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The Nordschleife: Racing without Limits

The shock was big and the measures were drastic: in 2015, the racing at some sections of the Nordschleife was partially slowed down by speed limits that were introduced in the 2015 qualifying race. These speed limits became necessary due to a massive crash in the 2015 VLN season opener that questioned the safety of both competitors and spectators at the Nordschleife. Consequently, the German motor-sport authority DMSB opted – in cooperation with the VLN and 24h-race organisers – for extensive instant measures. Measures that made sure that holding motor-racing events at the longest, most beautiful and most challenging circuit of the world remained possible at all. And now – exactly a year later – many decisions have been realised: new regulations, new requirements that have to be met by drivers and vehicles respectively, rebuilding measures at the track, additional safety facilities: all this makes sure that the 24h qualifying race again can be held without speed limits in force.
In the past year, several task forces developed the measures that now come into force and rarely in the past, so many parties worked on the regulations of a motor-racing venue. “The package was based on a process many experts were involved in,” confirms DMSB President Hans-Joachim Stuck, who does not only know the Nordschleife as former racing driver like the back off his hand but also loves it. “The DMSB experts cooperated with the circuit operators, the series and race organisers, representatives of the Nürburgring track safety, driver representatives and manufacturers to make use of as much know-how as possible and find a broad agreement at the same time. And we achieved the joint goal to make motor racing at the Nordschleife safer without reducing the attractiveness of the races for drivers or visitors.” Among the results are – first of all – the improvement of the visitor safety in different track sections and a significant performance reduction of the top vehicles. Furthermore, the driving regulations also were modified.
Additional safety zones at the Nürburgring
As early as in autumn 2015, the excavators arrived at the Norisring. As soon as the last racing car had left the track, the measures developed by the circuit operator in cooperation with the safety experts and agreed upon with the circuit commission of the World Motor Racing Association, FIA, were realised. By doing so it was made sure that track license also remains valid for top categories such as the GT3 class. These measures comprised – in addition to the elimination of bumps – the installation of additional safety zones as well as of additional crash barriers and FIA fences at certain spots. “Racing on the Nordschleife still is big fun – even after the modifications,” said Dirk Müller (Mercedes-AMG GT3). “The new section at the airport is not half bad. It was turned into a truly challenging corner. Completely different than before the modification Currently, the grip is limited, there, but this will change over the course of the coming races. And the angle of the plateau up there was changed.”
Vehicles: thrilling sport despite performance limitation
Meanwhile, a task force that comprised – inter alia – the ADAC technology experts and representatives of the car manufacturers targeted the performance of the cars racing in the top categories. In the classes SP7, SP-9/GT3, SP-Pro and SP-X, the engines’ horsepower output will be reduced by 10 percent compared to the beginning of the 2015 season. At the same time, the aerodynamics of these cars also will be limited. These measures comprise the air vents in the front wheelhouses and the definition of a minimum ride height. The attractiveness of the cars, however, isn’t reduced by these measures. During the VLN season kick-off, the motor-racing enthusiasts witnessed thrilling motor sport without speed limits – and the drivers also were delighted. “It’s great that the speed limits are history,” said – for instance – Maro Engel. The 2015 FIA GT Champion von 2015 underlines what worried many drivers and fans. “Quite obviously, a racetrack and speed limits are antithesis per se and I’m convinced that all the drivers are happy about their abolition. A big praise for all those involved. The changes proved their worth in the VLN season opener and we may look forward to a fantastic 24 Race.”
‘Nordschleife license’ will be revised
In 2015, the conditions at the Nordschleife that are unique in global endurance racing resulted in the introduction of the ‘DMSB Permit Nordschleife’ (DPN) – a kind of driving license featuring a multi-step structure for different kinds of events. The basic principle – advancement to a higher category only following the proof of a certain dose of experience – now was refined. Exceptions for the entry categories on the one hand and the professional racing drivers on the other were clearer defined. “We defined clearly more detailed than in the past which preconditions are necessary for a driver to obtain the steps A and B of the Permit,” said DMSB President Stuck. “For all those involved it was important that every racing driver – no matter if beginner or experienced – has to intensively come to grips with the special Nordschleife conditions. The big number of cars, the different performance levels of the different categories, the unique track layout and last but not least the signals in the case of dangerous situations: every driver has to prove that he is well informed on these special characteristics.” To achieve this goal, the DMSB Academy installed a free E-learning tool every licensee has to use to prepare for racing at the most difficult racetrack in the world.
Drivers develop new Code-60 regulations
Should an accident have occurred at the Nordschleife, the marshals are showing the code-60-signal during the rescue and cleaning-up works. Compared to the previous practice, the regulations have significantly been changed. From 2016, double waived yellow flags mean a maximum speed of 120kph. In the cases where the safety-car would go out on other circuits, the marshals show the yellow flag and in addition a code-60 flag: this means 60kph. The green flag annuls speed limits and overtaking bans. This two-step speed-limit system is supposed to reduce the risk of rear-end collisions and at the same time, the number of Code-60 zones is clearly reduced as Code-60 only is activated when marshals are busy on the track or the circuit is really blocked. Like his colleagues, Frank Stippler (Audi R8 LMS) got to know the new regulations during the first VLN round and confirms: “The new Code-60 regulations with the two-step speed reduction is really good. Now you haven’t to decelerate from top speed to 60 kph right away but decelerating to 120kph is enough, for the beginning.”