There were mullets aplenty, dodgy tattoos – including an otherwise attractive young lady who had Opel’s ‘blitzen’ logo on her back – and if you stood far enough away the drifting smoke made the place look like something from (I)Apocalypse Now(I). No doubt about it, the Nürburgring is not for the faint of heart. Or the faint of hair.
But during the 24 hour race, and arguably even more so than at Le Mans, this is the place where racing fans really do get mightily stuck in. Short of pitching your tent actually on the circuit, you can’t get much closer to the action than here. And there’s plenty of it.
It’s also dead easy to get to. Eurostar to Calais, bomb along across the top of France for a bit, blat through Belgium past Brussels and Liege on the E40, and just as you’re passing Spa, head south west to the Eifel Mountains. Now, in case you’re wondering why we’re telling you all this two months after the event, it’s because we’ve now got a short film about how BMW got on in the race, and we thought you might like to see it. It’s rather good.
As is the M3 GTS we drove there in. At first glance, this 444bhp lightweight iteration of the E92 M3 wouldn’t be your first, second or possibly even third choice for a journey like this, and we didn’t even realise that it had regular seat-belts as well as the ball-squeezing four-point harness until the last fuel stop on the way home. Berks.
Gallery: BMW M3 GTS takes on the Austrian Alps
At £115k, it’s also comically and possibly even cosmically expensive. But it’s also my current favourite car, primarily because its engine, gearbox and chassis, while individually brilliant, work together with a harmony that is surprisingly rare. Even as the sky turned as black as Motorhead’s back catalogue and the rain came down as we thundered through Belgium, it didn’t turn all jittery and horrible. And on the autobahn (dry, I might add), we later saw 180mph. Bloody marvellous.
A handy racing car too, as you’ll see if you watch the film (shot by Diz Williams). You’ll also notice that with such a huge grid – 200-plus cars this year – it’s at least two teams per garage, often more, and the pit-lane is more like a rugby scrum than anything else. The winning Manthey-Porsche team racked up a new distance record of 156 laps, just pipping the number one Müller/Farfus/Alzen/Lamy M3 GT by 4mins 23 seconds. A result that was made all the more knuckle-chewing thanks to a three-minute stop-and-go penalty incurred by Lamy after a spin at the Karussel…
That’s motor racing. Coincidentally, this year’s 24 hour ‘Ring race was the last for departing BMW motorsport director Mario Thiessen, who has retired after 34 years with BMW. Never a man to show much sentiment, you can nevertheless sense the emotion when you watch the film. Enjoy.
And if you want to catch up with how TopGear.com’s caffeine-fuelled live blog went from the ‘Ring 24 Hours, it’s right this way.