After five trips to Germany, as many laps around the famed Nurburgring as they could muster – but still not nearly enough – four American Bryan Herta Autosport drivers are preparing to make their way back to the 15.769-mile track that Jackie Stewart nicknamed “The Green Hell” for the ADAC TotalEnergies 24 Hour Nurburgring on May 20-21.
Michael Lewis, Taylor Hagler, Mason Filippi and Harry Gottsacker will be sharing a Hyundai Elantra N TCR car, the same car they all race in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge, run by Target Competition with support from BHA.
“The USA team concept with Hyundai started right before COVID hit, then everything shut down and it didn’t happen,” explains Bryan Herta of how the idea came to fruition. “We started discussing it later on last year about bringing the concept back. For those who don’t know much about the Nurburgring, it’s it’s an amazing track. But it’s also one of the longest closed-circuit tracks in the world, it’s incredibly complicated to learn.
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s a huge event, it’s something that Hyundai takes a lot of pride in, because a lot of their street cars, especially the N cars, are developed there at the Nurburgring. So to have our USA team Hyundai drivers being able to go over there represent the USA, represent Hyundai, it’s really a big deal, and something we’re really proud to be invited to do.”
Hyundai is a two-time defending winner in the TCR class at the 24 hour, so there is a good opportunity for the quartet to do well, although lack of ‘ring experience may hamper them, especially if conditions get bad. But racing there will certainly be checking off a bucket list item for several of them.
“I’ve always said, from a young kid starting racing, I always wanted to compete in all the major endurance races in the world, right?” says Filippi, who with teammate Mark Wilkins enters the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca event tied at the top for points after a pair of podium finishes in the first two races of the season.
“So, Nurburgring 24, Le Mans, Daytona … all of them. And so it was such an incredible opportunity to be able to do the Nurburgring this year, especially with Hyundai, since I’ve been racing with them for such a long time now. I remember in 2019, Mark Wilkins and I went to the Nurburgring together for the first time, and it was such an incredible trip, we’re like, ‘We have to race here, this is the most amazing place on Earth.’ It is so gnarly, it’s so challenging as a driver, and you just really get to push yourself to your own personal limits because it’s such a technical, fast, just hairy track. So it was really incredible I got the call that we’re able to race there this year.”
The Nurburging is notoriously difficult, and the length of the track and the number of corners make it even more so. During their stints in the Nurburgring Endurance Series (Nurburgring Langstrecken-Serie) races leading up to the 24 Hour, the drivers may have made only five or six laps, meaning that during a whole weekend, they’ve seen each corner only a handful of times. It’s daunting, but also part of the challenge that makes it so exciting.
“The track is crazy,” says two-time IMPC TCR champion Lewis. “It’s super-narrow, every turn is extremely fast. To pass someone is really hard. And you’re going through every weather condition ever known, through day and night, and there’s no rest. There are really good people you’re trying to race with, which makes it crazy. But I guess what’s the most surprising or challenging thing is, when you think about it, it’s that you can’t hide; that track, it’s just, ‘Hey, there’s your car, go as fast as you can.’ And that’s it. So if you’re able to do a really good time, great. If not, you’ve got things to work on. And it’s just almost back to simple things, right? It’s pure driving, and it’s really cool. The track is what it is, and that idea is pretty special.”
Filippi, Lewis, Hagler and Gottsacker will be heading to Germany shortly after completing Saturday’s WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120. In addition to the BHA quartet, TC America racer Jeff Ricca, a Nurburgring veteran, will be participating in the race in a VT2-class Hyundai i30N.