We're headed back to Germany for the N24 soon, and this time we'll be bringing you the story of scrappy SP10 class team in a Porsche 911 GT3!
It’s that time of year again. In a matter of days the Drive Cult convoy will be headed to Germany for the 40th running of the Nürburgring 24 hour race. The memories from last year are still fresh in our minds and we’ve been looking forward to coming back since the checkered flag dropped for the Manthey GT3 RSR last June.
Last year we attended more as observers, both of the race and of the culture that surrounds it. Of course what I really mean by “culture” is the 300,000 psychotic, drunk Germans that line the Nordschleife for the entire week. This year we’ll be getting our hands a little dirtier. We’ll be embedding ourselves with Fim Rennsport during the race and see what competing in the N24 is like through their eyes.
This is something we’re thrilled to be able to bring to our readers, and as a preview we recently had a chat with Alessandro Cremascoli and Massimo Colnago of Fim Rennsport to see how preparations for the race are coming along.
Tell us a little about how Fim Rennsport got started and your history racing in VLN and the N24.
FIM Rennsport project started three years ago as a joke. We were two friends tired with the usual track days with street cars and wanted to try out what was like to drive a real racing car. Given our passion for the Nordschleife, the obvious choice was to begin in RCN and, after that, switch to VLN and the 24h. Now, we have had different experiences on a series of racing cars like Renault Clio Cup, BMW 130 GTR, Seat Leon Supercopa and Porsche GT4.
How do you and your team go about preparing physically for as race as tough as the N24? Do you have a special diet or exercise routine, or do you just turn up and race?
We do not have a special diet or a gymnastic routine. We just try to keep fit.
Tell us about the 911 GT3 you'll be racing this year and how you adapt your driving style when switching to a rear engine, rear wheel drive car from the Seat you raced last year? Did you find it very different?
The Porsche is definitely different, you have to turn in slow and then, thanks to the amount of traction, you can apply power earlier and carry a greater amount of speed out of the corner. Also the braking is very different. Given that most of the weight is on the rear axle it is more tail happy when braking hard.
They say that race cars are so strong now that they can run at 100% for an entire 24 hour race. Is this the case for your team at the N24 or do you think you will have to slow the car down at some stages to make it last the race?
The reliability of the car is not an issue in our case. Also, because the class we are in (SP10) has the same rules as FIA GT4, no major works on the engine are allowed. The big concern is fatigue for the driver and how it affects your reactions and concentration, so, if a slowdown is needed, it will probably be to avoid human mistakes rather than to preserve the engine.
Can you tell us about your teammates? Who are they and where are they from? How do you decide who drives which stint?
Me and my friend Massimo have both exactly the same experience since we started to race together and we always raced together in every car. The third driver is German and is the one we raced with on the last VLN round. The 4th driver is also German but we don't know him - we will meet him for the first time at the N24 weekend! After the free practices and qualifying, each driver says how he feels and the decision is taken in common to plan the stints. For example, if one is not very comfortable in the dark, the other three try to compensate the night stints and leave him more stints in the day. There are also some rules to follow, like the maximum time a driver can race continuously and the minimum time from one stint to the next. Of course the planning can be changed during the race if something happens, feeling changes, weather, driver physical condition, and so on.
From the side of the track it looks like cars are constantly passing or being passed. How hard is it to deal with traffic at the N24?
Overtaking and being overtaken is part of the race, and it is impossible to run a lap in which you do not have to pass or let someone pass. The difficult part is how to handle this event in a manner that lets you keep your pace and does not spoil your current lap time. As a general rule, as you are closing in on a slower car you need to figure out in which section you can overtake it and adapt your closing pace to that. It is always better to avoid reaching someone and then having to tailgate to find a spot to pass, you only lose time in doing so. The same applies to the faster cars that you see approaching, the optimum would be to let them through while braking for a corner, but often you need to improvise. The key here is to stick to one side of the track and make sure that the fast guys understand that you have seen them so they find their way past as quickly as possible.
You've done some VLN races already this season. How has this helped the team as you learn about the new car?
It is extremely important to get to know the car you are driving so that you can adapt your driving style to the setup, since it is not 'your' setup - the team needs to find a setup suitable for all four drivers, often a mix of beginners and experts.
What class are you racing in and who do you see as your main competitors?
This year we are in class SP10 that has the same rules as SRO GT4, and we will be racing against some Aston Martin Vantage GT4s, Ginetta G50 GT4s and BMW M3 GT4s. Almost all of them have much faster lap times than our car (sometime even 50secs faster!). The favorite car to win the class at the moment is the Aston Martin GT4 from the Mathol team that won the class in the first two VLN races and finished 2nd in the third VLN. Anyway, the 24h is a different race where lap times are not so important and Porsche is well known to be reliable so first we need to be lucky to avoid other cars hitting ours (even without a mistake from us!), and then to be careful to avoid driving mistakes, because you know at the Ring a single mistake can be the end of the race!
What are your goals for this year's race?
The goal for the N24 is always to finish the race. For the first 16-18 hours it's useless to look at the classification, the main target is to survive. After the night the final classification starts to form and the main danger changes from accidents to fatigue, lack of concentration and mechanical failures.
What does 140 mph through the Foxhole in the dark feel like?
Actually, it is more like 150 mph. It is impressive for the first or second time, then you get into the mindset where you concentrate only in the gear you are in and the noise you hear to be sure that you do it the same way you did last lap. The thing you notice every single lap is how heavy your leg gets when you have to lift your foot on the brake for heel and toe in the compression.