With the legendary Nürburgring 24 Hours now less than a fortnight away, our friends at Elan PR took some time to catch up with Falken Motorsports’ ‘Nürburgring expert’, Peter Dumbreck.
With the team fielding a two-car team for the first time and the addition of a BMW M6 GT3 to the historically Porsche stable, this was an excellent opportunity to discuss the unique challenges of the 24 hour race, his move from the Porsche to the BMW and how the atmosphere at this iconic event cannot be beaten.
What are the key differences between the BMW and Porsche?
With it being rear engine, the Porsche is a very physical car to drive and it tends to move around quite bit. It’s also quite a short car as well compared to the M6, so I find it’s got a good bit of grunt through the corners. The M6 has a greater amount of downforce through the medium to sharp corners so you can carry more speed through those faster turns, whereas in the Porsche you may brake and go down a gear. In some places in the M6, you don’t even brake you just lift in sixth gear! So the M6 is stronger in the the medium and fast corners but the Porsche fights back in the tighter sections. Falken has set this up as a battle and I genuinely think it will be.
What is the BMW like to drive? Which do you prefer?
I think it is too early to say which I prefer. I have spent a lot of time driving the Porsche and I got my best result in the 24-hour race in the Porsche in 2015. It’s always going to be a car that is close to my heart. But I requested to drive the M6 this year. I just felt that I wanted a change and to try something different.
They are both good cars and fast in their own right on different parts of the track. It is a case of which is quicker overall around the track and we’ll know that fully during the event. I enjoyed my first race in the M6, although it didn’t end too well! I just got unlucky as someone before me smashed their car into the wall. I saw the oil flag in the distance but I was already in the oil and slid into the barriers. However, the positives to take out of that up until then were that we were pushing for a top five and the pace was good. At the Nürburgring, you always have to have your wits about you and sense what is coming. That sharpened me up a bit hopefully.
So, is the objective to win?
It goes without saying that we would love to go out and win the race and from Falken’s point of view it has doubled its chances. It doesn’t matter which car wins. It has good crews in both cars. Personally, of course I want to win. The first target has to be taking a podium. Actually, to be honest, the first target for me is putting in good times, doing a good job, staying out of trouble and watching us gradually move to the front! The end result is the end result, as long as I have done a good job then what will be will be. I’ve been in this sport long enough to know that a certain amount of luck is involved so I keep my feet on the ground and just do my job.
How do tyres compare between the cars? Is the Porsche harder on tyres, for example?
As the engine is in the back of the Porsche there is higher tyre wear on the rear axle and you feel that on the Grand Prix circuit with a bit more oversteer. All in all there isn’t a massive difference, but I suppose one of the big differences is in the tyres themselves. We are using the rear tyres from the Porsche and putting them on all four corners of the BMW. That shows how good the tyre is to perform on both cars. The front tyres on the Porsche are smaller and is probably one of the reasons as to why we can go faster around the corners with the M6.
You’re known as a Nürburgring expert, what advice would you offer to a driver attempting their first race there?
Every time I go out I am always learning new things. I think it is about keeping your head, trying to preempt what is going on ahead of you. For instance, all of a sudden you will come across a code 60 and you have suddenly got to slam on the brakes and you will very quickly find a group of cars in front of you that have done the same and you have nowhere to go. There are all these little things and a lot of it is luck so you have to keep your wits about you. While we do drive 100 percent, you almost have to drive at 95 percent because we have seen more and more accidents over the years where drivers get shunted. I think this is because the competition has become stiffer – any one of top 30 cars on the grid has the ability to win – and technological innovations have been vast, especially in tyre development.
Yes, they have tried to slow us down but we will undoubtedly be on record pace this year. In my last race I did my fastest lap ever. You just have to be aware of everything and as a first-time competitor in the race it’s a case of not trying to push yourself too hard, keep your head and make sure that you stay on the track. Come the morning there will be 50-60 cars out of the race. When people do crash out your initial thought is everyone okay? But then you become a little selfish and think that this is now a case of me having less cars to overtake. It’s such a tough race; the fewer cars remaining the better it is for us.
What was your favourite N24 race car and why?
That’s tricky. Well I did spend a lot of time in the 997 Porsche so I would have to say that one really. We put so much into trying to get that car on the podium. In 2014 we had a faultless race and finished fourth and everyone was over the moon but disappointed that we hadn’t quite finished on the podium. The next year though we finished on the podium with another faultless race against factory cars. That was the last year with that car and the following year the 991 came and we had to almost start again. We were ninth with the new car but after a year of work the car is capable of challenging for the win as we saw in the VLN. We expect that car to be a top five car this year. I just hope I’m ahead of it in the BMW.
I suppose in the back of my mind I’m 43 and that sooner or later this has to end. I see a lot of my contemporaries and feel I’m one of the fittest on the grid. Each year that passes I gain more experience, which is crucial here and I will aim to continue for quite a few years yet.
What’s your favourite part of the track and why?
I’d say from Adenau to the Karussell is my favourite part of the circuit. That is the big climb where you are basically sitting flat out up the hill. You have a curve, which is just a slight lift. It’s a gear down and brake in the Porsche, but in the M6 it’s flat out! You go through it at 220km per hour and is quite an eye-opener!
What’s your best Nürburgring anecdote?
Ummm… Not so much an anecdote but as technology has moved on we all carry cameras now. You cannot hide anything. If you make a mistake then it is there for everyone to see! Alex, my team mate three years ago when we finished third, pulled off this fantastic and seemingly impossible move. If you see Alex’s onboard you will see how he just squeezes through a gap ahead of the cars in front and behind him as there was nowhere to go. He was due for a very big crash had he not gone for the gap. He makes it through and the cars around him, maybe three or four, all crash out and we somehow survived without a mark on the car! It can be so brutal but other times it just goes to show how luck can be on your side.
Have you got any top tip for spectators?
The party zone around Brünnchen is pretty special. It is basically right by the normal road where all the spectators are and where it’s happening. That area will be full by the time I arrive on Tuesday before the race. That is a pretty cool part of the track with fireworks, discos and camp fires. It’s a good bit to drive too but from the fans’ point of view it is an amazing atmosphere. People build their own bars, they will build them really well out of wood and scaffolding, and every year people think of new things to include. You wouldn’t believe what they think of – hot tubs, fish ponds and grandstands. Everyone seems to know each other from previous years and they all bring something. It’s all just fantastic.
How do you stay alert during the night?
At the most we do double stints in the car, so that’s around two and a half hours. Time wise, we can’t do triple stints at the N24. The 24-hour race at Le Mans is different; the drive time is longer with only three drivers so it’s a different type of race. There are also a lot fewer cars at Le Mans so the mental capacity to pick the right time to pass at the Nürburgring takes a huge amount of cognitive function, all the while trying not to lose any lap time.
There will also be stints in the car when a code 60 or two code 60s are in place, so you have to be aware of what is going on at all times. At Le Mans, a code 60 means a safety car where you can chill out. You can’t do that at the N24. You don’t back up like you would at Le Mans, you only back up on the section of the track where the code 60 is. It is just a very different race and more mentally exhausting so we only ever do two stints, and during the night it is more likely if the weather is changeable.
The main way in which I stay alert is resting in between and the rest takes care of itself. I basically break it down to six races as there will be an order of which drivers are racing when. Of course, that can change and it does change but I prepare myself by thinking of it as six mini races. That is how I get through the 24 hours.
Apart from tyre and car developments, are there any other technological developments that have helped you improve performance? Whether during the race or in pre-race training?
On the fitness side of things, I have always trained but about three years ago I started cycling and like anything you want to do competitively you have to do it four times a week. Driving is the same and golf is another one. Golf doesn’t really get you fit so I stopped playing golf and started cycling, resulting in my fitness now being at a very high level. At 43 I am the most fit and lean that I have ever been. My core strength and cardiovascular fitness is through the roof! The downside is that my upper body strength is down, but I train with pro cyclists and match them and when I don’t, I sit on their back wheel. This has been the major change in me over the last few years. If my career is to be elongated then it will be because of my fitness. As my contemporaries retire it makes you think, but as long as I am physically fit and able to do the job I don’t see why I can’t go on.
In terms of the technological changes, there are many. You only have to look back to 2010 when we were racing GT1. We had no ABS, no paddle gearbox, and no traction control. Whereas now every car I drive has ABS, every car has traction control. We have all the aids, paddle shift obviously. Technology wise I have always liked the move to paddle shift gearboxes – not having to take my hands off the wheel is something I especially like. I’ve been driving a long time and gone through these technological changes and I can’t see how much further it can go. We will always be changing gear and cars will not lose traction control or ABS elements. It has been great to be around in this era of cars. I guess the downside is that engines are now being limited. Joe public expects you to be going 200mph, but we are going max 160 to 165. In the past cars were going a lot quicker down the straight! However, we are now cornering a lot quicker than we use to.
Is there a particular time in the race when you most like being in the car?
For me, the best time is as the sun comes up. If you are the one getting into the car at 4.30am, you know you are going to be seeing daylight at the end of your stint. But because you are constantly watching it is such a gradual thing, a little bit more and a little bit more. That is the best feeling when you can see the darkness turning into light.