“We will win more races this year,” Christian Land proclaimed three weeks ago. The team founded by his father returned to the Nordschleife after an absence of many years and had just taken its twentieth victory in the VLN championship. The wait for win number twenty-first wasn’t long: One race later, Christopher Mies and Connor De Philllippi are back on the top step of the podium, having just taken one of the most thrilling wins in VLN history.
The weather will always play a crucial role in any race at the Nürburgring. Hardly ever is it a calm day. From near-freezing temperatures to scourging heat and everything in between, it’s always a factor. Today, however, the overcast sky isn’t particularly noteworthy. The absence of sunshine keeps the track temperature down but rain is not expected. Not a problem during training for the 56. ADAC Reinoldus-Langstreckenrennen, where Christopher Mies sets a new, although unofficial, track lap record in the Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 with a flying lap of 7:57.161.
Watching the lights go green on Saturday at noon, pole-sitter Mies quickly experiences that the lower track temperature does come into play as he’s surrounded by many cars sporting Dunlop tyres. Putting the power down, he feels that his Michelin aren’t up to working temperature yet.
“I just had no traction,” Mies says. “I wanted to accelerate and I had wheel spin. The tyre temperature went down to forty degrees which is half of what we normally have.
“I think the Michelin tyre is a bit harder to get up to temperature, whilst the Dunlop tyres of the other cars work a bit better in these conditions.”
Mies has to work his way back up after dropping several places. He right away sets the tone for the rest of the race: Pushing and shoving other cars a little bit here and there, before long the Land Audi finds itself running in third and trailing the Alzen Racing Ford GT3 of Uwe Alzen, Mike Stursberg and Dominik Schwager.
In front of the field is the Farnbacher Racing Lexus RC-F GT3 with Mario Farnbacher at the wheel. The development work the Japanese brand has been doing on the SPX-classed racer is paying off. It’s finally Lexus’ time to shine as Mario and brother Dominik Farnbacher lead the field for the first few laps of the race before the tyres start to wear down.
Early pit stops—just 35 minutes into the race due to a prolonged Code 60 at Döttinger Höhe—by the leaders promote Mies into the lead. The Manthey Racing Porsche 991 GT3R of Jörg Bergmeister and Michael Ammermüller also visits the pits, putting the Land Audi somewhat out-of-sync with the rest of the frontrunners as the team from Niederdreisbach stays out. When Mies comes in for his pit stop, twenty minutes later, he hands the car to De Phillippi who remains flawless during his one and only stint, bringing the Audi closer to the win.
“I had a couple of good battles with the Ford GT and the [number 36 Walkenhorst] BMW that was behind me at one point before I was able to build a gap,” says De Phillippi. “We were always a little out of sequence with the pit stops, so we weren’t directly fighting with anybody until the end when all of the pit stop strategies were out the window and it was just driving in the last stint.”
Both Alzen Racing and the Farnbacher brothers are right in the thick of it. They’re not frontrunners every race, but today they are. That is, until after the second round of pit stops an unlucky timed yellow flag at Tiergarten holds up both cars, losing valuable time to the Manthey Porsche, Land Audi and Walkenhorst BMW. A stop-and-go penalty puts a definite end to Farnbacher’s hope for the win, while the Ford GT of the Alzen brothers has to retire in the final hour with a damaged suspension.
It’s go-time with 37 minutes left on the clock when all pit stop strategies have converged for the last stint and Mies speeds out of pit lane to just stay in front of Bergmeister in the Manthey Porsche. The Eifel is in for one of the championship’s most thrilling finales ever.
“The tyre set we mounted for the last [stint] wasn’t as good as the one I had before,” Mies describes the final laps of the race. “Directly I saw the Porsche behind me, and he passed me on my outlap. I made a mistake on the exit of Breidscheid: I went wide, went onto the grass and he slipped through on the inside. On Döttinger Höhe I passed him back, was in front of him, and then we started the last lap.”
Mies and Bergmeister have been lapping some of the fastest lap times of the race, slicing and dicing through traffic running just tenths apart. The fight for victory culminates in the last lap. Coming up behind lapped traffic at Mercedes-Arena, Mies is momentarily held up as Bergmeister strikes and takes the lead.
“[Bergmeister] gave me a little touch, I went wide and he got through. I followed him and gave him a little touch in Wippermann, just to see if I can make his car unstable and go through on the inside, but that didn’t work so I concentrated on the Döttinger Höhe.
“He was quite far away, but I actually think that was the key. I was quite a long time in the slipstream. Usually, you’re for the first half of Döttinger Höhe in the slipstream and your speed difference is like 3, 4 kilometres per hour. But because I was in his slipstream for the complete Döttinger Höhe, I was probably 6 or 7 kilometres per hour quicker and this was enough to get around on the outside.
“Then we went side-by-side through Tiergarten and Hohenrain, and I said to myself: either we finish first, or none of us finishes. So I just took it flat and hoped that he lifts first.”
The daring manoeuvre pays off: Going around the outside at high speed through Tiergarten, Mies brakes later entering the Hohenrain chicane and with hundreds of meters to go retakes the lead and drag races onto the start-finish straight to take the chequered flag for Land’s twenty-first VLN victory.
“Now I understand why everybody says they’re nervous when they’re watching,” De Phillippi, until last year a Porsche Junior driver, recalls watching his co-pilot fight the Porsche works team. “I’ve never been so nervous in my life. No matter what the race conditions are, when you’re in the car you are so calm, but watching the race I was going crazy. I couldn’t even watch the television, I had to go into the trailer.”
Coming in third is the number 36 Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 of Jörg Müller, Jesse Krohn and Victor Bouveng. The squad from Melle is running up front all day, even setting the fastest lap time of the race and leading some portions of the race, but in the end has to yield to Land and Manthey.
Farnbacher Racing, the leader of the early part of the race, recovers after the stop-and-go penalty to finish fourth, bringing Lexus its best result of the season so far. More importantly: No technical problems plagued the RC-F today onwards to a fourth place for Farnbacher and tenth for the second Lexus run by Emil Frey Racing.
The fastest non-GT3 isn’t coming from the SP7 class today. Black Falcon’s White Rocket that has been dominating the class and mixing it up with the GT3s all year, does take pole in the morning. But the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup BF of Alex Toril and Tim Scheerbarth isn’t even leading when they get caught up in a crash and have to retire after four laps.
It’s Frikadelli Racing Porsche 991 GT3 Cup MR drivers Frank Kräling, Marc Gindorf and Christopher Brück who have taken the lead in a controversial move before the lights went green at the start and hold on to it until the finish, crossing the line six seconds on aggregate time behind the TAM-Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup of Ralf Schall and Christopher Gerhard, who are competing in the H4 class.
As the first half of the season is now wrapped up, Land Motorsport has firmly established itself in the group of frontrunners. Winning again today proves that, if there even was any doubt left, the win in the rain three weeks ago was no fluke.
“We’ve proven we have the whole package,” De Phillippi concludes. “We can be quick in the wet, we can be quick in the dry, we can be fast in changing conditions as well. We’ve proven, no matter what the situation, we can do a good job. And to be always quick and winning races, especially here on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, you have to be able to adapt to these conditions and so far we’ve done a good job at this.”