As the Blancpain Endurance Series has come to an end, Yelmer Buurman can look back on a season with more downs than ups. Although the Dutchman and his Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 teammates Hubert Haupt and Abdulaziz Al Faisal at times showed great potential, it was bad luck that kept them from achieving the results they wanted.
It’s the end of the Nürburgring 3 hours. As the celebrations on the podium are ongoing, Buurman is on the other end of pit lane talking with his crew. It’s another day where he has nothing to show for a race weekend that started out so promising.
“Qualifying went pretty well,” Buurman says. “I qualified the car on fifth place with my first lap, which was my best lap. In the second lap I was much faster, but in the last chicane and last turn I got caught up in traffic. I was three and a halve tenths slower than the fastest lap, so I would’ve at least made it onto the front row. But P5 is still good, we were by far the best Mercedes.”
After qualifying has come to an end, the strategy for today is decided: Haupt starts the race, then it’s Buurman’s turn, and finally Al Faisal takes the wheel.
“Hubert Haupt did the start. That went pretty well and he took third right away, but later lost a place and was fourth.
“We stayed out for pretty long because our team mate [Al Faisal] would do the last stint. He’s fast, but sometimes loses just a little too much in traffic, so we left him a bit less driving time. That’s why Hubert and I drove long, and with a full tank of about hundred litre with which you usually drive about an hour. That’s how you can divide [the stints] over three hours.”
Despite the good qualifying and start, the race isn’t without problems.
“I drove for about an hour and fifteen minutes, so with a full tank. I also had used tyres, and I think the combination of a heavy car and used tyres just didn’t completely work the way it should have. The speed was there, but I couldn’t quickly reel in the leaders.”
When other cars come in for pit stops during the safety car periods, the SLS climbs up to second place. Buurman is now right behind the leading M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3.
“Then I went past the Bentley of Andy Soucek and we were first for a little while. To overtake a slower car in traffic, I went to the inside of the first turn, and was on the outside for the second turn. [The slower car] saw the Bentley in its mirrors and moved over, but didn’t see me on his outside. I had to go all the way around and then the Rowe-Mercedes, which was one lap behind, also went past me.
“In addition to that, we also lost a lot of time during refuelling. We’re losing about sixteen seconds compared to the competition. That’s why the organisation adjusted the restrictor for both the engine and fuel installation for grade 2 tracks and was supposed to do that for grade 3 tracks also, but that didn’t happen.
“During longer pit stops we lose about sixteen seconds and shorter stops it’s about twelve, thirteen, fourteen seconds. That’s a lot of time when you see how competitive the field is–it’s just a shame.
“I had bad luck a couple of times with the traffic and lost some ground. In combination with the wrong strategy we eventually finished ninth, which is a shame because I think we had a good chance to finish in the top five. But that’s racing.”
It’s not just today that Buurman encounters bad luck. Most of the season has been marred by trouble.
That, however, wasn’t how the season started last February in Dubai, when Buurman, Haupt and Al Faisal were joined by Oliver Webb as they won the 24 hour race. The successful start wasn’t a prelude to what was to come.
“It was a very tough season,” the 28-year-old admits. “We didn’t test enough in the beginning of the year. We had a testing day at Monza and all we had were problems: Wheel bearings that broke and all sorts of things that usually don’t happen.
“Later on we found out that when the car was on transportation back from Dubai, the wheel bearings got too much of a pounding in the container. That’s why we couldn’t drive much in Monza and didn’t go to the test in Paul Ricard.”
Pirelli’s introduction of new a new tyre compound didn’t help much either, but the turning point came before the 1000 kilometre race in Paul Ricard.
“In the beginning we couldn’t really manage the new tyre. So we struggled.
“Before the race in Paul Ricard we tested there. After that we went very well during the race, but then the gearbox failed and we lost a very big chance to finish on the podium.”
Arriving at Spa-Francorchamps for the 24 hours, the speed was once again there, but so was the bad luck.
“In Spa, everything finally went well, but were we pushed off by a Lamborghini and lost eleven laps.
“In the end we had quite some bad luck and didn’t get the results we wanted. But we did win VLN7 two weeks ago, the 6 hour race, so that’s positive. But in the Blancpain Endurance Series it was a drama.”
With still three more races in the VLN championship to go, Black Falcon has enough chances to finish the season on a high note. Whether or not Buurman will be part of the driver line-up, he doesn’t know yet.
“Right now we have to wait and see, but it looks good. Something cool will be announced soon.”