As legendary as the Nordschleife itself, which enjoys an enduring reputation as both a terrifying and merciless route, while the 24 Hours Nürburgring may take the length of a full day to unfold over this longest and most unforgiving of tracks in modern motorsport, processing all that goes down at the annual, tradition-steeped touring car and GT endurance racing event is a whole other story.
Truth be told, our visit to the latest instalment took us a week or two. It’s a lot to unpack.
There’s the circuit. Located in Nürburg, a town in the German district of Ahrweiler, the Nürburgring showcases a Grand Prix race track that dates back to 1984, and the aforementioned Nordschleife, built in the 1920s around the village and its medieval castle in the Eifel mountains. With tricky corners, treacherous crests, steep inclines and gradients, as well as constantly shifting road surfaces that demand great skill from the driver and put vehicles to a hard test, the latter loop stretches over 20 kilometres and has more than 300 metres of elevation change from its lowest to highest points.
There’s the history. The 24 Hours Nürburgring has been held 46 times since 1970. It didn’t take place in 1974 and 1975 due to the continuing oil price crisis, and in 1983 because of extensive rebuilding work. On one hand, it encapsulates the essence of what makes motorsport so big, emotional and thrilling. On the other, it embodies motorsport’s most fascinating, purest and often mythical qualities. Some of racing’s greatest names have shone brightest here, from Ascari, Caracciola and Fangio to Ickx, Nuvolari and Stewart, and many more.
There’s the sheer spectacle of it all. The race weekend has developed into a kind of folk festival. 150 vehicles and almost 700 drivers take part. More than 200,000 visitors make the pilgrimage, many of them pitching tents and spending days camping alongside the historic asphalt course, transforming the gathering into a huge open-air barbecue, with the air around the track perpetually filled with the smell of bratwurst cooking on the grill, and the sight of fireworks lighting up the night sky.
There is also the fact that, considering one of its original purposes was as a test track, the Nordschleife’s demanding layout maintains a lofty status as a proving ground for auto manufacturers like MINI, the storied marque owned by BMW since 2000.
As recently as 2009, the MINI Crossman hit the Nürburgring, establishing handling as a critical part of its DNA. In 2010, the MINI E took it on, an ambitious assignment for an electrically-powered model, yet still managing to do a single lap in a respectable nine minutes and 51.45 seconds, while reaching a top speed of 185-plus kilometres per hour. In 2016, driver Han Yue kept a MINI Cooper on two wheels for the entirety of a Nordschleife lap — at a blistering average speed of over 27 kilometres per hour, no less.
The list goes on.
This year proved no different, with us invited to glimpse a disguised prototype of the new extreme athlete in the model range of the British premium brand do its warm-up on the Nordschleife, part of the 24 Hours Nürburgring pre-race programme. Yes, as a component of its series development process, we got to witness the new MINI John Cooper Works GP complete a few uber-exclusive set-up runs, as engineers interrupted their testing for a short period to debut it to the public.
Based on the principle of tapping into the sporting genes of MINI to create a superior racing machine, owing to its high engine power, model-specific suspension technology harmonized with John Cooper Works motor racing expertise, weight-optimized construction and precisely defined aerodynamic properties, the new MINI John Cooper Works GP aims to set a new benchmark in the small car segment.
After all, though its immediate predecessor model established a previous record-setting lap time on the Nordschleife, with focused application of motor racing technology and prowess laying the foundation for new records in the fight against the clock, its successor has already beat it by almost 30 seconds. And, despite the prototype not necessarily pushing the limits during the demonstration runs we were present for — demonstration runs carried out together with that very predecessor and also the MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP Kit — the new MINI John Cooper Works GP was still hardly able to conceal its virtuoso potential, even when piloted in moderate style.
Its rigorously defined aerodynamic properties and wide open air intakes, in particular, were hard to miss. So, too, were its large light alloy wheels, the distinctive design of its front and rear aprons, plus striking roof spoiler. As plain as the nose on your face, each clearly represent unmistakable features for inspiring performance characteristics, regardless of its camouflage-clad disguise applied for testing purposes.
What’s more, powered by a four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, designed for spirited sprint capacity and a captivating sound, the new MINI John Cooper Works GP boasts an output of more than 220 kilowatts / 300 horsepower and further features MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology, rendering it by far the fastest, most powerful MINI ever to be approved for use on the road.
Currently primed to hit the pavement beyond the Nordschleife and the Nürburgring faster than a speeding bullet next year — figuratively speaking, of course — not to mention capture the petrol-fuelled attention of a particularly performance-oriented target group, the new MINI John Cooper Works GP’s market launch appears destined to call for fast decisions all over the world, too. It will be produced in a limited edition of just 3,000 units.
Blink and you’ll miss it.
Heck, with lap times of under eight freakin’ minutes, we nearly did at the Nürburgring ourselves!