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The longest race in history

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The Nürburgring 24 Hours is one of the most important endurance races in the world. If it is already worthwhile to win a speed race in the Green Hell, winning one of such duration can enter into the legend. A whole day fighting, not only against other cars, but against the race itself and the difficulty of the mechanics endure so long of competition without stopping. And against the circuit. But years ago, to a few, twenty-four hours seemed little.

In 1965, a group of speed enthusiasts organized the longest race in history, as advertised, at the Nürburgring. Taking the reins of the old Liege-Rome-Liege rally event, they decided to bring their spirit to the German track, where the most powerful machines of the most prestigious manufacturers would compete for almost three and a half days, totaling eighty-two hours in total.

Marathon de la Route, as the race was called, was held from 1965 to 1971. Little by little, the duration increased, reaching the ninety-six hours that the last edition lasted. Four days riding the circuit with the worst reputation, in terms of dangerousness, in the world. If the first year the winner of the race gave a total of 310 laps in 82 hours, in its final edition, 487 laps on the German track were given by the winning vehicle, in 14 more hours.

If it was already a challenge to compete in the Green Hell, to do it for so many hours, and in the rain, it had no name.

Quiddelbacher, Flugplatz, Aremberg, Adenauer, Bergwerk, Karussell, Brünchenn or Schwalbenschwanz are some names of curves that riders such as Jacky Ickx, Vic Elford, Jochen Neerpasch, Lucien Bianchi, Hans Herrmann, Sandro Munari, Stirling Moss or Helmut Marko drew for so many turns. Even the former great Ferrari skipper, Luca di Montezemolo, dared to contest it. Also here Juan Manuel Fangio signed a great feat of his sports career.

The race had achieved such prestige that the brands pointed their mounts under the official protection of the factories. This is the case of Porsche, which approached the 1970 race with the full support of the racing team, the same one that led them to glory at Le Mans a couple of months earlier. They achieved an absolute treble with the 914, the greatest dominance of a manufacturer in the short history of the race, held this time for 86 hours.

1971 marked the last year that saw such a challenge putting mechanics and drivers to the test. The organization lengthened the length, reaching 96 hours. Only 16 cars reached the finish line, in an edition marked by the drop in participants and the poor follow-up. The factories turned their backs on the event and the media appeal of competing for four days was not enough to save the race for another year.

The legendary days of the Spa-Sofia-Liege rally are long gone, so the current Marathon de la Route is decided after 3.5 days of hard work around the Nürburgring, but there has only been one way to win: to build a car with a lot of stamina and equip it with drivers who have the same characteristics, as well as a good dose of ingenuity. Drivers nowadays don’t need to be so tough, but they do have to be able to accept discipline, as the goal of the event is to achieve a higher average speed without delays due to accidents or repairs.

Consistent lap times are important because there is a clause that insists that cars must complete at least the same number of laps during the last 12 hours as in the initial 12 hours. Automatic disqualification is the penalty for not complying with this request; Exclusion is also invoked for stopping in the pits for more than 15 minutes. Drivers who are also good mechanics can save their team by working in an area opposite the pits, as long as they can complete a lap in less than 24m (30m during the first four hours), starting when they start working on the car. The fastest lap times are just under 13 minutes so any important work is out.

Except for an allotment of minutes for driver changes and tire checks, every minute in the pits costs one lap of the total, and the total laps of the ‘Ring is what counts now that the traditional races from Liège and Chaudefontaine count for nothing.

Three Porsche 914/6s are on the front line. Ahead of them stretches the most dangerous circuit in the world one night in August 1970. At 1.00 in the morning, the Road Marathon begins, an 86-hour struggle against fatigue, piloting errors and technical failures. A loop through the northern and southern sections measures 28.29 kilometers. 50 curves, potholes and limits barely secured. The Marathon takes the baton from what was the toughest rally in Europe, the Lie ha-Rome-Liege. Its longest run was some 5,000 grueling kilometers in 1956. At the Nürburgring in 1970, teams of three drivers each face twice as many kilometers.

In this martyrdom in the Eifel massif, Porsche wants to demonstrate the sporting spirit of the 914/6. Extreme marketing for the mid-engined sports car, offered together with Volkswagen. The three official cars have 160 hp each, lightweight components, self-locking differentials, oversized tanks, reinforced brakes, chassis improvements and competition lighting systems. The team has been running countless kilometers of testing, days and nights of driving in Weissach. Each of the nine drivers is trained to carry out repairs on the open track. They complete hours of grueling missions with the utmost precision, sticking to the engine speed limits and gradually increasing speed. With a time of 12:38 minutes, the car with start number 3 of Åke Andersson, Guy Chasseuil and Björn Waldegård records the fastest lap for an official 914/6.

The dropouts are multiplying, and only 24 cars of the 64 that have taken the start manage to finish. Porsche successfully passes the test: triple victory after more than half a week at the wheel. Claude Haldi, Gérard Larrousse and Helmut Marko’s number 1 car wins after covering a total distance of 10,184 kilometers, or 360 laps, ahead of the teammates with the fastest lap. Claude Ballot-Léna, Nicolas Koob and Günter Steckkönig complete the triumvirate. With this heroic performance, the nine drivers prove that the 914/6 is a true Porsche not only for its speed but also for its enormous reliability. Maintenance protocol: one tire change per car, two defective fuses and one rear bulb, two detached window cranks.

Final ranking: The factory 914/6s finish in the order Larrousse / Haldi / Marko, Waldegard / Andersson / Chasseuil and Ballot-Lena / Steckonnig / Koob.

This marathon of the route was for the last time mainly the route of the 28,290 km north and south loop.