All was looking solid for the UAE-backed Roadrunner Racing Clio Cup car, Zuhour, Al Owais(x2) and Khan having knocked two minutes off their free practice time and qualified 155th. An unremarkable sounding result by itself, but only two SP3 category cars lay between #143 and the sister #142 entry, while the #144 and #141 Clios lay a further three and eight places back respectively. By the time the fifth hour ticked by, 155th had turned into 91st and fourth in-class. Mother Nature had other ideas though.
“The circuit conditions can change so drastically. In the morning the circuit can be nice and dry and bright, but at night the fog plays with you. There’s a certain section of the track where, if you’re not focused, you can forget how far you’ve gone. In one particular section, the corners are so similar that you can’t work out where you are. You have to be very cautious, and you have to save the car. The red flag helped with that.”
The 41st Nurburgring 24 Hours now famously was abandoned for nine hours as torrential rain bombarded the circuit and the outlying grounds. By the morning, with the team still groggy – having been kept on alert in case the race was green flagged at the eleventh hour – driving became more difficult. Umair and his teammates found though that there are other ways to keep yourselves entertained at the Nordschleife.
“To start with you cannot walk in the garage, or in the paddocks, or in the pits! The place is packed. I mean in the paddock you’re talking about 20,000 people, and then around the track there are people just everywhere. People have been camping for a week before the event even gets started, so you’re talking about a couple of million spectators easily. Then there’s more people that come during the weekend.
“If you’re not racing, this place can definitely entertain you. There’re a lot of things happening around the track. There are a couple of famous corners where people camp out, so there’s a lot of parties and people enjoying themselves with bonfires and fireworks, and things like that. It’s actually very friendly, and the people are really nice. They’ll offer you food, drinks, and you can just join in the celebrations. I really enjoyed that.”
The rain alone demonstrates the differences between the Dubai and Nurburgring endurance races. Fatigue kicking in as the sun rises is a given, but there’s little else Umair can compare between the two events.
“Touring cars and the Dubai 24 Hours definitely taught us a lot about traffic management, which is very important at the Nordschleife because of the difference in speeds. The top drivers are really experienced, so for them it didn’t matter if it was day or night.
“But you cannot compare Dubai and the Nurburgring. I can say assuredly that there is no comparison at all. On a racetrack which is purpose built there is a lot of run-off and there is a lot of room for error, and it’s very forgiving. At the Nurburgring you don’t have that. If you make a mistake, that’s it.
The UAE boys found this out the hard way at the Nurburgring, technical issues at three-quarter distance leaving the Roadrunner crippled with 37 laps under its belt as opposed to eventual winner Mercedes’ 88.
Turns out the Green Hell can be merciless regardless of whether you’re sitting, shooting or competing.