The 2016 season couldn’t have started any better for Adam Christodoulou: he’s back with Black Falcon and he has been announced as a works driver for AMG, who granted him both a VLN and a Blancpain GT program. On the day of the VLN pre-season test at the Nürburgring, we talked to the multiple VLN race winner about his upcoming campaign with Black Falcon.
For 2016, Christodoulou’s team has assured itself of three Mercedes-AMG GT3s and the support of AMG. The outfit will function as one of the tuner’s flag-ship crews in both the VLN championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series. To prepare for the latter, Black Falcon recently tested its new cars in Portimão. Shortly afterwards they returned home to Germany to take part in the Nürburgring Test- und Einstellfahrten, commonly seen as the best way to prepare for a new VLN season.
This isn’t an easy switch to make, as both race tracks and indeed both race series are strikingly different. “It’s not easy to make a comparison [between the car as it was in Portimão and as it is here at the Nürburgring test],” says Christodoulou. “In Portimão we ran the car with a Blancpain set-up, so we had to use Pirelli tyres and the Blancpain GT3 suspension.”
“For the VLN, the GT3 regulations are a little bit more open, so we’re allowed to use a different brand of tyres. We’re running Michelins. We’re also allowed to use a slightly different set-up, suspension, dampers, and so on. Those are mainly the things we worked on today.”
Last season saw Christodoulou take part in the development program of the Mercedes-AMG GT3. He was part of a select group of top-tier racers who strove to find the prototype’s limits. In this guise he participated in a non-stop 30-hour test at Portimão to find out exactly how far the car could be pushed. Though this test was a private affair, at the time there already were rumours doing the rounds of the supposedly sublime driveability of the new AMG GT3.
Christodoulou’s experiences in the VLN pre-season test seem to confirm the truth underlying those rumours. “On the [Nürburgring] Grand Prix track the car’s unbelievable to drive. It feels like it’s on train tracks all the way round. Wherever you point it, the car goes. I’m pretty certain that this is the quickest I’ve ever gone round the Grand Prix circuit.”
However, despite the AMG’s solid technological base Christodoulou is quick to add that the VLN test wasn’t all smooth sailing for Black Falcon: “Obviously the Nordschleife was a different story, because the track there was still wet in some sections. But wherever it was dry, it felt like you were driving on rails. It felt really good.”
In an attempt to improve the overall safety on the Nordschleife after last year’s fatal accident, VLN’s technical commission has decided to make some rigorous changes. Amongst others, they’ve cut down on the GT3 cars’ engine power, downforce and ride height, and made some changes to the track section enclosing the Quiddelbacher Höhe. Because the weather on the VLN pre-season testday wasn’t ideal, most teams opted out of trying to improve their fastest lap and instead focused on developing their baseline set-up. This means that even after a full day of testing it is still hard to say what lap times we’ll be looking at come VLN1 qualifying.
“In theory, the track should be a bit quicker now, because it’s less bumpy,” Christodoulou theorises. “The lap times from two years ago will more or less be the target. But we’ve got this reduction in power, as well as a reduction in downforce and the [Balance of Performance] is slowing us down too. The new GT3 cars are quicker, but they’ve been pinned back for the moment. So I really don’t know what we’re looking at. I think that if we can do anything below an 8 minute 10 seconds in VLN1 qualifying, we’ll be looking pretty strong.”
“But keep in mind that there are a lot of different manufacturers this year, so I think we’ll see an interesting few races leading up to the 24 hours of the Nürburgring. Everyone’ll be trying to learn about each other’s cars, about what speeds they can reach, and about where people have an advantage or a disadvantage.”
The latter races of the last VLN season were easy prey for Black Falcon, but there’s no guarantee for the Meuspath crew that this dominance will continue into 2016. With teams such as Land Motorsport and Zakspeed signing up and bringing their best drivers along for a full season of racing in the Eifel, things are about to heat up.
“This year the competition around the VLN is insane,” says Christodoulou. “It seems that all the big manufacturers have decided to get behind the teams and really push it. The Nürburgring 24 hours is almost becoming like the Le Mans 24 hours, with its own ‘the biggest race in the world’ kind of feeling. The two races are becoming more and more alike. Everyone is taking it more and more seriously.
“Now that there are a lot more manufacturers supporting the VLN championship as a whole, many will also be doing all ten races if they can. This is obviously great for the championship, because to have a battle between all these manufacturers is what people want.”
So if Christodoulou and his team wish to stay ahead of the pack, they can’t afford to sit back. “We’re going to be pushing every race, not just in the lead-up to the 24 hours of the Nürburgring, but obviously also during the 24 hours and afterwards. I’m pretty intrigued to see how the other guys have got on over the last year, developing these new cars. I’m looking forward to the season.”
In addition to VLN, Christodoulou will also take part in the full Blancpain Endurance Series. In this championship, Black Falcon has decided to reunite him with Andreas Simonson, his Spa 24 hours-teammate from last year. The pair will be joined by Hubert Haupt, with whom they will compete for the heavily fought for Pro Cup honours.
When speaking about his teammate, Christodoulou exudes confidence. “Over the last year, Hubert has really grown as a driver. He has improved every race. And Andreas, he’s always quick. I’d like to think that this year I’m going to be just as quick as he is. I’m looking forward to racing with them.”
Only time will tell how the trio will fare in the Blancpain championship, but Christodoulou has high expectations. “I believe that with our line-up we’re going to be fighting for podiums. Anything less than that will be disappointing, I think.”