This weekend is set to be a busy for in European motorsport, the headline sportscar event being the 46th-running of the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
Once again, the entry list features a huge selection of high quality entries, all the way from factory GT3 efforts, to the storied Kissling Motorsports ‘Fox tail’ Opel Manta.
The total number is 150 for this year’s race, down from previous years when the figure has been closer to, or indeed exceeded 200, but that shouldn’t put anyone off from watching, because as ever, it has the potential to be one of the most exciting races of the season.
So with Top 30 Qualifying now just hours away, here’s a look at all the key runners in the SP9 GT3 and SPX classes, which will almost certainly produce the winner, marque by marque, as well as some of the other key entries to keep an eye on:
Back for a final year in factory hands, the Vantage GT3 is looking to go out on a high at this year’s race. With the new model set to debut next year, Aston Martin Racing has opted to give the car a chance for one last hurrah after years of competition at the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
The extremely well-presented #007 will be driven this year by a quartet of FIA WEC (and British GT!) factory talent, Maxime Martin, Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Darren Turner, who will more than likely give the team a real chance at a good result.
Internally, this long into the current Vantage’s career, there’s not a great deal of expectations, but should the BoP swing in the car’s favour, and the team benefit from a bit of luck, then this effort could well spring a surprise, which would go down well with the increasing number of British fans that make the annual trip to the race.
2017 Nürburgring 24 Hour winner Audi is gunning for its fifth N24 overall victory this weekend, and will do so with a quartet of works-supported customer entries in the SP9 ranks.
The four supported teams are 2015 winner Audi Sport Team WRT, reigning N24 winner Audi Sport Team Land, two-time winner Audi Sport Team Phoenix, and Audi Sport Team BWT, which making its debut in the event.
In amongst the Audi teams are three Audi factory drivers from its DTM programme: Robin Frijns, Nico Müller and René Rast and Audi Sport drivers Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies, Kelvin van der Linde, Frank Stippler, Dries Vanthoor, Frédéric Vervisch and Markus Winkelhock, as well as Sheldon van der Linde; there’s no weak links there!
As we’ve learnt over the past 18 years, you cannot count out the ‘Four Rings’ in a 24-hour race. The R8 LMS GT3, now one of the older cars in the GT3 field, is still capable of winning long-distance races with a combination of speed and reliability.
It may not be the biggest fleet Audi has ever sent to the ‘Ring, but it may be the most accomplished top to bottom. Land has quickly become one of the best GT3 teams in Europe, WRT and Phoenix between them have won just about every big GT race since it came on the scene, and BWT Team Mucke has a lot of potential in its first try at winning the N24.
This year, there are over 40 BMWs set to take part in the N24, with five of them GT3 M6s in SP9. Three of those will receive works support: VLN 2 winner Rowe Racing’s pair and the Team BMW Shell Helix M6.
The list of drivers is a special one, with Nicky Catsburg, Ford IMSA driver Richard Westbrook back again, John Edwards, Alex Sims, Jesse Krohn, Connor De Phillippi and Martin Tomczyk driving, and that’s just in Rowe’s chariots!
The Shell Helix entry also has notable names, with Augusto Farfus, Markus Palttala, Christian Krognes and Fabian Schiller set to share the car.
Outside of that, there’s a privately-entered Walkenhorst M6 (and Z4 GT3) as well as Falken Motorsport’s example, the Japanese tyre manufacturer aiming high after the team scored its first VLN win last year (though with its Porsche).
After bringing an Armada of M6s to the race last year, for its second attempt at an overall win, it may seem disappointing to see the sheer number of cars down this year for the Bavarian brand. And it’s certainly a little odd seeing the entry without the likes of Schnitzer or Schubert present.
There’s still a real push internally to win though, as BMW hasn’t won the race since 2010, back with the M3 GT2 was the car of choice!
For the second year in a row, there’s a single Ferrari 488 GT3 on the grid for the N24, entered by Wochenspiegel Team Monschau, run by Blancpain regular Rinaldi Racing. And it’s a welcome addition to SP9 once again, for fans of variety and exotic GT machinery.
The team’s quartet is again Georg Weiss, Oliver Kainz, Jochen Krumbach and Christian Menzel. It’s not neccesarily the fastest combination in the field, but certainly a roster capable of having a steady run to the finish, especially as the car will almost certainly be prepared as well as some of the factory cars in the SP9 field.
The run to pole position by Jeff Westphal in Top 30 Qualifying was one of the highlights of the weekend last year, James Glickenhaus’ SCG003c proving to everyone watching that it’s made some big strides since its debut back in 2015.
It’s back again, the team running a single entry in SP-X, with Westphal back behind the wheel, joined by Thomas Mutsch, Franck Mailleux and Andreas Simonsen. The SCG003c, is a car that can and will go toe-to-toe with the best GT3 has to offer at the ‘Ring on pace, the issue in the past being reliability.
Has the team done enough to improve that weakness? Time will tell. If it has, then it could be a very interesting weekend indeed…
Like the afformentioned Wochenspiegel effort, the Konrad Motorsport entry into the N24 this year is another one of the small group of plucky privateer berths in the event’s top class, providing both variety and a chance for a surprise result.
It’s fair to say though, that the last few years hasn’t been kind to the Konrad contingent, which has all to often fallen prey to incidents on-track and reliability woes. The driver line-up for the team this year of Christopher Brueck, Matias Henkola and Michele Di Martino meanwhile, is more solid than standout.
The Huracan GT3, before winning this year’s Rolex 24 GTD, had a reputation for being a car not suited to longer races. But it has now proved that it can indeed go the distance. It remains to be seen if Konrad can add to the car’s already impressive 2018 season.
Mercedes will field four factory-supported GT3 cars in this year’s Nürburgring 24, from HTP Motorsport and N24 Qualifying Race winner Black Falcon, the marque looking for its third overall win.
DTM regulars Edoardo Mortara and Daniel Juncadella have been placed in one of the two HTP AMG Team Mann Filet-entered Mercedes-AMG GT3s alongside Dominik Baumann and Renger van der Zande.
The team’s second car meanwhile will see Indy Dontje, Christian Hohenadel, Maximilian Goetz and van der Zande (on double duty) race together.
For Black Falcon, 2016 winners Adam Christodoulou, Manuel Metzger and Maro Engel will race with factory Ford GT driver Dirk Mueller. The sister car features Yelmer Buurman, Luca Stolz, Thomas Jaeger and Jan Seyffarth.
Adding to that, there’s further private AMG GT3s, from HTP, Black Falcon and Landgraf Motorsport, making the total number in the race seven.
Like the Audi R8 LMS, the AMG GT3 cannot be counted out, it’s near bullet-proof and extremely quick round the ‘Ring.
Like BMW, Porsche is represented in big numbers up and down the entry, but the focus for most fans will be on the GT3 entries at the top. This year it’s Porsche which will bring the most GT3 machinery to the race, with eight 911 GT3 Rs set to feature, running the 2018 evo kit with features a new bonnet to optimise thermal managment and diveplanes to improve the aero.
Three of the cars are run by N24 stalwart Manthey Racing, searching for its first victory since 2011. The strong line-ups here are the #911 (which won VLN 1) and #912. The former will be driiven by Kévin Estre, Romain Dumas, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber, while the latter will see Richard Lietz, Patrick Pilet, Frédéric Makowiecki and Nick Tandy team up.
The other cars to look out for are Falken Motorsports Porsche, which in the right conditions could have an edge due to the difference in rubber, and Team75 Bernhard entry, featuring Porsche WEC drivers Michael Christensen, Matteo Cairoli and Jorg Bergmeister and LMP1 star Andre Lotterer.
Watch out for the Team75 Bernhard crew, which could easily be in the running for the win in its first attempt, after almost winning the Spa 24 Hours last year in what was its first ever endurance race.
Fan favourite Frikadelli Racing will also race with two GT3s, while Gigaspeed Team GetSpeed’s single entry completes the set.
While the Renault Sport series for the NISMO turbo V6-engined, carbon chassied R.S.01 is long dead, the cars live on in a variety of endurance series in full endurance spec. It’s spectacularaly quick when un-chained, though BoP’d down to GT3 levels here, with power restrictions and aero.
Famously friendly for non-pro drivers and capable of competitive speed in the hands of a Pro, this is a car that could feature in significant battles if it runs trouble free, as it should with such a well proven package.
There’s one in SPX this year, run again by GTronix 360 Team, Heiko Hammel, Kuno Wittmer and Dieter Schmidtmann slated to drive.
Elsewhere in the field, there’s plenty of entries sure to become fan favourites.
The GT4 ranks are worth a watch, with seven cars entered in the SP10 division, the cars entered include an Audi R8 LMS GT4, Porsche Cayman Pro 4, two Mercedes AMG GT4s and three BMW M4 GT4s. Three KTM X-BOW GT4s are also on the entry, but are entered in the Cup-X class and a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport is in amongst the AT category.
There’s nine TCRs too, with cars from Audi, Seat, Peugeot, Hyundai and Opel, and a further Volkswagen Golf TCR running in SP 3T.
Outside of that there’s also plenty of other more left-field entries, as well as notable names scattered in the other classes.
The Kissling Opel Manta returns, of course snd there’s the regular appearence too of the now remarkably mature Chrysler Dodge Viper, the N24 debuting Lexus LC run by Toyota Gazoo Racing in SP-PRO, a Mustang GT, Subaru WRX STI, Opel Calibra, two AMR Performance centre entries (one a GT8 and one a Vantage V8) both with notable line-ups, two Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Thailand Corollas (with all-Thai line-ups) and a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo on Giti tyres (again) in SP8.
You can follow all the action with the International live stream (featuring Radio Show Limited comms), ticker and live timing.