Tackling the Nürburgring 24 Hours - An exclusive blog with Pippa Mann

May 29, 2024
  1. When was your first experience of the Nürburgring in your racing career?

I raced on the GP track back in my World Series by Renault days, and it was actually one of the tracks where I scored points in that series, finishing in the top ten, but my first experience driving on the Nordschleife was much more recent. I got the call from WS Racing’s Girl’s Only team back in 2021, and was traveling to and from Germany during the Pandemic to go through the permit process, etc. I spent a lot of time trying to learn it on the sim before I went, and that was definitely helpful, and then the special licensing process itself actually forces you to start in a much slower car than you’re accustomed to driving – which isn’t a bad thing. After a pretty short amount of time, you’re just chomping at the bit to be let loose around there in a faster car again!

  1. What makes the track so special to race at for drivers?

There are several things that make “the Ring” special, as well as difficult and a unique challenge.

Probably the first and most obvious thing is that this really is an “old school” race track – it’s narrow, the barriers are close, a lot of the sections are very fast, and there’s very little room to make mistakes. 

Second, when you think about the nickname – “The Green Hell” – this infers to how green all of the area around the race track is, and how often it rains to make it that green. The Germans joke about the ever changing “Eifel Wetter” in this Efiel Mountain region of Germany, and they’re not wrong. Sometimes it’s raining he entire length of the track, but more often than not it’s only raining in one section of the track – which means you’re either going to need to navigate that on slicks, or maybe cut slicks, and when you get back to the same section of the track again 10 minutes later, it can be completely different…

Which brings me to the third thing – the length of the race track. On the 24 hour layout, it takes us 9 minutes to do a lap in a GT4 car. With most race tracks you drive, you get “reps” – you get to repeat the same corners again, and again, and you get to try different things, and figure out what works, and what doesn’t. Here you may only get 2-3 laps total in practice before the race starts, and in the race itself, you’re only doing 7 laps per fuel stint – an out lap, and 5 flying laps before your in lap… Plus, there are over 100 corners, so traditional data debriefs don’t work for most drivers – you have to learn to drive with your instincts.

Also, partly due to the unique set-up of racing at the Ring, a lot of the time the predictive lap time in the car doesn’t work, or goes out in the first section of the Nordschleife, so then you literally have nothing to compare yourself to – whether yourself or team-mates – other than your instinct and gut feel on whether you’re improving, getting faster in certain sections, etc.

  1. What is the most difficult section of the track to navigate

Whichever section of the track it’s pouring with rain on while you’re out on slick tires!

Seriously though, I think this is a different answer depending on your car, and your personal preferences as a driver. Our car is a BMW M4 GT4 on a Giti Tire, and with full power available. This means we have a lot more power than a normal SRO GT4 car, but we don’t have any more downforce, or brakes, or grip to go with that! 

So you would think I would tell you the fast sections are the trickiest for us, but for me personally, I love the fast sections of the race track – where it’s all instinct, feel, and high consequences for your mistakes. I personally have to work hard to be better in the more technical parts of the race track. When I compare to my team-mates, those are normally my biggest strengths and weaknesses personally around the Ring.

  1. A standout moment/memory from your racing so far at the circuit?

I’m the additional driver on our team for the 24 hour race, so I’m the one who shows up with the least laps, the least car knowledge, and the least time with the team, and the least overall track knowledge each year. My job is to try and get within the same time window as my team-mates, and to try and not mess I up! JHowever last year, I got to be in our car at the end of the race, when there was less traffic on the race track, and I got to do a double stint, which meant that having just driven a 7 lap stint, I got to stay in the car, get a new set of tires and drive another stint. 

The track was dry. The car felt really good, and I just thought to myself as I came to get that new set of tires, “Okay. Let’s see…” Being fast enough to be able to take advantage of the situation where I didn’t have a ton of traffic, no slow zones on the track, where I knew how the car was already handling, and being able to set the fastest time for our car was a cool personal moment for me. This year my personal goal is to get sub 9 minutes. Last year I was at an 8:57 or so until I caught very slow traffic at the final corner of the lap, and my team-mate B got into the 8s at the Qualifying race, so it’s certainly possible!

  1. How were your most recent races around the circuit in NLS 1 & 2 of April this year?

One of my favorite things about our team is that everyone is fast – any one of us can be the fastest driver given the right set of circumstances in the car in regards to conditions, traffic, etc, and as a team, we’re starting to regularly challenge above our weight – which is always a very satisfying feeling as a driver. The NLS races went pretty well for us – we podiumed in the class on both days, and came very close to winning the race in our class on the second day.

The team is working incredibly well together, our girls are giving us great pit-stops, and our engineers are working to help us continue to try and dial the car in to make it faster, and better to drive in the difficult conditions.Getting two races on one weekend, instead of one race only, ahead of this year’s 24 hour has also left me feeling better prepared than I have been before, and I can’t wait to get back for the big race.

  1. 24 hour races are already mentally and physically intense, what makes the N24 stand out from the rest?

When you’re racing at the Ring, there’s always so much going on. The weather can go from sleet, to sunshine, to mist, to rain all in the space of a few hours, and be doing different things in different areas of the track at the same time. The traffic is insane. 130 cars will start the race, and the fastest GT3 cars will be in the 8 minutes per lap window, while the slowest cars will be in an 11 minutes per lap window. The closing speeds of the cars you’re catching, the closing speeds of the GT3 cars catching you, how narrow the race track is in places where you’re trying to navigate traffic…

When there are accidents at the Ring, instead of having a safety car, there are slow zones. Being constantly aware of where these zones are, getting down to speed in time, without losing time, getting back up to speed in time, without losing time, knowing if you make a mistake in one of these areas the penalty will take you and your team out of the race…

And at night it’s pitch black – it’s like driving down the darkest country lane you’ve even been down in your life, in the middle of the night. Knowing that if you get off line into the marbles it could end your race, while navigating the same differences in weather described above, the traffic, the slow zones… 

Oh, and then there’s also the wild camera flashes – suddenly, out of nowhere, lighting up the track, inconsistently, at different times, with different amounts, with no warning, aside from knowing it happened last lap in this section of the track, so the next lap it might happen again…

  1. What would you say is the most challenging aspect of racing for 24 hours?

I think the most challenging thing about 24 hour races is the lack of recovery, trying to have some semblance of nutrition, and trying to stay hydrated. Last year I managed to snag one of the hotel rooms by the track, and so we had two beds in my room between the 3 team-mates (including myself) who didn’t have anywhere else to sleep on race night other than in the truck.

It kind of worked because you have one racer in the car, one on deck in the garage area, and then two resting, and so when someone was walking back to the room after a stint, we would text, and the next person would be getting  up to go to the garage, and be “on deck” for the driver in the car, and open up a bed in the room for the racer now about to try and recover for a couple of hours! 

Our car was down for a while in the night last year, so I ended up awake for hours in the middle of the night, and then trying to sleep for 30 minutes or so on a couch in our team suite so as not to disturb the two girls who had the room at that time.You’re also getting up, and driving at odd times, so you’re looking for food for fuel for your body at odd times too – often when there’s nothing open, no food available, and just trying to figure it out.

  1. How does Walero make a difference for you across 24 hours when you have competed?

When you’re competing in an environment with a lot of physical exertion, and limited recovery, having comfortable, temperature regulating gear under your fire-proofs makes a big difference to your performance at the end of 24 hours being able to match your performance at the beginning and that is where Walero really makes the difference.

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