover it all and so we had a mobile phone in the car to make calls to/from the pits with. At least that was the plan - The electrics in the car played up and we couldn't use the phone with the helmets on, only holding it up to your ear like a normal phone. So for about 95% of each lap we weren't able to contact the pits.
We wheeled our car out with over 220 others for Friday qualifying, and each of us did three laps for qualifying. My first lap was terrible, as I'd never driven the car before and it was quite different to what I was used to, but the second lap was much smoother and they got better after that. Colin set the standard for lap times, as he'd been to the track a couple of times before. Paul was less comfortable but learned the track very quickly indeed.
Our little team, from left to right - Colin, Paul, me, Neil, Andre, Keith, and Dave.

The Race

The afternoon of the 9th of June, coming up to 2pm. The race was due to start at 3pm and the cars were lead out over an hour before as there was more than 220 cars to grid up. They formed us into three groups to do the running start as one single massed group would be too hard to control. As you can see, the cars stretched from one end of the front staight to the other, further than you can see in one go.
You might also notice the dark skies on the horizon ....
.... which is why is started to rain very hard just before 3pm. The rain was dso hard it started to drag large streams of mud & dirt onto the track in some places so the start was delayed about 90 minutes.
But then it was all go, and off we went to plug our way through as many laps as we could safely do in 24 hours.
Some of the drivers didn't wear balaclavas but I always do in case we have an accident and there's a fire. You can also see the lead coming out of the side of my helmet for the radio in the car - A pity that even when within the very short range it had I couldn't really understand what the guys were saying. I had to get them to try to talk to me at the end of the front straight as the car was down to a low speed for the tight two corners there and much quieter. But that didn't work all the time as the reception was intermittent as well.
I was worried that in the German summer the racing gear would be very hot but it ended up being not too bad. The only hassle I had in the 2:20 hour stints I did was that my balaclava was folded-over (I spotted this in that photo on the left) and rubbing on my forehead, very annoying.
The German summer days are long and nights are short, but from about 10:30pm to 4:30am it was dark enough to call night. Michael did a long time-delay exposure on his camera and got that great photo on the left, of the F1 circuit behind the pits. On the right is our first night stop, when I got out of the car and handed it to Paul. You can just see the refueling hose stretched over to reach the back of the car. It was pretty much just like a regular petrol station pump, and just as slow.
Then the fortunes of all the racers then had a bit of a change - Just after midnight the fog started to roll in big-time, and just after I got the car off Colin I did one lap and the race was red-flagged. All the cars were stopped on the front straight and for a while no-one was allowed near them. But then after about an hour the race officials let the teams recover their cars to the pits, and all the cars got a quick rebuild over the next few hours. This was the wrong thing to do, many have said, and I agree. The race was started again just before daylight, and I was driving. All was going quite well, up until my 2nd-last lap ....
(the VIP Pet Foods Porsche ran into a car and got a damaged front, but the team managed to replace it quickly and it kept going)

.... around Pflanzgarten the front-left off the car picked up a nasty vibration. For a few seconds I thought the tyre had just collected some rubber off the track and it'd be thrown off shortly but this wasn't the case. The vibration got worse and worse, and I was reduced to a crawl to make sure the car got back to the pits - I then thought the tyre was coming apart and I've seen what damage a shredded tyre can cause to a car if you press on so I reckoned that a slower but safer trip back to the pits would be smarter.
Well that was the plan, until just before the 19km mark (Schwalbenswanz) there was a loud CLUNK from the front of the car and that corner dropped a bit, so I pulled over and hopped out to use the phone to see what the team wanted me to do.
Colin thought that if the car was still on its wheels I should try to keep driving it, even if it caused more damage, so I headed back to the car to try to drive it the remaining ~6km back. A tow-truck had arrived and hooked-up but I told him to unhook and I'd be driving. I saw the guy bend down and I thought he was unhooking, but after I got back in the truck moved off and I found out that the car was going to be dragged along anyway. We got as far as the start of Döttinger Straight and we turned into a gap into the fence, and the front-left wheel literally fell off. To cut a long story short, I managed to find a jack and used a couple of wheel nuts from the other wheels to bolt it back on .... just as I was doing this the crew arrived in a car and finished the job for me, and I got back in and made it back to the pits okay.
On the right is the crew swapping the hub on that corner, as two of the wheel studs had broken, leading to that wheel coming adrift.  On the left is a TV-capture of me on the phone at the 19km mark.
The plastic bumper-bar of the car was damaged when the wheel fell off, so it got taped back on in the usual racing fashion - with lots of race-tape!
One of the other problems was that the new hub fitted didn't have provision for the ABS sensor, so we lost that and in doing so lost some braking ability. Colin got caught out a little on a section of track that was damp on one lap, but not the previous and so ended up a little hot into one corner (Bergwerk) and touched the fence, dinging the left-rear corner. It too ended up getting taped to hold it together. We were very lucky we got away with just a tap like that.
The organisers didn't stop the 24 hour clock when the race was stopped for fog, so the race time was up just before 5pm local, to make it effectively an ~18 hour race. For the last lap or so everyone that could find a spot on the pit-wall fence climbed up and cheered the cars as they went past. It was a precession of the walking-wounded, but more than half the cars finished.
We got as high as 10th in class and 94th outright before the wheel problem so it was looking very good for us. But even after that major drama we finished 15th in class and 109th outright and doing a total of 81 laps.

The Aftermath

I mentioned the 'walking wounded', and here's some of them. After the finish, the cars were all gathered on the short straight between the two tracks, and Michael managed to get a few photos of the cars that both finished the race, and on the walk to that place some of the ones that didn't. As far as I know no-one was injured in any crash, but there were some pretty nasty ones. As I was driving with the loose wheel I passed a dayglo-orange Suzuki Swift (pictured below) that I'd be racing together with for a few laps .... but it was on the end of a tow-truck and barely recognisable as a Swift it was so badly damaged.
Race-tape was the saviour of many cars, as you can see here. Even some of the very bent cars managed to make it to the finish when they really shouldn't have been able to drive, let alone race.
The next day, Monday, the team went to the museum on the track as they have a lot of great memorabilia on show. I bought a little plastic racing wheel at the gift shop and held it over the point on a map at which my own front-left wheel parted company with the car.
They had a lot of odd cars, including a pretty radical kart that has eight wheels and four engines.
Every driver got a small medallion as a momento of competing.
On that Monday we got to drive the rental car on one slow lap around the track, and I enjoyed doing that very much indeed.
On the right is just as we were about to leave the track for the last time, and Michael took that poignant photo of the tyres waiting to be picked up.

Various Photos
Here's a bunch of random photos of the event, hope they're of interest

Thanks to our sponsors -
Toyoya and TRD
Premier Panel Beating, Sydney
Scotch-line, Penrith
Revolution Racegear
LCM Heathcare
Midwest Multimedia
(and of course Neil, Dave, Andre, Keith, and Michael the guys that made it all happen on the day)

A small update.
One other exciting thing that happened in late 2008 was the issue of the 2009 TRD Motorsport calender. There's only about 3000 issued world-wide so they're not all that common. The good news was that one of Michael's photos was selected to appear in the Aussie page of the calender, and it was this one ...
This is how the page in the calender looks -

I've also found a reasonable document that shows what lines to take around the 'Ring, it can be downloaded here.

Links -
The official ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hour site
Nürburgring For Dummies
Nürburgring Track Home
Public track entrance webcam
Osborne Motorsport Home Page

I've now driven in the greatest touring car race in the world, and fullfilled one of my life-long dreams.

I highly recommend that you too follow your dreams, it's worth it.