Battle lines

The battle lines for the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring have been drawn. With Schubert Motorsport carrying the flag, BMW obliterated the field in the third VLN race of the season as Jörg Müller, Marco Wittmann and Jesse Krohn took the win. The other manufacturers never were a factor in the race, finishing far behind the three leading BMW M6 GT3s.

Over the past three races in the lead-up to the 24 Hours there were glimpses of the BMW M6 GT3’s speed. There was the pole position for the ADAC 24h Qualifying Race, and some drivers did report suddenly finding an M6 GT3 all over their rear view mirrors at the end of long straights when just a couple of corners earlier it was far away. But never was its strength as visible as today. Or as one Audi driver would say after the race: “It’s as if the BMWs suddenly got 10 kilometres per hour faster on the straights.”

Today, clear laps in qualifying brings BMW the first three starting positions. The number 31 Schubert BMW M6 GT3 of Jörg Müller, Marco Wittmann and Jesse Krohn lap under the 8-minute barrier, bringing the Nordschleife lap times back to where they were before last year’s speed limits. Even the new technical measures to slow the cars down can’t stop the works supported M6 from creeping up on the track lap record.

Walkenhorst Motorsport, BMW’s customer team, lines up second, having beaten the Schubert BMW of Lucas Luhr, Martin Tomczyk and John Edwards by almost three seconds.

Not for a moment during the race is Schubert threatened by the competition. Switching positions through the pit stops, running in formation for much of the race, building up a two and a half minute gap to the first non-BMW car, the Nordschleife experts take the win.

“It was a good race,” winner Jesse Krohn says. “We had a good, clear qualifying without traffic, so we managed to do a good lap. In the race we could continue that and we only lost the lead because of an off-set pit stop strategy by our competitor, the sister car.

“We had our own team’s car behind us, so we know what kind of risks we can take. It was just managing and getting a good result for the team and for BMW.”

With the customer Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 of Christian Krognes, Victor Bouveng and Tom Blomqvist in third place and still half a minute ahead of the fourth placed Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Audi stars Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Mies and Christian Mamerow, it certainly seemed like BMW wasn’t racing to win in previous races.

Krohn, however, denies that the M6s were run on a leash until today. Instead, the Finn says, it’s all about the position on the grid.

“We always show what we have, we try to play it fair. We always try to do the best we can and to learn as much as we can for the 24 Hours; it was a good job from the team and drivers.

“If you don’t qualify well, you have that much more trouble getting past people and you are less in control. We were a little less lucky [in previous races], and coming into this race we’ve also learned a lot from those two races. So we came here with a little bit bigger backpack [of knowledge].”

SP7, meanwhile, still remains Black Falcon territory, even though victory isn’t theirs today. Alex Toril and Tim Scheerbarth qualify the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup BF seven seconds faster than Frank Kräling’s Frikadelli Racing-run Porsche 991 GT3 Cup MR, driven by Frank Kräling himself, Marc Gindorf and Martin Ragginger.

The Spanish-German duo quickly builds up a big lead in the first stint of the race, but all that hard work gets undone shortly before the first planned pit stop when a puncture throws the Porsche almost in the wall and four minutes behind the number 62 Frikadelli Porsche. Fighting back to second in class, they cross the finish line just eighteen seconds shy of Frikadelli Racing, narrowly missing out on the team’s third consecutive win.

“Unfortunately the overall leading team reduced its speed and finished the race one lap earlier than we expected,” Toril says. “With the extra lap we’d maybe have been able to win.”

As we countdown to the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in two weeks time, the question remains: Can BMW be beaten? Will the return of AMG and Audi works squads Black Falcon, HTP and WRT, all absent with their strongest line-ups due to a clash with the Blancpain GT race in Silverstone, be enough to stop the Bayerische manufacturer from running away with the win? Or will the return of Rowe Racing, also in Silverstone this weekend, just be another trump card for BMW?

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Miguel is the founder and editor-in-chief of GT REPORT. He’s more interested in the human side of the sport and the heroics of racing. Also the founder of automotive PR and photography agency GTXM.media. When it doesn’t clash with racing you’ll find Miguel cheering football club Vitesse on.

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Miguel Bosch

Miguel is the founder and editor-in-chief of GT REPORT. He’s more interested in the human side of the sport and the heroics of racing. Also the founder of automotive PR and photography agency GTXM.media. When it doesn’t clash with racing you’ll find Miguel cheering football club Vitesse on.