In terms of legendary venues revered by motorsport fans, the Nürburgring is right up there with Monaco, Indianapolis and Le Mans. The circuit, which lies in the Ahrweiler district, has undergone a number of redevelopments since it was built in the late twenties, but, thanks to the famous Nordschleife, it has kept its soul. The “North Loop” – also nicknamed “The Green Hell” – remains an iconic course. Together with the modern circuit used for the F1 Grand Prix, it forms a 25.947 km track known as the Gesamtstrecke (“the whole course”).
The circuit is unusual not only for its length, but also for its component features. It comprises some 170 turns of all kinds. The Nordschleife’s opening section, the Flugplatz, provides an early test of drivers’ mettle, with a hill masking a double right-hand-turn to be negotiated at top speed… In comparison, the Karussell hairpin, with its ever-so-slippery banking, seems almost easy to deal with. To complete a lap, drivers then still have to complete a long straight lasting several kilometres, which requires them to go at full tilt for forty seconds, reaching speeds in excess of 250 kph.
Frightening and fascinating in equal measure, the great Nürburgring will be the setting for the 7th and 8th races of the FIA World Touring Car Championship 2015. To prepare for this special meeting, the competitors took part in a day of collective testing on 28 April. For the Citroën Total team, this dress rehearsal served two purposes, enabling them to find the best setup for the C-Elysée WTCCs while providing the drivers with an opportunity to get as many kilometres under their belts as possible.
José María López, Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua clocked the day’s three fastest times, ahead of Gabriele Tarquini and their teammate Yvan Muller. But this weekend, they will all be starting from scratch. Every step of the way, the drivers will have to avoid the circuit’s many pitfalls, contend with the ever-unpredictable local weather conditions and time their attacks to perfection.
José María López, who already has three race wins to his name this year, is considered the favourite after his time of 8:38.027 on the test day. “This circuit is just amazing! I understand now why it’s so famous! But to fully appreciate it, you have to have confidence in your driving and in your car,” explains Pechito. “That was the case two weeks ago, when I felt that I was totally in sync with my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I hope to feel the same way this weekend. I’ve worked really hard to prepare for this meeting, putting in lots of laps on the Citroën Racing simulator. I feel as ready as I’ll ever be!”
The Nordschleife is a natural hunting ground for a former rally driver. Sébastien Loeb showed as much by coming very close to López’s times on the test day. Lying second in the overall standings after six races, the nine-time World Rally Champion will be looking to close the gap on his teammate at this meeting: “The Hungaroring was frustrating for me. I want to get back to winning ways, or at least make it onto the podium! We’re going to be taking on a hell of a circuit. It’s a real thrill to drive on. If you want to be quick, you need to use the whole track, but the grass and the safety barrier are so close that there is very little margin for error. The times in testing were quite close. We’ll see how much progress the different drivers have made using their saved data.”
Yvan Muller, whose performances in Hungary put him within 10 points of Loeb, is not the German circuit’s biggest fan, but that won’t stop him giving his all: “The tests were tough. I did close the gap on my teammates as the day went on, but that gap is still too wide for my liking. I’ll have to judge when to attack and when to take risks and come up with the best strategy to score as many points as possible over the two races.”
Ma Qing Hua is also among the leading contenders, having clocked the third-fastest time in testing. The Chinese driver has fallen in love with the Nordschleife, and is determined to find his way back onto the podium: “Every driver should come and drive here one day! I think the WTCC cars will put on a great show and I’m happy to be part of it. At the end of April, I felt great in my C-Elysée. It was a really comfortable drive. If everything comes together during my runs, I think I can compete for a top place.”
The FIA WTCC drivers will take to the track on Thursday for an hour of free practice at 11.30 a.m. Two further free practice sessions, also lasting an hour, will be held on Friday, at 8.15 and 11.55 a.m., but the drivers will not be able to refuel. Qualifying will take a different format than usual, with a single one-hour session for all competitors at 6.20 p.m. The top five will receive the bonus points normally awarded to the drivers who make it through to Q3, and the grid for race 2 will see the first ten from qualifying start in reverse order. A warm-up will be held at 8.05 a.m. on Saturday to allow the drivers to acclimatise to the conditions. The two races, which will last 3 laps (77 km), are scheduled for 11.15 a.m. and 12.15 p.m. The 24 Hours Nürburgring will then get under way at 4 p.m.
A LAP WITH LOEB