More than 100.000 people will populate the famous grandstand where Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin landed in 1909 and the Nazi Party gathered annually for their Congresses before the war. The Mercedes Army defends this enclave in Bavaria since 2003, no matter what local rivals from Audi and BMW throw at them.
Even though motor racing had been an area of German Pride back in Nazi years, the area near Dutzendteich Lake in Nuremberg was dedicated to mass gatherings of SS/SA troops and there was no room for high-revving autosport in the famous Rally Grounds designed by Hitler’s specialist, Albert Speer. The racing tradition started in 1947, with the public roads around the grandstand being baptized ”Norisring”, using the old latin name of the city, as Nuremberg-ring would have triggered confusions with the Nurburgring. There are still some people that place the Green Hell near Nuremberg, not Nurburg (some 400kms away). An urban road course near the lake – comparisons with Monaco were inevitable.
The most dramatic incident in the history of this highly-dangerous track occured in 1971, when Pedro Rodriguez was fatally injured as his Ferrari burst into flames after crashing. That triggered the shortening of the run towards the Grundig hairpin, scene of the most daring overtakes and the most blatant misjudgements year after year. The 2,3km Norisring is the only circuit that the DTM visited every year since 1984. If we look back trying to find the last non-Mercedes winner on these streets we must rewind an incredible 14 years, up to Laurent Aiello’s triumph driving an Audi TT in 2002. There will be TTs aplenty on stage this year as well, but in a separate race of their own.
Coming back to the stranglehold that Mercedes imposed at the Norisring (18 wins in total), their spearheads deserted some years ago: Jamie Green was the absolute master, winning four times in five years (08, 09, 10 and 12), before Audi snapped him in an attempt to finally capture the Jewel of the Crown, the closest race to Ingolstadt, where all the senior executives come year after year only to see another Merc triumph. BMW attracted Bruno Spengler who had won another three times for Mercedes at the Norisring (06, 07, 11), while Gary Paffett scored two wins in Nuremberg more than a decade ago (04, 05). Lately, Robert Wickens became an expert of this track, ending on top in 2014 and the second race of 2015. He could have inherited the 2013 victory as well after a strange incident involving Ekstrom and his father, but the ITR decided not to award the winning trophy, once the Swede was disqualified. That was as far as Audi went to try and conquer the Norisring.
Even in the blackest days of Mercedes, when they struggled with their car so badly at the beginning of 2014, the Gods decided to help them prolonge the winning series by bringing severe rain that levelled the playing field. A couple of thunderstorms are on the radar this year as well, but there is no real need for external interference in a very well-balanced start of 2016, where we had 6 different pole-sitters and winners, two from each camp. BMW shone at the Red Bull Ring but struggled at the other two venues, while Audi and Mercedes were always there or thereabouts. Top 3 drivers in the standings drive different cars and consistency is key: Wickens leads the way with 3 podiums, despite not having won a race. Ekstrom and Green are third and fourth, still searching for their first triumph in 2016.
Classification after 3 of 9 weekends: Wickens 58p, Wittmann 55p, Ekstrom 46p, Green 45p, Mortara 44p.
The last time we had a race on these streets with no Safety Car was in 2010. The stop-and-go profile of the track causes a high percentage of time spent at full throttle (63%, second only to Spielberg), followed by late-braking phases with unstable cars due to very low downforce. Lately, it has been said that DTM cars have too much downforce for their power and they seem to be on rails. If there’s a valid exception to this, we shall call it by the name: Norisring.
Echoes from the Mercedes camp
Championship leader Wickens aims to build on his recent good run of form on a track he loves:
For the first time in my DTM career, I’ll be lining up at the Norisring as championship leader in a race. That feels great and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve always been strong in Nuremberg in recent years. I’ve finished on the podium in every race since 2013.
His teammate Christian Vietoris also has good memories from the Norisring, but also from the last round in Lausitz:
This is a race which I always look forward to. I’ve always been extremely successful at this track in recent years, so I feel very confident and really good about the weekend as we head there. After my team’s decent showing at the Lausitzring weekend, we’re highly motivated.
Gary Paffett lowers his expectations a bit and aims for his first podium of the year, after a fair share of contacts and issues this spring. Newcomer Esteban Ocon could end up scoring his first points at a more familiar track:
I’ve already raced in Formula 3 at the Norisring, so I know the track, which has definitely got to be an advantage compared to the Lausitzring.
Finally, Mercedes head of DTM operations Ulrich Fritz cherishes the incredible run of success in Nuremberg and naturally hopes to extend the 14-year winning streak:
For us, the Norisring is like our front room. Nowhere else have we been as successful in the DTM, so we have set ourselves extremely ambitious goals for the coming weekend.
BMW fears for another struggle
The closest DTM round to the factory in Munich had been a good hunting ground back in the old championship format, when BMW claimed 5 wins. Recently, they just added hard-fought podiums to their tally, currently at 16. Last year, Spengler had a great run for pole and a formidable fight with Ekstrom for third place. Marco Wittmann will have a lot of support from family and friends, as he lives in nearby Furth. He was the only solid points-scorer in Lausitzring from the Bavarian squad, climbing at the top of the standings for 24 hours.
Jens Marquardt states that “the field will naturally be bunched even closer together than usual on the short circuit, which is only 2.3 kilometres long. the Norisring punishes any carelessness immediately.” In 2015, the entire field at the Norisring was within 0.625 seconds in Sunday’s qualifying and this year we had even lower intervals comprising the 24-car field!
Stefan Reinhold, Team RMG boss, underlines that “the Norisring is not the ideal track for our car”, while for a more optimistic approach we must revert to Maxime Martin, always positive:
I live in Monaco and always see the Norisring as the DTM equivalent of that circuit. The fans there are absolutely crazy and the grandstands are always full.
Audi would give everything for the victory that eludes them
“Mr. Norisring” Jamie Green had been brought to Audi mainly for this accolade. Though, he won four other races last year and became vice-champion. The British racer would love to win again on the streets of Nuremberg:
When it comes to riveting racing and gripping overtaking maneuvers the Norisring is the best race track of all, driving with low downforce in ways we don’t normally see in the DTM. Because there are only straights and extremely slow corners you can get closer to the car in front of you at the Norisring. As a result, the duels are closer and more thrilling than they are on any other DTM race track.
As for the one that crossed the line first in 2013 only to endure the hard punishment of the officials: “It continues to be the race I’d tremendously love to win,” says Mattias Ekström.
Finally, Dieter Gass summarises: ”not having won in such a long time at the Norisring is all the more painful. The many ‘Audians’ traveling to Nuremberg every year deserve finally seeing an Audi victory again”.
European Formula 3 comes back after a 5-week break at a venue that always brings heavy shunts and do-or-die moves, as Maxi Gunther showed last year. The aforementioned German is in a group of challengers with three Brits (Ilott, Barnicoat and Russell). All of them need to set their target on Lance Stroll, winner of the last two Spielberg races, as the Canadian extended his championship lead to 38 points. Recalling heroic displays at the Norisring, you can’t overlook the 2014 trio of wins by Max Verstappen. Exquisite driving in the rain made a lasting impression on the F1 scouters and suddenly everyone was knocking on the Verstappen family’s door asking for the teenager’s services. We all know what followed.
Porsche Carrera Cup Germany is in decline, with only 15 full-time runners in a series that had almost 40 cars on the grid only two years ago. Three of those 15 are not even Pro drivers, competing in their separate class B. The championship starts its second half, with factory-backed Sven Muller having won 6 of the first 8 heats.
Finally, the Audi TT Cup is in better state when it comes to promoting young talent, but Sheldon van der Linde killed the opposition three times out of four starts this year. Audi-sponsored local football club FC Ingolstadt has sent their coach Michael Henke to compete as a guest in the TT Cup this weekend and the ex-assistant of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund looks forward to the challenge. A late additions to the guest list is Formula E championship contender and recent Le Mans 24h podium occupant Lucas di Grassi.