As we reported in our previous Kaizen Factor story, on Saturday 28 March, in the course of the season-opening VLN race at Germany’s Nürburgring, the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 driven by Jann Mardenborough had a serious accident ending with the death of one spectator and injuries to two others. This resulted in an immediate ban on a number of the faster car classes (including SP8 and SP-PRO where the Lexus LFA Code X competes) from the legendary Green Hell, including the mid-May ADAC Zurich 24 Hours of Nürburgring race. On Wednesday 1 April that ban was upheld, even as word came that a Tuesday 7 April meeting of German motor racing governing body DMSB safety and technology experts, racecar drivers, car manufacturers’ representatives, Nürburgring track operators and representatives of the VLN and the 24 Hour race would determine the fate of the latter for this year.
The temporary ban that was imposed on cars from the classes SP7, SP8, SP8T, SP9, SP-Pro, SP-X, Cup-2, the H4 GT classes, E1-XP1, E1-XP2 and E1-XP Hybrid on the Nordschleife in DMSB-approved events has been lifted
A sigh of relief knowing that we will be seeing the Lexus LFA Code X tearing up the Green Hell in the twice round-the-clock event (scheduled between Thursday 14 May thru Sunday 17 May of this year including practice and qualifying days) after all, just as it has for the past 7 years. We must warn you, however, that this year’s races at the Nürburgring come with a number of caveats, warnings and changes that will make them quite different from their predecessors.
A 5% reduction in engine power
This has been taken, in the words of an English translation of the official German DMSB statement, “in order to prevent a dangerous lifting”. The statement does not clarify which car classes are affected by this, but it’s surely more likely to include the previously-banned ones, such as the Lexus LFA’s SP8.
Speed-limited racing?! WTF?!
The most eyebrow-raising, if not controversial change is the placement of a 200 kph (124 mph) speed limit on the Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz, and Antiniusbuche sections of the track, with the Döttinger Höhe limited to a higher 250 kph (155 mph). Sure, these aren’t the equivalent of onerous 55 mph speed limits on public expressways, and I intellectually understand that this compromise allows the scheduled races to go on without being subject to cancellations because of physical track reconstruction work, and that this is all in the name of safety and protecting human life, yet the whole notion of racing to a speed limit on a racetrack outside a caution period sounds ridiculously oxymoronic. As one who has done a handful of track days and car manufacturer events on racetracks, I can certainly tell you that, with paying attention to the engine sounds, the tachometer, what gear you are or should be in, the track itself and the other cars around you, the speed you’re going at is the last thing you notice. Or, as Dale Lomas of Bridge to Gantry so eloquently put it,
…to be brutally honest, this whole thing could turn into a farce. A race that we might remember for the next ten years, but for all the wrong reasons. And I have my own questions:
– Will overtaking be banned in speedlimit areas? Or will we see trucker-style, slow-race overtakes caused by mis-calibrated speedos?
– What is the ‘true’ threshold for incurring a penalty? Surely the team who finds that 254kmh is “OK” will be the team who wins?
– How long will these short-term measures apply? Just this weekend? I surely hope so.
If these are the rules for the N24, my mind simply boggles.
And what’s next? Trackdays? TF? Please, please, please… no.
Those speed limits, by the way, are applicable to all car classes and will be enforced via use of the existing GPSAuge system (which is already used to control the 60 kph limit in double-yellow flag zones). Infractions will be automatically monitored and logged, and violations will be subject to “heavy fines” and “stiff penalties”. Once cars have passed speed limit zones of the track, acceleration will be allowed again (duh).
Restrictions on certain spectator viewing areas
This is certainly the most logical safety measure to take, even though, by most accounts, the injured and killed spectators were within legally-allowed viewing areas. Nonetheless, access to spectator zones at Flugplatz, Schwedenkreuz, Metzgesfeld and Pflanzgarten areas of the track will be heavily restricted until reconstruction work and structural changes have been completed.
Beyond the short-term changes
Fortunately, the DMSB tacitly admits that more permanent medium-term solutions are necessary. Or, as Jalopnik‘s Stef Schrader put it:
Given that the DMSB is running up against a short deadline to ensure that the entire entry list for next month’s Nürburgring 24 Hours can race, it makes sense for them to put temporary measures in place that allow any bans on race classes to be lifted. The DMSB is clear that these aren’t permanent restrictions. They are in place until both the DMSB and the prosecutors conclude their investigation of the fatal accident that occurred during VLN Race #1.
At that time, the DMSB will be able to craft a more long-term solution.
More specifically, the DMSB statement speaks in terms of forming an expert committee to develop medium-term, more permanent solutions that can be implemented after the 2015 season is over. These should certainly address the issues of spectator and competitor safety, and could include comprehensive changes in the regulations as well as possible construction work on the track itself.