On a cold Nürburgring, Black Falcon was victorious in the penultimate race of the season. In VLN’s Rowe DMV 250-Meilen-Rennen, the Meuspather squad fought hard with the team of the title sponsor of the race, Rowe Racing, until the Rowe SLS had to retire in the final stage of the four hour race, handing the win to the Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Yelmer Buurman, Adam Christodoulou, Manuel Metzger and Hubert Haupt.
As the end of the season is approaching, the first snow storm already hit the Nürburgring this week, leaving behind a thin white film and cold winter breeze. For a moment there is doubt whether or not a race can be held in the Eifel, but when the snow clears on Thursday, the go-ahead is given.
The days running up to today have seen quite the action on and off the race track: Porsche announced their participation in VLN9 with the new 991 GT3R being run in conjunction with works team Manthey Racing making its race debut. AMG was also slated to make another start with their new car, but the near freezing temperatures and the useless tyre data they would gather, made the Affalterbach team pull out last minute.
For Rowe Racing the weekend started with a big repair late Friday afternoon, when their Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 was brought back into the paddock on the back of a truck after the white car violently smashed into the barriers during the unofficial Friday practice.
The cold air also brings fog with it, forcing race control to postpone the training on Saturday morning, opening pit lane 43 minutes later. At 10:53 the chequered flag is waved for the end of qualifying. It’s the number 2 Black Falcon team who takes pole position with an astonishing lap of 8:01.443, the fastest Ring lap so far this year.
Not making it to the end of qualifying is the number 58 Black Falcon Porsche 991 GT3 Cup of Gerwin Schuring and guest driver Jeroen Bleekemolen. A patch of wet tarmac takes Schuring out. Unable to repair the car at the track, it’s the end of race day for the Dutch duo.
“It was wetter than we thought,” Schuring explains, while remaining optimistic for next race. “The car in front of me also went through the grass, and I just needed ten more centimetres, but I hit the guard rail. The car will be ready in two weeks.”
The Porsche’s ‘Did Not Start’ won’t rid the SP7 class of an exciting fight between Black Falcon, Manthey and Frikadelli, though, as Manthey Racing’s number 92 Porsche 991 GT3 Cup MR didn’t show up at all and neither did Frank Kräling’s Frikadelli Porsche. This left the SP7 class without the usual top competitors.
At 12:30 the race is on. Adam Christodoulou takes charge of the field as he easily holds on to pole position. Rowe Racing’s Klaus Graf enters the Nordschleife in second, with Dennis Busch in the new Audi R8 Mk.II LMS GT3 right behind him. Also in the leading group is the Walkenhorst BMW Z4 GT3 of Michela Cerruti, Victor Bouveng and Felipe Fernández Laser, still going strong since the start of last summer.
With Christodoulou leading the field the competition doesn’t stand much of a chance. The Brit has everything under control and keeps a small gap to the chasing Rowe SLS, not giving a single inch.
When Manuel Metzger takes over from his team mate for the car’s second stint, the gap to second place is maintained, in spite of the German not being allowed a single lap without heavy traffic and yellow flags.
After Metzger gets out of the car and Hubert Haupt gets in for the third stint, Rowe creeps up even closer to the leader. Unfazed by the big white SLS in his rear view mirrors, Haupt keeps the charging Christian Hohenadel behind him.
One hour before the end of the race, Haupt veers off into pit lane for one final pit stop and to hand over the car to Yelmer Buurman. The Dutchman comes fresh off his Mercedes-AMG GT3 debut two weeks earlier, returning to Black Falcon for the first time since the combination won the VLN 6 hour race last September.
Rowe Racing takes over the lead for a couple of laps again, but is relegated to second when Hohenadel makes his last stop of the race.
Four laps later the story ends for the squad from Sankt Ingbert: A broken wheel bearing forces Hohenadel into the pit box, where it’s decided not to continue.
Rowe’s retirement leaves the way open for Black Falcon to take an easy win. Closing in on the finish, however, an electrical problem starts to play up. Turning off all unnecessary electronics, Buurman manages to cross the finish line in endurance style to take the chequered flag.
“At the end, Yelmer was struggling a bit with the car because we had an issue with the battery,” Manuel Metzger says. “The battery didn’t really charge like it should, so it went into jerk mode. It was really scary stuff.
“In the end we are happy that the car lasted for four hours and that we won the race. For me, especially, my first overall win, is quite cool, and in my second race in the SLS, that’s even more cool.”
Metzger, having raced the first seven races of the season in Schuring’s SP7 Black Falcon Porsche, was given the chance to move up into the team’s Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. Not disappointing in VLN8 where the team came close to finishing second but lost it in the same fashion Rowe did today, the 29-year-old got another chance in the SLS.
“I was surprised last race when I first stepped into the car first, about how quickly I got up to pace and how confident I felt. But I think that’s more because the car is so good, and the setup of the car is so good.”
Team mate Adam Christodoulou adds: “He is good, it’s his second race in the SLS this year, and second race in the SLS, and he has won overall. He’s done a great job. He’s been in the Porsche all year and he’s been super fast in that, and he’s jumped in the SLS as if he’s driven it all year. He’s done a great job.”
While happy to have been here today with Black Falcon, Christodoulou was supposed to be racing AMG’s new GT3. That didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, as the HWA-run car was pulled out last minute.
“Originally I was named on [the Black Falcon SLS] a few weeks ago, and then less than two weeks ago I got a call from AMG asking me to drive the new car,” the former Star Mazda champion explains. “I was like, ‘yeah, this is the best thing ever that has happened to me’, so I was really looking forward to it.
“But with the weather conditions being unpredictable, the comparison for the test wasn’t going to be ‘true’, so they decided to save it for when the weather conditions would be warmer.
“So suddenly on Wednesday it was a bit of a panic trying to figure out whether I could still race or not. But there was a seat left at Black Falcon and it worked out perfectly.”
Twin Busch profits from Rowe’s retirement and moves up one position to finish in second place. The team of twin brothers Dennis and Marc Busch won last time out and went home with a good result again today. Most importantly, however, is the excellent race the brothers and occasional team mate Marc Basseng have in the new Audi R8 Mk.II LMS GT3. Although on loan for this race, the team is enthusiastic about the prospect of owning one of the new Audi’s themselves, having been the first customer to give the new car a go in competition.
Making its race debut is the Porsche 991 GT3R. Sporting the well known prototype livery many manufacturers cover their cars in, Fred Makowiecki and Nick Tandy bring the Manthey-run car home in third without suffering any major problems, but still with the old 997 engine instead of the new direct fuel injection engine.
VLN returns to the Eifel track on 31 October for the 40. DMV Münsterlandpokal, the final race of the season. It’s the race where the title for the outright championship, the Speed Trophäe, will be decided.
Frikadelli Racing’s Porsche 997 GT3R of Klaus Abbelen, Patrick Huisman and Sabine Schmitz return to the top of the charts after today’s fifth place, leading the Walkenhorst Z4 by just four points. Black Falcon is also still in the running for the championship, but their participation in the season finale is unclear as the usual number 2 SLS is getting ready for the Abu Dhabi 12 hours in November. Eleven points back is the number 44 Twin Busch Audi, having made a tremendous comeback in the last three races with podium finishes and a win.