Leaving the circuit after my first attempt at the Nürburgring 24, I felt like I could finally answer the question I’ve been getting over and over: How does Nürburgring compare to Le Mans?
Well gang, it’s an entirely different deal and way more challenging in several ways that I had not really anticipated.
Le Mans does have its own unique challenges as a circuit and as an event. The real challenge for most drivers is just creating the opportunity to participate.
Worldwide, Le Mans has a level of prestige, interest and importance second to none and it may take many years of trying just to get a crack at it….24 years of trying in my case.
Once committed to the event then the challenges center round adapting to the unique logistics, the high speed circuit and other Le Mans-specific technical aspects. My own particular favorite part of the Le Mans circuit is the Porsche Curves which require commitment, precision and a well set-up car to navigate quickly.
I will say there is nothing like the start, the finish, into the night and into the morning at Le Mans and I’m a super lucky guy to have done all those things.
There is a massive sense of accomplishment when one finishes at all and to finish well is even more satisfying.
On the other hand, the Nürburgring has become, on the European continent, an event of high prestige and even bigger crowds than the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The crowds are more distinctly European than Le Mans and there is no lack of commitment or understanding of the sport in this crowd of nearly half a million people.
Thankfully, the DMSB (the German governing body for the event) has raised the licensing requirements for this challenging and dangerous circuit so that myself and my highly experienced co-driver/partner in crime, Andy Pilgrim, had to complete a circuit specific school, one four-hour VLN race and a six hour qualifying race just to get a license for the big show.
These requirements have reduced the starting field to a paltry 170 cars or so. No kidding.
And I can tell you for sure that there is almost nothing that can prepare a driver for the mental, physical and emotional beating that the Nürburgring Nordschleife can hand out.
Turn 2 at Mosport? There’s like 6 of those but you get to leave the ground in 5th gear in a couple.
The Kink at Road America? There’s like 6 of those, only with less run off.
The Corkscrew at Laguna? About 3 of those, only bumpier and with crazy fans shooting bottle rockets at you during the night.
It’s like a cross between the last 30 minutes of Apocalypse Now and Road Warrior but in German. It’s SO AWESOME!
Mix 170 cars ranging from little Renault Clios to a bunch of factory GT3 cars with “haven’t had their first big hit” factory kids at the wheel whose mom just drove them to the track and what could go wrong?
It’s an amazing balance of controlled anarchy that works out fine for some and ends in tears for others.
Our race was unfortunately ended early by one of these multi-class traffic moments although thankfully my co-driver was safe and sound.
From a high level perspective, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Nürburgring 24 are, for me, pinnacle endurance races for a professional driver to conquer but have evolved into very different experiences.
The history and worldwide prestige of Le Mans are unmatched which is why it is so difficult to create an opportunity to participate and also why we see only the most well prepared and well funded teams offered an invitation.
I can say now, however, that the Nordschleife represents the peak personal challenge to a driver when you’re finally alone in the car.
There is just simply nothing like it when it comes to the intensity of concentration it requires and the severity of the penalty that awaits for a lapse. It is narrow, cold, brutal and cruel……and I can’t wait to go back next year for more abuse!