It’s arguably the most remarkable round in the series: 26 TCR touring cars not competing on the regular modern-day Nürburgring, but on the full circuit that includes the 20km long old Nordschleife – laps of more than 25km, lap times of over 10 minutes, each race consisting of just three laps, all in support of the famous Nürburgring 24 Hours. For Niels Langeveld, the entire experience would be completely new. "I went there knowing that I missed the track knowledge that others have on this circuit. On the other hand, it’s a circuit that favours talented drivers who can quickly adapt to circumstances. Because of the long laps, there is limited time and limited opportunity, but for all you know you are the one to spring a surprise."
At first it most certainly looked that way, as Langeveld proved to be a major player in the first free practice session and went even quicker in the second session. "I could only do two timed laps in the first session, but was still tenth fastest. In the second free practice session I bolted on fresh tyres - and immediately set fastest lap! That was truly incredible, nobody expected that. I was flying! The car felt good, I had a lot of confidence behind the wheel, so I decided to have one more set of new tyres fitted."
However, in his new flying lap it all went wrong for Langeveld in the corner known as the 'little Karussell'. "An annoying turn of events: a brief technical issue in exactly the wrong place on the track caused me to crash really hard. That turned my whole weekend into a mess." Langeveld’s first hot lap proved to be good enough for P3 in the session, but that was no help to the Dutchman. His team Comtoyou Team Audi Sport faced a race against time to get the car ready for the races. "I was forced to miss Q1 entirely. I did take to the track in Q2, but the car’s damage was so extensive that it still wasn’t at 100% and proved quite difficult to drive. This meant I had to start all three races from the back."
Langeveld had no choice but to try and make the most of it – and that’s exactly what he did. From 26th and last on the grid, the Audi Sport driver made up no less than 12 places, finishing the first race in a very respectable 14th position. "I passed so many cars! In the turns as well as on the straight, as the Audi’s top speed is just huge."
The second race resulted in 20th position. "I couldn't do any more. I was a bit unlucky at the start and after that I got stuck behind a car that had about the same speed." For the final race of the weekend Langeveld was eager to give it all just one more time. Continously fighting in a group of seven he managed to salvage 12th place – and more points – from a weekend that had seemed lost after his practice crash. "I went like mad! With a bit more luck I could have ended up eighth or ninth, but at the start I got tapped which caused me to accidentally hit the pit limiter. That lost me a few places."
Langeveld regrets the missed opportunities as he had the pace to be fighting at the front, yet prefers to draw positive lessons from what he did achieve in the weekend. He also thoroughly enjoyed his three races on the old Nordschleife, driving on a knife’s edge all the time. "I loved the racing, but yes, it’s such a pity. Because of that setback, I suffered a weekend of frustration and emotion, but you learn to deal with that. It is what it is, and I'm still feeling positive about it. With the experience I've gained I'm sure I'll be even faster here next season."
Langeveld is now preparing for the WTCR meeting on the Portuguese street circuit of Vila Real on 6-7 July. Like the Nürburgring it's a circuit he has never raced on. "That means starting from scratch for the most part, but I'm happy to take on the challenge. This weekend I showed my pace and proved that I’m capable of making up lots of places. The pay off is bound to come."