Race preview: WTCC racers aim to tame the legendary Nordschleife
Ultimate test of car and driver in store as 25.278-kilometre lap awaits
The FIA World Touring Car Championship will go from the shortest track in Marrakech to the longest of them all when the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife hosts WTCC Race of Germany for the second time next week (26-28 May). It’s also the biggest challenge of them all with 64 heart-stopping turns lying in wait over the 25.278-kilometre lap, a combination of the grand prix circuit and the famous Nordschleife loop, which opened for business back in 1927.
Named the Green Hell by Sir Jackie Stewart due to its demanding and unforgiving layout, the Nürburgring Nordschleife offers the ultimate test for car and driver.
José María López, who leads this season’s WTCC standings in his quest for a third consecutive title, became the first driver since Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass in 1983 to win a world championship race on the Nürburgring Nordschleife after claiming victory in the opening counter last May. The Citroën-driving Argentine then came within 0.173s of beating team-mate Yvan Muller to victory in the closing race following a thrilling slipstream battle for glory as he charged through from P10 on the grid.
“It was the most amazing race of the year,” said the 33-year-old. “Everything is special about this track, it’s 25 kilometres, it’s called the Green Hell, it’s different from anything you have experienced before. Last year was my first time and I really enjoyed it and to be able to win was something else. It’s something amazing to be flat out on this track. You have jumps, high-speed corners, a long straight, a long lap, it’s amazing.”
The Queen of the Ring returns
While López mastered the demanding Nordschleife in style last year, no driver can count on more experience of the track than local star Sabine Schmitz, who made history in 2015 when she became the first female to score a WTCC point in the championship’s current era. Schmitz, now a presenter on the hugely popular BBC Top Gear television show, will be returning for a one-off outing in the same ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1. However, with her filming commitments keeping her away from Testing and Free Practice 1, Schmitz will be playing catch-up as she reacclimatises to her front-wheel-drive World Touring Car from the Porsche GT car she normally races. “We have a very necessary studio shot to do for Top Gear I can’t miss. I must be crazy to measure myself against these guys without the same amount of time to practice. But they want me in the team so I’m back, no problem, although I will have a better chance if it rains so my hope is more water, more success!”
THEY SAID WHAT?
Thed Björk (Polestar Cyan Racing): “It’s the most amazing track in the whole world. It’s absolutely unbelievable and I’m so happy to be racing there in the WTCC. It’s an experience of a lifetime. If you are at least a little bit interested in cars, then you have to drive the track. It’s not scary but you have to be very, very aware of the risks. You need to pick the speed up as you go and try not to overdrive. Many people do mistakes there and it’s a track that can kick you into mistakes. But try to be calm and not go to the limit. It’s easier said than done but you need to have a lot of respect for the track. I know the track. I can write it in my sleep, every corner, every small thing, I love it. It took me a couple of laps to learn it but now I know it inside out.”
Nicky Catsburg (LADA Sport Rosneft): “You have so much diversity and as a driver you can really make the difference. To set the comparison with other tracks, Eau Rouge, the fast corner at Spa, is always a challenge and always a corner people speak about but it’s so easy. You go out on your fast lap, you try to take it flat but if it’s not possible you take the run-off and you have found the limit. On the Nordschleife you cannot do that anywhere. If you go off, you are in the wall or the trees even. What makes it even more difficult is that you have so many of these high-speed turns where you really have to take risks. The other thing is you only see those turns once every eight minutes so it’s really difficult to be on the limit immediately. But I just love it, it’s such a cool track. I’m always a big fan of high-speed corners and this track has it all. And the atmosphere with the fans, I always look forward to going there.”
Tom Coronel (ROAL Motorsport): “It’s the best race track on planet earth. It’s the most challenging track, it’s changing all the time. You can never do a lap perfectly. Every lap you have at least 10 times a near narrow escape and I don’t think anybody knows the track 100 per cent because that’s impossible. Whenever somebody asks me if I want to drive the Nürburgring Nordschleife I get an automatic smile on my face which I don’t get with anything else that I can do on planet earth. So you can imagine how far it goes. You have to be scared because if you don’t respect this track then you don’t respect anything on planet earth. This is the most challenging thing a race driver can find. It’s always in your mind that there is something scary but at the same time you feel privileged that you are allowed to drive this track.”
José María López (Citroën Total WTCC): “It was the most amazing race of the year last year and I’m really looking forward to going back. Everything is special about this track, it’s 25 kilometres, it’s called the Green Hell, it’s different from anything you have experienced before. Last year was my first time and I really enjoyed it and to be able to win was something else. It’s something amazing to be flat out on this track. You have jumps, high-speed corners, a long straight, a long lap, it’s amazing. Of course with Fangio winning there and Carlos Reutemann winning there, the track has a strong connection with Argentina, my country, and it’s a very special place for Argentinian people.”
Tiago Monteiro (Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team): “It’s the biggest challenge. It’s definitely the hardest track in the world to learn, to be fast on and to be able to attack. I wanted to race there for ages but I never had the opportunity, so when they announced it I took the opportunity to go and test as much as possible. I went there three or four times and it was just amazing. Like Macau, the Nordschleife is a top challenge and that’s why we race there.”
A lap of the WTCC track with Sabine Schmitz
Queen of the Ring and local resident Sabine Schmitz, who will drive a Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, is your guide to the 25.278-kilometre track, The Green Hell.
“The Grand Prix Circuit part of the track is not too tough on the suspension like the Nordschleife but it’s all about traction for the shorter straights and having a stable car on the brakes so you don’t lose time at the start of the lap.
“Onto the Nordschelife and the first left into the Hatzenbach is really important because you have a very, very quick section and you need to carry the speed. We don’t brake here, just lift off a bit. The balance of the car has to be really easy to handle and you can’t be too quick on the steering wheel. Then we have a couple of tight corners through Hocheichen. The rear tyres will lift off a couple of times and then there will be dust as well to deal with because the WTCC drivers love to cut the first sharp right-hander and they are leaving a big mess, so when I arrive it’s very slippery!
“For Quiddelbacher Hohe we are close to being flat but this is a question of practice because there is a lot of movement in the chassis. Be careful how you correct the wheel because the car can go very light here so you have to make sure it has a good balance.
“Flugplatz is a very quick section and it really helps to have good downforce. You need to be good on the brakes for Aremberg and when you are on the brakes the car must be settled down. The Fuchsrohre is the compression, it’s very tricky when you have a soft set-up so you have to lift off a little bit. Then you have the Adenauer Forst chicane where the chassis is doing big, big movement from right to left, left to right. Metzgesfeld is a very fast left-hander but it’s really flat so not a big deal.
“Then we go down Kallenhard, a very sharp one with a steep braking area as it goes down very much. The weight will be in the front more than in other corners so you have to make sure the car is very well balanced. When you turn in, turn in very gently, which is the same as in Wehrseifen, a heavy downforce section.
“Ex-Mühle is a very big compression. It’s a steep hill and you need traction there because all the weight goes to the rear end and when you accelerate the weight goes even more to the rear end. You need really to keep the tyres on the ground and keep the speed out of Exmuhle because there is a long straight to Bergwerk, which is quite easy, flat with good Tarmac.
“Then we have the long, long uphill section – not so difficult to drive – to the Karusell. It’s very hard for the suspension but you are only doing 80kph because if you jump out you will end up in the barrier very easily, so you are fighting the car a bit. It’s necessary to go gentle out of the Karusell because of the grip at the front.
“Hohe Acht is next and it’s where we have good Tarmac. It’s not a big deal but the Wippermann is a little more tricky because of the kerbs, which you are quite hard on. You need to be very gentle on the steering wheel otherwise you might have a bad time when you go across the kerbs. Then we enter Eschbach, a very steep downhill braking area.
“At Brünnchen you have to wave to the fans and remember not to crash because your fan base will be gone! But it’s good Tarmac here and lots of grip. Next it’s down to down to Pflanzgarten where we have a big jump and because of the soft suspension of the front-wheel-driven Chevrolet you will lift off a little bit, all four wheels. But you have good downforce so maybe after landing we jump up again!
“Then we have a long right-hander but this is full speed over a crest into a left-hander. The car will be very light again so you have to be gentle on the wheel to make sure the balance is in good shape. Schwalbenschwanz is after this. It has good Tarmac, good grip and is very flat. For the little Karusell that follows, again you can’t be too aggressive on the wheel when you exit. Let the front tyres do their job.
“It’s very, very necessary to catch a good line and be gentle on the exit in Galgenkopf because you’ll need every single rev to have good speed for the long, long Döttinger Höhe straight, which is two kilometres long. Hopefully you are on your own with not too many cars around you at this point because the track is getting tighter and tighter as you get closer to the finish line.”
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