2017 BMW M-Festival / 24H Nurburgring: Going to Hölle and staying for the Weekend

Speak of a 24H endurance race and chances are, most people will think about the very glamorous and recently concluded race held in La Sarthe. But what if we told you that just a few weeks before the start of Le Mans 24H, another endurance race that’s just as, if not more daunting than Le Mans was served up for all motorsports fans and thanks to BMW, we were there to experience it. Destination, Nürburgring Germany.

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Race Day Morning:
Having already done the walks and press tours, we headed back to the ‘Ring bright and early on race day to have a look at the BMW M Corso. The main event of the day might be the 24H race but there were a ton of other activities lined up throughout the day by various manufacturers and teams.

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If you would like to read up more on our M Corso coverage, click here.

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With the M Corso cars returning to the holding area, there was only an hour to go before the official start of the race, so i bugged everyone to finish up their lunches and we made a quick drive back to the Nürburgring Info Center.

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Race Day Afternoon:
With the rest of the team making their way to the BMW M Hospitality Suite, i shuffled over to the main grandstand for the start of the 24H spectacle.

Being a public viewing area, the atmosphere was absolutely electric and everyone was on their feet as the cars came through in formation for their rolling start.

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“When the flag drops, the bullshit stops!” And with the Scuderia Glickenhaus SCG003 blowing past at full chat, the race was underway. 24 hours to go.

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With its cute graphics, this Haribo Racing SLS AMG GT3 was a crowd favourite.

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BMW Team Schnitzer cars were charging hard and strong early in the race. They sounded amazing too.

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With the fanfare of the race start over, the crowds in the main grandstand began moving off. With an entire day’s worth of racing to go, i’m guessing everyone’s heading out for their own fringe adventure.

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With time to spare, i headed towards the Visitor Center. Having passed through this area a few times earlier, i never really had the time to look around due to our packed schedules. Time to pick up some souvenirs.

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For the uninitiated, the Nürburgring visitor center (and the small shops that line its surroundings) is where you go if you are looking to pick up some official Nordschleife swag.

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While prices of most Team paraphernalia were on the (at times severely) steep side, official Nürburgring merchandise were rather surprisingly, quite reasonably priced.

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I did contemplate picking up some Team products but being on a tight budget, i held off. My wallet and credit card thanked me later.

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Race Day Late Afternoon:
After joining up with the rest of the team at the BMW M Hospitality Suite, we were quickly whisked away to a flat piece of grassland for a truly unforgettable experience.

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Yes, for a very brief amount of time, BMW M gave us wings.

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Well, rotors to be exact.

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As we soared above the Nordschleife, our pilot banked, pitched and rolled us through the curves, it was amazing. He must really love his work. With us high up in the sky, we were treated to a view like no other.

I think riding in a helicopter can qualify as yet another bucket list item i can check off. Thank you BMW M.

As the day wore on and the evening began to creep in, i bade my colleagues farewell as they left the confines of the track, heading back to the comforts of our hotel. I pressed on, it was a 24 hour race and i was determined to give myself the full 24 hour experience.

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Race Day Evening:
With the race underway for a few hours already, i paid the paddocks another visit. The weather was fine and track conditions were perfect, so there wasn’t much drama occurring on the track or in the pits (yet).

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I visited some of the Team Pits, trying my best not to get in the way once cars came in for their routine stops. Unlike most races where individual teams get their own pits, the sheer number of participants in this race meant that multiple teams had to share a single garage and pitstops had to be timed properly to avoid confusion amid the tight working spaces.

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Even managed to catch a SCG003 coming in for a refuelling stop. Even with a press pass on hand, getting THIS close to an actual race car is simply unheard of in F1.

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Some cars came in longer than usual and looked the worse for wear. The night had not yet started and they were sadly already sustaining small damages. Such is the nature of endurance racing.

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M235i makes for an excellent grassroots racer. BMW needs to make a road-going stripped out homologation special.

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Race Day Dusk:
As i walked around the paddock area overlooking the track, the slightly serious atmosphere in the morning had started to dissolve with the mood becoming much more casual as the day turned into night.

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The night sky beckoned.

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What a beautiful sight indeed.

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Race Day Early Night:
With the Mercedes-Benz AMG suite a stones throw away, i just had to take a look.

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As i walked in, this beautiful W108 pulled in and this gentleman stepped out. This ladies and gentleman, is Clemens Schickentanz. One of the drivers of the AMG fettled Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8.

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In particular, this fettled Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8. Nicknamed “Rote Sau”, the “Red Pig”.

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Signed, sealed, delivered.

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The glowing brake discs from the cars battling out on the track were now starting to show up as the sun went down.

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For those feeling hungry, there were plenty of food stands serving up lots of bratwursts and schnitzels! You can order a half-meter long bratwurst if you felt like it. Very tempting.

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Walking around the surrounding roads brought me back to the BMW M Test Center, it looks rather different at night doesn’t it? Interestingly, the public roads were still rather packed with cars heading towards the track! It was mad.

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Race Day Midnight:
Following a crowd of people, i walked into one of the campsites overlooking the Nordkehre corner.

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I cannot imagine how the drivers cope with racing in the darkness. As the night wore on, i decided to revisit the BMW M Hospitality suite once again to rest and rehydrate myself.

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It was now past midnight and my initial enthusiasm for staying on has dampened a little, no doubt in part due to the M Hospitality suite having no food left. I decided to head out to one last location on my BMW Hospitality map, the Fan Zone.

Located much further north of the track, the M Fan Zone overlooks Metzgesfeld and was sited in one of the many campsites that dot the Nordscheilfe. Luckily for me, turns out there was a BBQ at the fan zone! Bratwursts and Schweinekoteletts awaits!

The atmosphere at the Fan Zone was also a lot more casual and friendly with pretty much everyone mingling about and lots of beer given out. I’m guessing there’s also a small nod of acknowledgment between everyone here, for those crazy enough to stay throughout the night.

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I slumped into one of the empty deck chairs and had a quick nap as the sound of GT cars buzzing by settled into a rhythmic drone. It was now 3am and as i doze off, i contemplate returning to my comfortable bed in the hotel.

Deciding what needed to be done, I jumped into a shuttle towards the Info Center.

Yes, i cheated and slept inside my car for 2 hours. Discovering that the new 5 Series’ rear seats made for a really nice bed.

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Race Day Dawn:
Waking up at 5am and realising the Sun was on its way up, i fired up the 530i and drove towards a bridge we crossed the previous day after the M Corso event. A bridge i remember overlooked the track hopefully, would make a perfect place to shoot the Sunrise. I guess Lady luck was shining on me.

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I thought the previous day’s Sunset scene couldn’t be topped, i was wrong. I’m so glad i stayed. This view was pure magic.

As i got back into the car, there was just one more stop to make. My initial plan was to visit the famous Karusell but a quick look at my Google maps showed up no real way of getting there without a trek through the woods. So it was off to Brünchen instead.

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Parking up in one of the campsites in the morning, you can see plenty of evidence of the previous night’s parties. Bottles and kegs of beer lying around, BBQs fizzling away and plenty of friendly locals who have just woken up walking around in a daze. Must have been one hell of a night.

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Once again i was simply amazed at just how close spectators can get to the cars. This is front row VIP viewing right here.

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The night racing had clearly been somewhat uneventful with many of the cars still battling hard into the morning. Little will anyone know what’s about to happen towards the end of the race.

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With such an amazing vantage point, i hung around a bit to soak it all in. My night stint as a spectator was over and i was tired, but these drivers, they must be truly exhausted.

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For a petrolhead, i cannot think of a lovelier way to start a day.

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Race Day +1:
I headed to the Paddocks once again to visit the pits, wondering if the night’s racing had taken its toll on any of the cars.

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For the really hardcore 24H Nürburgring souvenir hunters, you could grab these used race tyres off the Hankook tent. Now THAT would make for a conversational piece. Unfortunately, i doubt any airline would take very kindly to me if i tried to check in such an item. Much sadness ensued.

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I checked in once again with the Subaru STI NBR team and things seemed to be going smoothly. Unfortunately, disaster struck soon after as their car, with just 3 hours to go, caught fire and was forced out of the race. Ending this team’s dreams of a three-peat. Hopefully they will return next year.

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Subaru Garage-mates, Team 9und11 racing also had major trouble with their car coming in hot and spewing out coolant with a damaged front end. Necessitating urgent repairs.

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I noticed how members from rival teams pitched in even in the smallest ways to help out. I’m guessing at this point, everyone just wanted each other to complete the gruelling event. Such is the camaraderie of racing.

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Having a sense of humour helps too i guess.

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With the front end replaced, a brand new steering rack was quickly brought out. Turns out the damage was more severe than a blown radiator. With the engine fired up and tested throughout its rev range shortly after, this Porsche GT3 Cup was able to finish the race kicking and screaming.

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As i headed back towards the BMW M Hospitality suite to rest and regroup with the rest of my (well rested) colleagues for the most unexpected end to this glorious race, i could only think of one word to describe my last 24 hours.

My body was tired, my mind was exhausted and my camera batteries were spent, but all i felt, was pure “joy”.

Thank you BMW.

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