Tears. Tragedies. Triumphs. No race in the world is more difficult, none is more hotly contested and none boasts such high octane participants as the legendary 24-hour race at the Nürburgring. This year the motorsport classic event held in the Eifel region of Germany celebrates its 50th anniversary.
And these fans provide the appropriate backdrop. After a two-year break because of the Corona pandemic, they are finally allowed back on the campsites situated all around the notorious Nordschleife, the circuit known as the Northern Loop. A total of 230,000 fans came to celebrate a huge party. Once again it is totally obvious: hardly any other race lives from its fans as much as the 24-hour race in the "Green Hell". And they certainly look forward to what is, as always, a top-class field of starters. What is especially eagerly awaited: the battle in the "SP 9” top class, the category with the most participants racing 33 fantastically spectacular FIA GT3 cars. One of these 33: everyone’s favourite. The Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo18 from racing one in the striking blue and white Hella Pagid livery.
The team, like many other leading international racing teams and numerous vehicle manufacturers, trusts the motorsport know-how and the performance and development competence of its sister brand Pagid Racing. It is the much talked about and praised transfer of know-how from motorsport to the road that is of central importance to Hella Pagid. This is confirmed by Timo Krämer, Senior Marketing Manager at Hella Pagid GmbH: "Along with the original equipment and the OE know-how transfer of the Pagid brand, this starting point is one of our key pillars."
This comes as no surprise because, after all, Pagid and Pagid Racing brake pads are manufactured in the same factories and also developed in the same research and development centres in the German cities of Essen and Leverkusen. "The transfer of such know-how in terms of friction coefficient, heat resistance, comfort and the durability of a brake pad is a major benefit here," explains Timo Krämer. "Harnessing these synergies helps us to stay one step ahead of the competition in the independent aftermarket (IAM)."
Saturday afternoon, shortly before the start of the race: flag-waving fans, Bengal fires and smoke bombs and grenades in a wide variety of colours create an atmosphere that is second to none, even during the warm-up lap. Then at 4 pm, 506 pilots in 129 cars begin the twice-around-the-clock race. The declared goal of the team behind racing one Managing Director Martin Kohlhaas is this: to finish as far ahead as possible with the Ferrari 488 GT3 in the Pro-Am classification of the SP 9 class (GT3).
After a spectacular start, countless favourites stumble early on in the SP 9 class of the FIA GT3 racing cars. And before midnight, more vehicles have come to the end of the road after landing in the crash barriers. The number of favourites dropping out steadily increases. But everything is going according to plan for the Hella Pagid – racing one Ferrari.
No wonder: the driver team of Christian Kohlhaas, Nick Foster, Jules Szymkowiak and Jeroen Bleekemolen, sent into battle in the Ferrari to win the crown of the Nordschleife, is the strongest one they have had so far: Nick Foster is a professional racing driver (Pro), multiple Porsche Carrera Cup Australia winner and F1 reserve and test driver for Aston Martin. And Jeroen Bleekemolen (Pro) in his career has won almost everything (including the 24 hours of Le Mans, the 24 hours at Nürburgring, the 12 hours of Sebring and of Bathurst). Jules Szymkowiak is a young professional driver who has already driven in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring five times. And with Christian Kohlhaas, a seasoned amateur driver with several decades of racing experience on the Nordschleife, the powerful squad is complete.
After a strenuous night, early in the morning things are a little quieter. But there is no chance of relaxation. As racing one driver Christian Kohlhaas explains: "The track is very good, but you can see that some drivers are tired now. Our strategy remains constant: fill up and go full throttle."
And indeed: after 16 hours, the racing one Ferrari with start number 14 is in a promising position in 14th place overall! The race strategy of passing the competition with the help of an early pit stop – a so-called "undercut" – is working: in the Pro-Am ranking, the team has fought its way up to fourth place. The podium in the Pro-Am classification is within reach, a place in the top 10 overall is quite realistic.
Conditions are indeed not getting any easier. On some stretches of the 20.8-kilometre Nordschleife it’s raining, on others it isn’t. And this is the tricky thing: for the drivers, it is not always possible to tell whether the road surface is wet or dry. Around half past nine in the morning it happens: the Ferrari with the eye-catching Hella Pagid branding suddenly loses grip on wet asphalt in the area of the Breitscheid bridge and hits the concrete wall. "The car is undriveable," a dejected Martin Kohlhaas acknowledges. "We have no chance of taking the Ferrari back into the race". It’s the end after just under 18 hours.
The disappointment felt by this private team is huge. "If you're bumping around somewhere in the midfield, OK," says Kohlhaas. "But against all the factory entries, we were on course for a top 10 finish, and getting on to the podium in the Pro-Am standings was also within reach. We didn't make any mistakes until the mishap, we drove a perfect race. The disappointment is therefore all the greater."
While the young mechanics team from racing one has no choice but to pack up in pit number 10, a breathtaking duel for overall victory breaks out between those up front. The #3 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Team Getspeed is within striking distance of the #15 Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Evo2. But the Phoenix team is exploiting its great advantage of being able to react at each of the later pit stops. This is a decisive plus in view of the repeated rain showers and the way these caused a veritable game of poker to be played with the tyres. The Audi team then gives everything they’ve got and finally they succeed in snatching the acclaimed overall victory at the cult race in the Eifel.
Triumphs, but also tears and tragedies: nowhere are these emotions closer together than at the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.