The hot summer days are gone. Last weekend’s VLN Opel 6h ADAC Ruhr-Pokal at the Nürburgring was cold and wet. In spite of the autumn weather, 167 cars were brought to the 24.358 kilometre long circuit in search of glory in the championship’s season high light. As the defending winners of three consecutive six hour races in a row and with the latest VLN race win under their belt, Rowe Racing was the ultimate favourite for victory. But just like the weather in the Eifel, nothing is ever certain at the Nürburgring.
Under a dark grey sky, practice starts on Saturday morning for the seventh VLN race of the season. It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s dark. In the difficult circumstances it’s the Farnbacher Racing Lexus RC-F GT3 that takes pole position in just its fourth race weekend at the Nürburgring.
Rolling onto the starting grid, the German-Japanese team has made the decision to start the race on intermediate tyres. It’s not a strange choice as it hasn’t rained in a while now and the track is slowly drying up. But they’re stuck with what they have even if it does start to rain, which is exactly what happens when the grid is being cleared for the formation lap. There is nothing Farnbacher Racing can do any more: they have to start the race on grooved slicks.
When the green flag waves, Dominik Farnbacher is swarmed by other cars that have opted to start on full rain tyres. The first one to pass Farnbacher is the Rowe Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 with Christian Hohenadel behind the wheel. The German takes over the lead and is followed onto the Nordschleife by Adam Christodoulou in the Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 shared with Hubert Haupt, Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal and Yelmer Buurman.
Christodoulou takes no prisoners in his quest for the win: the Brit is glued to the rear bumper of Hohenadel for over one and a halve hours as the two duel for track position, hunting down and striking the leader at every chance he gets. He finally gets past Hohenadel well into the second hour of the race.
Pit stops shortly follow in which Rowe is the fastest of the two teams, sending the white SLS out of the pits just in front of their Mercedes-AMG compatriots.
Still Black Falcon doesn’t give up. In the hours that follow, the black car is never further away than just a few corners.
Everything ends after 23 laps for Rowe Racing when a broken suspension forces Klaus Graf to return the pits. Unable to repair the machine, the team from Saarland calls it a day, having made it into the fourth hour as the race leaders.
“Our goal today was to win our fourth six hour race in a row,” Rowe’s team manager Hans-Peter Naundorf says. “We were leading the race at the moment of retirement and had the race under control. We did everything right, but didn’t expect this aggression and unsportsmanlike behaviour of our brand colleagues. Apparently this is the only way our competitors can stop us.”
Black Falcon inherits the lead, never to look back. The Meuspather crew crosses the finish line shortly after 18 in the evening with nearly 1,000 kilometre behind them.
“Even though it may have looked like an easy drive, it was a very tough race,” says Hubert Haupt. “In my stint, I had a tough battle over many laps with the Rowe SLS. That was exciting and I had a lot of fun. I am very happy with my first VLN victory.”
Just like Lexus, Falken Motorsports also starts on the wrong tyres. However, the Schnable Engineering-run car is able to make up for the time lost in the opening phase and brings the Porsche 997 GT3R home in second place after rising through the ranks when the track starts to dry up. A welcome result after a last lap tyre failure cost the team a certain third place two weeks ago.
“The SLS just escaped us in the first part of the race,” Porsche works driver Wolf Henzler admits. “The first laps were extremely slippery. After that, I noticed that the tyres were slowly coming up to temperature and I could start pushing. Our race back to the front was a success and we’re very happy with second place.”
Last lap misery today befalls Frikadelli Racing. The local team from Barweiler is up to third place when Patrick Huisman drives the Porsche 997 GT3R into the pits for the final time. Klaus Abbelen takes over the car and leaves the pits for the final minutes of the race, when he finds Dennis Busch in the Twin Busch Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra GT3 all over the back of his Porsche.
Arriving at Klostertal, Abbelen finally cracks under the pressure and smashes into the guard rail. With mere minutes to go, it’s race over. Limping back to the pits, Abbelen crosses the finish line at the entrance of pit lane after the six hour mark, but before the chequered is waved as leader Buurman is still out on the Nordschleife racing towards the flag. For drivers Huisman, Abbelen and Sabine Schmitz, nothing else than retirement remains.
SP7 sees the return of title contenders Manuel Metzger and Gerwin Schuring. The Black Falcon duo had to miss the previous race after a heavy crash of Schuring in practice left the car beyond repair. In the time between the races a new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup is build up and prepared for the longest VLN race of the year.
Although not completely without mistakes themselves, the German-Dutch duo makes the most out of the competition’s mistakes and jump to the top of the charts in the fourth hour. Mixing it up with the full blown GT3’s, the ever-improving Schuring brings home the Porsche in seventh overall and first in its class. Without the number 92 Manthey Porsche 991 GT3 Cup MR making it to the end, Black Falcon scores important points in the SP7 championship.
With summer gone, VLN now moves into the autumn part of its schedule for the last three races of the season. After a break of four weeks, the endurance championship returns on 3 October for the 55. ADAC Reinoldus-Langstreckenrennen.