SCG at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring 2022
“Jim, Jim, may I have an autograph please?”
“Mr. Jim, can we make a selfie?”
“That is Mr. Glickenhaus.”
It’s the 50th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, and 230,000 fans are here.
Our 004C started 33rd after a software bug cut out our water pump in final qualifying the day before. The Team worked through the night and found and fixed the bug. By midnight we had preformed nearly all our race preparations and were ready to change the brakes and corners. One small, machined hole was off just enough to prevent a safe torquing of the brakes. No problem, we have spares. When we checked, every spare had the same issue.
So much of what we engineer in racing is empty space: for fasteners, fluids, air, to protect the driver, and capture explosions.
We break apart the old assembly and use old parts with new. It was 5:45 AM when the crew finally left the box. Now, 11 hours later, the race had started, that much was for sure. Some teams are driving like rickshaws in Kathmandu, bumping into each other, flying through openings with a yak’s whisker of space to spare. No one wins a 24-Hour race in the first hour, but some teams left that memo unread on their desks. We had moved from P33 to P16.
“Son of a...” Thomas over the radio. “Contact, hard, the car feels fine.” It was the third hard contact from other aggressive cars into our 004.
“Keep driving, we’ll check at the next stop.” Luca from Pits.
At the next pitstop we secure the damaged diffuser, rebalance the aero to compensate for the damage, and head back out.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, David, and Lau, who are Marshals and fans come by our box.
“Her first year as a Marshal, she didn’t care about any one car more than others,” said David.
“I didn’t notice any car in particular. And then your car drove by at night and I saw it from the rear, lit up but the lights from the car behind. Damn, that’s a fine ass. It was love at first sight and I’ve been following you ever since.”
We all talk. My dad recognizes them by name from their social media posts and says hello. Their names are on our hypercar at Le Mans with all our fans who purchase anything from our Team Store. They are trying to make it to Le Mans as well.
“We are on the night shift from midnight. We’ll be rooting for you,” said Lau.
“We have extra VIP lounge passes. Please take them, eat a warm dinner before your shift, and get some coffee.”
“Thank you so much.”
Endurance racing feels different at night. Campfires, fireworks, and racing headlights cast the only light. Everyone’s time slows down from lack of visibility. Things start to break after 10 hours. Fatigue sets in. Even our coffee machine, a Swiss commercial unit, was on the fritz. The energy from the 1:30 AM olive and tuna pizza was wearing off. We had climbed from p16 to p7.
“Crash at Marshal Station 99,” says a disembodied voice through the Marshal radio channel. “Shit.” Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, turning around from two stations away.
“Crashed. I am fine.” Frank crackled over the radio. “Another car forced me off the track. I’m coming back to the pits to check the car.”
The car came in and the diffuser had been ripped clean off. Ten minutes later the car was back out on the track with a new diffuser. We dropped from P7 to P18.
Adenau, REWE Beverage Mart parking lot, free drive-in COVID test, morning.
I am registering via a QR Code and trying to decide if I need the Nasen-Rachen-Abstrich test or the Als-Lolli- Test to be allowed back into the US of A. If I pick the wrong test, would they let me on plane? What if I tested positive? Should I just wander around the forests of Germany for a few weeks? Would my wife kill me for leaving her alone with our four girls until I test negative? Probably. I opted for the Nasen test and presented my registration to the woman behind the table.
“That’s a famous name.”
“I’m Jim’s son.”
“How is the car doing now? Back after the crash?”
“Running strong and fighting back. Now P16. We just changed the brakes during a pitstop with no extra time.”
“Good luck. Do you need an email or a print of your results?”
I think of my wife going slowly crazy over the next few weeks watching all our girls because I decided not to wait 15 minutes to take a paper COVID test to the airport. “I’ll take the printed results, thanks.”
“Want to watch the race while you wait?”
I huddled around the phone and watched the live stream. We talked. Then she went into a little mobile office and came back with a printed COVID test. NEGATIV. I’m going home tomorrow after all.
*** Walking back into the track under the bridge and up the hill.
“Good morning, Jesse.”
“Morning. You look cold, do you want a coffee?”
“I am only one, so I need to wait till another person comes.”
“Do you want me to bring you one? And what is your name again?”
“Olga. Oh, yes, that would be great, thank you. Black please.” Every time my dad and I walk into the Ring, for as many years as I remember coming, she is standing there, working, and helping. She always smiles and waves and says hello to us by name. Even in the beginning, when no one knew who we were.
I bring her back two black coffees and some fruit.
Sun, then rain, a few pebbles of hail, rain and then more sun. We make a conservative choice on the tires, and it pays off. The Team, drivers, and car are running consistently, lap after lap. Keeping pace with the top cars. At one point setting the fastest race lap. Setting fastest sector times in several sectors. A strange noise in the cabin. Aero noise, maybe from the damaged diffuser or the new front aero to rebalance the car.
“Sorry mate, there is no problem but there is nothing we can do. Keep driving.” Luca over the radio, running on 3 hours of sleep over the last 72.
More leading cars crashing, burning, breaking. Too close to the edge for too long, and sometimes you fall over. That is what keeps endurance racing interesting till the end. P16 becomes P15. We hold P15 even after a pitstop. Two hours to go. P15 becomes P14. One hour to go. Over 23.5 hours of racing complete, and 30 minutes to go. P13.
“Just to check, the highest you have finished overall is P12?” an interviewer asking my dad.
“We finished P12 our second year racing the Ring with P4/5C. We beat Toyota and Porsche in SPX. One year we finished 8th overall with our 003C.” “So this would be your second highest finish overall?” “Yes,” said my dad.
“The race isn’t over yet,” I said.
*** We go back out to the pit wall. Bring the car home.
One rule at the Ring is that every car must cross the finish line within a certain time after the checkered flag drops to qualify as finishing. After the checkered flag drops the pit lane closes, so if you are in the pitlane at the checkered flag you DNF. My mind wanders back to our first race at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, 11 years ago. We broke both starter motors and burned through several alternators and had no spares. We would finish 39th overall if we could get the car around one last 16-mile lap. This was made even more challenging because the checkered flag does not drop precisely 24 hours after the race starts. Instead, the checkered flag drops after the leading car crosses the finish line, after 24 hours has passed. Depending where the lead car is and how fast or slow it is moving this could be anywhere between 4 and 4:15 or so. If a team cannot close the gap to the next place up in the last few laps, they often slow down so they can finish. We have seen cars that have raced for 24 hours break or be crashed into and DNF just meters from the finish line. Our first year racing, car in the box for over an hour trying to sort how to get it to run 16 miles and cross the finish line after 4pm, but before the race ended 10 or 15 minutes after the checkered flag. We crunched numbers like the NASA engineers trying to save Apollo 13. We wanted the car as light as possible and to use only required electricity. Making one lap with one draining battery was nearly impossible. We calculated the exact amount of fuel we needed, all the systems we could shut off that drained electricity, no lights, no power steering, how to keep the engine cool without the fans and if we could even shut off the water pumps. We also couldn’t stall because we didn’t have a starter motor. We charged up the battery as overcharged as possible, pushed the car to the end of the pit lane, dumped the clutch and it started. We had planned the gear, the speed to go where breaking wouldn’t be required, where we could coast as much as possible and have enough electricity to run the fuel pumps to run 16 miles in the time.
Distant yelling brings me back to this race. A car in the pitlane is steaming from the front. Steam or smoke? The team has external fans. And then, they are pushing the car back into the box. We look at the race number. Then the leaderboard.
We want strong competitors, not weak ones. We would never wish harm on another Team. Endurance racing is a test at the limits. And every race and lap teams are testing and finding new limits. One team just found theirs. They are where we were 11 years ago, and if they cannot cross the finish line, then we move to P12.
Checkered flag, a tired, proud, happy mob storms the pitlane and the fence. Hugs. Cheers. A solid race. First in class and P12 overall. The Team tears down and packs up everything, the box, the truck, the tent, before the car is out of parc fermé.
“Want to go for a walk?” dad asks, “Until the awards ceremony?” “Sure.”
We walk down the pit lane, past the podium, and around the Paddock. “Mr. Glickenhaus, may I take one picture?”
“We have been coming for years and we are big fans. Thank you.”
He can’t walk 10 feet without a picture. When people see him stopping, more show up. He is genuinely warm and caring. We are all racing fans here.
“We will see you next year?”
“I have to get out to the track.” He backed away as I eased the car into low gear. “There’s no hurry,” he called after me. “The race is over.”
“Not for me,” I said, tossing him a quick friendly wave.”
Jim Glickenhaus outside the Nürburgring to a Marsal or Hunter S. Thompson to a hotel clerk outside the Mint 400?.