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Max Girardo is racing a Porsche Cayman in the 2021 Nürburgring 24 Hours

Did you know our very own Max Girardo is a Nürburgring 24 Hours veteran? This weekend, he’ll head to the Green Hell to enter ‘the most difficult race in the world’ for the fifth time, on this occasion behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayman S. Before the green flag waves, here’s what Max had to say…

On Saturday 5 June, Max Girardo and his good friends Xavier Lamadrid, Xavier Lamadrid Sr. and Nicolas Abrill will join close to 125 other teams competing in the ADAC Total 24h Race at the Nürburgring. Max et al will drive a 981-generation Porsche Cayman S under the HS Racing banner in the ‘V6’ category. And they’ll share the history-steeped 25km stretch of asphalt with everything from quasi-Works GT3 BMW M6s and Porsche 911s to humble Hyundai i30s and Opel Astras.

This isn’t Max’s first rodeo at the ’Ring. He’s entered the 24-hour marathon race on four occasions before, in 2011, ’12, ’15 and ’16, each time with a Renault Clio RS. Before the visors drop, the starting flag waves and the thousands of barbeques around the track are lit, here’s Max on the magic of the Nürburgring 24 Hours. If it’s not on your events bucket list, we reckon it will be. 

How did your love affair with the Nürburgring 24 Hours kindle?

Back when I was living in Monaco, my friend Xavier decided it would be a great idea for us to enter the Peugeot 206 Cup. There were 70-odd identical 206s all on road tyres, which was as fun as it sounds. We went around France, entering one- or two-hour endurance races at great circuits such as Dijon-Prenois and Paul Ricard.

“Before long, we’d bought a Renault Clio Cup, found a team local to the ’Ring to run it and were entering three-hour VLN races in order to qualify for the 24-hour race.”

One year we went to Spa for a six-hour race, where there were 120 cars on the grid! But in practice on the Thursday, Xavier had a bit of a spin coming out of Eau Rouge and rear-ended into the barriers. Unsurprisingly, a short-wheelbase 206 wasn’t fit to race. Unable to find a replacement, we decided to drive straight to the Nürburgring, where we hired an Alfa Romeo 75 and did as many tourist laps as we could.

Coincidentally, there was a VLN race on that weekend, so we hung around to watch. We caught the bug instantly – before long, we’d bought a Renault Clio Cup, found a team local to the ’Ring to run it and were entering three-hour VLN races in order to qualify for the 24-hour race. What could possibly go wrong?!

Describe the experience of racing for 24 hours on the fearsome Nordschleife…

Life-affirming. Terrifying, but life-affirming! Despite how long the track is, you drive around it enough throughout the weekend that you do get a good feel for it. I find dawn the most challenging part of the race. When the sun’s going down you’re still pretty alert and awake, and in the night the blinding flashing lights of the faster cars behind keep you constantly on your toes. But once the sun’s risen again and you’re weary from the lack of sleep, it’s too easy to make a mistake – especially as you can’t spot the frontrunners behind so easily. I had a coming together at this time with a Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 car one year. The ’Ring takes no prisoners. That said, that makes it so much more satisfying when you get it right.

Tell us about your 2021 campaign?

The frontrunning GT3 cars are just so fast nowadays that we decided to upgrade from the Clio to a Porsche Cayman S for this year. The last time out with the Clio in 2015, we joked that we were a mobile chicane just out there to make things more difficult for the pros. The Porsche won’t be massively quicker, but it should remove a little bit of the terror.

I love how international our team is. Xavier’s from Monaco, his father’s from Mexico and Nicolas is from Switzerland. And above all, it’s about having fun and sharing this incredible experience with my close friends. There’s something so magical about 24-hour races, whether it’s Britcar at Silverstone or Le Mans.

How does the atmosphere at the Nürburgring differ to, say, the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

The atmosphere is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, Le Mans included. It’s more grassroots than Le Mans, which increases the access for the fans, and the cars competing are more relatable as they’re all GTs. I guess it’s more of a party for the fans. When you’re driving around in the evening, you can see the fireworks and the flashing lights atop the huge, rickety viewing platforms people put up. It’s crazy. You can also smell the sausages frying on barbeques. It sort of feels like Group B did in 1984. Frenzied!

What’s your fondest memory from racing at the Nürburgring?

There are countless moments in my head. The second time we entered the race, in 2012, it rained and hailed so much that the GT3 cars couldn’t climb the hills, whereas we, in our trusty front-wheel-drive Clio, kept going round. The race had to be called off for some six hours – I think we used one set of tyres in 24 hours!

“The team held the wheel on with chicken wire for the final two laps and we brought the car home third in class. I was so tired – it was the only time I’ve ever cried in a racing car.”

My best memory is of taking the final stint and crossing the finish line third in class in 2015. I had an altercation with a barrier in practice, which the team had valiantly fixed in time for the race. I felt so guilty, and when the wheel began to come loose in the last hour, my anxiety was through the roof. The team held the wheel on with chicken wire for the final two laps and we brought the car home third in class. I was so tired – it was the only time I’ve ever cried in a racing car.

It’s a real shame that only 10,000 fans will be allowed to spectate this weekend. This race is as much about the atmosphere as it is about the racing. We’ll be back in 2022 for sure!

Photos courtesy of the Girardo & Co. Archive / Botschaft.digital

The ADAC Total 24h Race at the Nürburgring begins at 15:30CET on Saturday 5 June. Live timing will be available to view by clicking here and the race organisers will also stream the race with English commentary on their YouTube channel. Click Here to watch live.

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