It was a busy winter for the Capricorn Nürburgring GmbH. After Nissan’s horror crash in March 2015 the company found itself forced to make a series of safety changes to the Nordschleife. The most prominent of these was made to the segment between Quiddelbacher Höhe and Flugplatz, which was stripped of its asphalt, levelled, and then repaved to stop cars from taking off. A week after the circuit was officially reopened, the 2016 VLN grid flocked towards the Ring for the series’ annual pre-season test.
The test was strongly affected by the weather. On Friday the teams were greeted by sunshine, but on Saturday the Nürburgring presented them with a chilly 3 degrees Celsius, overcast skies, and a steady morning drizzle that made the track very slippery. During the early hours of the day many drivers reported back a lack of grip, particularly on the Nordschleife where many also encountered dirt left behind by the reconstruction works. These conditions in combination with a 2-hour-long code red around noon and another shorter one around 14:30h meant that most teams decided to use their track time for reconnaissance runs instead of performance testing.
One of the teams opting to do this was Black Falcon. The Meuspath squad showed up at the Ring with an army of race cars in tow, including the Mercedes-AMG GT3s they raced in the Dubai 24 hours. Throughout the test they focussed on finding a solid baseline setup. By the end of the day Adam Christodoulou felt that goal had been achieved: “Today has been pretty awesome. It’s a shame that there were two big red-flag periods, but despite that we still managed to put in some good mileage and gather some more data. This was the first time Black Falcon has run the AMGs around the Nordschleife, so today we put down our baseline. We’ll take all the data we gathered today, both in the wet and in the dry, and use it to our advantage.”
Black Falcon wasn’t the only team to bring new equipment. Zakspeed premiered its yellow-green Mann-Filter Mercedes-AMG GT3, a car identical to Black Falcon’s chargers although not factory supported, while Schubert Motorsport showed up with the latest model BMW M6 GT3. Rowe Racing also reported for duty with an M6. For the St. Ingbert-based crew it was one of their first major test outings since dropping Mercedes for BMW. Frikadelli Racing, meanwhile, brought its new Porsche 911 GT3R to the Nordschleife. The crew already raced the car in the Daytona 24 hours, but were still short on data around the VLN’s home track.
The contingent of new GT3 cars was a major talking point throughout the test. The 2016 safety regulations don’t just demand changes to the Nürburgring, they also demand a power reduction for the faster SP-classes. One of the questions this raises is of how big the gap will be between the clamped-down GT3s and the quickest of the ‘untouched’ cars, such as those in the SP7-class. The 2015 final was won by a modified Porsche 991 GT3 Cup. Could the new rules allow the SP7s to join the front runners more often? For now, SP7-driver Tim Scheerbarth, who tested the Black Falcon Porsche 991 GT3 Cup that won last year’s season finale, errs on the cautious side: “The GT3 cars have become a bit slower, but you can’t forget about the engineering. It’s more important than ever this season, now that all [GT3] manufacturers have new cars. All in all I think the gap’ll be the same as last year.”
The VLN season opener will take place on 2 April with the 62. ADAC Westfalenfahrt.
Interviews by Miguel Bosch.