Jul 2018

VLN 3 and 4 - getting my Nordschleife Permit


Pic : Frozenspeed

In order to race a GT3 car on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, you first need to get a permit. This involves doing 8 laps in a low powered road car (in my case a Suzuki Swift!) after sitting through some theory and following an instructor round which takes you through the various safety measures peculiar to the VLN (
Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring). Once this has been done you can race a low powered car with a 'B' Permit where you have to complete 18 racing laps (this doesn't sound like much but at over 9 minutes a lap, it takes a while). The car is shared with other drivers and I had to do my laps over a minimum of 2 races, normally 4 hours each. For the laps to count, the car has to finish the race and also needs to be in the top 75% in class. The quickest car that you're allowed to use is the BMW 235i Cup which is a very different machine to what I’ve been used to; no downforce, not much power; basically a modified road car with slick tyres! It moves around more than a GT3/GTE car so was something different to adapt to, but perfect for learning the Nurburgring. The car was run by the crack Walkenhorst Motorsport team who did a great job. You can pretty much race anything in VLN, from GT3 cars to Renault Clios and fan favourites like the Opel Ascona "Foxtail" which has a fox's tail attached to the aerial!

My first experience of racing at the Nordschleife was at VLN 3 in June. Before I went there, I had a feeling it would be a different type of race weekend to normal as I’ve heard stories about it being slightly crazy! It was certainly true; testing on Friday consisted of taxi laps, which means taking passengers out for laps of the Nordschleife… unlike anywhere else in the world! Luckily they didn't realise they were my first laps at speed on the Nordschleife. The pitlane is massively crowded during this session too, it’s really cool. I think more places should do it! I managed 2 laps before a red flag came out for an incident, so my session got cut slightly short.

It was an early start for qualifying on Saturday morning (8:30!), and I had to get in my one qualifying lap to be eligible to start the race. As the main objective for doing this is to get my A Permit for the Nordschleife, I just did the minimum amount required. My lap was spoilt by many Code 60s (maximum speed 60 km/h) which was frustrating, but that’s what happens round this track; you’re very lucky if you do get a clear lap!

As my co drivers (Ace Robey from the US and William Paul from the UK) didn't need many laps to qualify for their permits, they kindly let me to the balance of the race once they had their requisite laps in the bag. The decision was made for me to take the final stint as this would allow me to get the maximum amount of laps in. I managed to get 11 laps, which was fantastic. This meant I only had to get another 7 in at the next round. There were a few Code 60s when I was out, and a couple of very dramatic looking accidents, but I managed to stay out of trouble, and got to know this place better and better. There’s nowhere else like it in the world, and was looking forward to coming back again. The track’s just incredible!

I was back for my second VLN round just 2 weeks after the first! And it was going to be another dry weekend. This time though, instead of it feeling a bit like the Arctic as it did at the first, it definitely felt like the middle of summer. It was going to be hot in the car, but this is what we train for! It was good to be sharing the car with last minute sub Rory Butcher and William Paul. The weekend’s track action started as normal with some ‘taxi laps’ on the Friday. I completed 3 laps (complete with passenger ballast!) just to get my eye in for the Saturday. Everything felt good, and I was ready for the early start the next day for qualifying (another 8:30 start!). However, unfortunately for a couple of cars that wouldn’t be possible as there were a couple of big crashes during the Friday afternoon session, which just reminds you of the dangers of the Nordschleife and how it can go wrong very quickly… that’s part of the appeal of the place though, you have to keep your concentration!

In qualifying I just did the minimum 1 qualifying lap required to qualify for the race. My lap was devoid of any Code 60s though, which was a nice surprise, just the usual traffic!

As was the case at VLN 3, I would be the last person to get in the car during the race, so I had quite a bit of time to wait after qualifying. I got in with around 1 and a half hours left, and got into a car that felt like a sauna for the rest of the race! The stint went well, only slightly scary bit came when a Ferrari that had just overtaken me out braked itself and almost went off, but it was all OK in the end. The car felt very different to the previous round, the extra heat taking it's toll on the tyres and very lap round the ‘Ring you learn something new; there are so many different cambers and bumps, you’re constantly taking in information. You can’t help but have a smile on your face every time you’re out there though, the track is completely different to anywhere else in the world!

As the race was on Saturday, I headed for the airport that night to make it back to Silverstone for Sunday and the F1 Grand Prix… quite a manic weekend!!

I have sent off the paperwork for my 'A" Permit and I can’t wait to be back at the Nordschleife in a quicker car.