The Nürburgring 24 Hours is one of the last open tyre competitions in recent years. For Falken, it represents an opportunity to compete on track against top global premium brands, like Michelin, Goodyear and Yokohama. In the last decade Falken road tyre technology it has narrowed the performance gap, evidenced by improved results in third party tyre tests.
Held at arguably the toughest race track in the world, the 25km Nürburgring Nordschleife, the endurance race features more than 100 GT and touring cars, all being pushed to their limits, and has a sizeable global following, helping the brand to improve its exposure.
Competition at the Nürburgring 24 Hours
In 2020 Falken Motorsports has entered a pair of current-gen Porsche 911 GT3 Rs. It is targeting an improvement on its fifth-place finish overall in the 2019 edition. The team has world-class driving talent and two cars with a proven track record at the circuit, so Falken hopes 2020 might become its most successful year racing in the Nürburgring 24 Hours yet. Falken has tasted victory on the Nordschleife in the shorter NLS (formerly VLN) races that teams use to prepare for the 24 Hours, but outright victory in the main event has eluded it to this point.
Having said that, the Nürburgring 24 Hours is a notoriously difficult event to win. More than 30 cars from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Nissan, Lexus, and Lamborghini – as well as Porsche – have a chance of victory each year. The Eifel region has notoriously unpredictable weather. And the variety of tyres from manufacturers constantly developing more versatile compounds for the event all make executing the best race one of motorsport’s great challenges. Like its tyre supplier rivals, Falken says it continues to relish the chance to play a part in a unique race and push its R&D department to the edge to further its product offering.
The challenge of competing in 2020
Clearly 2020 is going to be different event to the 24 Hour race Falken is used to. The manufacturer says this year presents an even tougher ask because of the changes to the event due to the pandemic. A last-minute issue with some of the Porsche drivers loaned to the team mean the driver line-up is down to six across the two cars. Falken’s long-time drivers Peter Dumbreck, Martin Ragginger are joined by Dirk Werner, Klaus Bachler, Christian Engelhart and Sven Mueller.
In addition to adhering to safety protocols and rules, the date change for this year’s race will affect the spectacle. Usually the Nürburgring 24 Hours is held in May or June, but in 2020 it has been delayed to September. This has real potential to rip up the form book; there will be more hours spent racing in pitch black darkness, cooler track temperatures than usual, and an increased threat of heavy rain and or fog during the race.
There are also around 50 fewer entries for the race because of the new schedule, so the tyres used will face an even greater stress-test than normal. This is because the average lap times are expected to dip as there will be fewer cars in the lower classes for the SP9 drivers to deal with each lap. Having the right tyres is almost always the deciding factor in the battle for the race win, Falken says, adding that the teams running the tyres that cope with the fast-changing conditions best will come out on top. Producing a compound that allows drivers to sustain fast outright lap times without a huge drop off in performance over the course of lengthy stints is vital here.
Falken’s driver crew has a raised level of confidence in the current range coming into the event. Their feedback from the NLS races this year has been overwhelmingly positive; they praise the 2020-spec Falken tyres for producing outstanding levels of grip through medium and slow speed corners in particular. That is a trait which is key to producing race-winning pace on such a long circuit which features multiple surface changes, undulations and a stream of corners.
Ultimately though, nobody will know until the day which rubber will perform best. And it is this unpredictability that keeps Falken and other tyre suppliers returning to the event year after year.