The conditions? Unforgiving! The weather? Unpredictable! The layout? Ludicrous! That is the Nordschleife for you. 25.378 kilometres, 33 left-handers and 40 right-handers, which put man and machine to the ultimate test. And for how long? 24 gruelling hours!
There is no question about it: the circuit in the Eifel region of Germany is probably the toughest racetrack in the world. Or, to quote a certain Jackie Stewart: the “Green Hell”. As demanding as it may be, the 24 hours on the Nordschleife allows car manufacturers to put their material through its paces in the toughest of all tests. Volkswagen Motorsport is just one of those to have taken advantage of the stage provided by one of the most demanding, and therefore popular, races in the world. And the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer certainly left its mark in the Eifel – starting with its first outing in 1997.
Sportiness and economy: those were the keywords when Volkswagen tested the innovative turbo-diesel direct injection engine in the Golf TDI in 1997 – the same engine as was used in the production car. The ensuing success proved the men from Wolfsburg right. The diesel car left many more powerful cars in its wake to finish an outstanding second overall.
Despite the success, it was another ten years before Volkswagen returned to the Eifel with another works team. This time, however, they were back to stay. 2007 heralded a new era on the Nordschleife, in which the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer primarily set its sights on the class for two-litre turbo engines (SP3T). Once again it was the Golf that was charged with continuing the success story. René Rast, Jimmy Johansson, Florian Gruber and Dieter Depping caused quite a stir with the GTI, guiding the Golf “R-Line” to eighth place overall. Once again, many more powerful cars could do nothing but watch from behind. It goes without saying that the men from Lower Saxony also won the SP3T class.
The itinerary for 2008 was as bold as it was strange, as Volkswagen Motorsport embarked on a new chapter on the Nordschleife. In the lead role: the Scirocco – the return of a legend. Even before it was launched on the European market, the new car appeared in front of the motorsport world at the Nürburgring marathon.
The driver line-up for the three factory-run racing versions of the Scirocco was also rather eye-catching in 2008. Among those at the wheel of the Scirocco GT24 on its maiden voyage were Hans-Joachim Stuck and Carlos Sainz.
Stuck was in action in two cars and clinched victory in the SP3T class alongside Jimmy Johansson, Florian Gruber and Thomas Mutsch. Second place also went to the three-time overall winner of the 24-hour race. Stuck, Carlos Sainz, Giniel de Villiers and Dieter Depping came home second to complete a very special one-two.
What started in 2008 with the natural gas-powered Golf continued the following year. Volkswagen lined up with five Scirocco, two of which were equipped with innovative EcoFuel technology. As in 1997, Volkswagen demonstrated that economy and sportiness can go hand in hand. Vanina Ickx, Peter Terting, Klaus Niedzwiedz and Thomas Klenke won their class and finished a notable 17th overall in the Scirocco GT24-CNG. Jimmy Johansson, Florian Gruber, Nicki Thiim and Martin Karlhofer fared even better. They lined up in a petrol-driven Scirocco and claimed a third successive victory in the SP3T class for the men and women from Wolfsburg.
The automobile group took another step forward in 2010. Volkswagen sent three natural gas-powered sports coupés into the fray. All three finished the race ...
... and finished one-two-three in the AT class (alternative fuels), whilst achieving 100 per cent reliability with 80 per cent less CO2.
Volkswagen Motorsport’s Nordschleife programme had started with a Golf, and it ended with the same model. The Wolfsburg-based manufacturer lined up with the Golf GTI in 2011. Although the three 450-hp Golf GTI failed to finish the race, they were certainly eye-catching and popular with the fans.
The Scirocco was once again a perfect example of reliability at the endurance classic in 2011. As in the preceding years, the sports coupé ran like clockwork and claimed another one-two in the AT class, courtesy of touring car legend Klaus Niedzwiedz and “Dakar” aces Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers. A worthy conclusion to a Volkswagen era at the Nürburgring 24 Hours.