“Why Stippler and Fjordbach will probably not become the champions.” With this headline the VLN website opened race week. In the article it was explained that the Phoenix Racing-duo would likely never amass enough points over the whole season despite winning the first race of the season and leading the championship, due to VLN’s unique points system. Perhaps, or likely, they indeed won’t win the championship, but Frank Stippler and Anders Fjordbach didn’t stop trying and won their second race in a row and with it solidified their lead in the championship.
It’s another dreary day at the Nürburgring. The cars are lining up for the 41. DMV 4-Stunden-Rennen on a wet but drying track, not knowing for sure which tyres to choose for the start of the four hour long race. Most go for wets, some for intermediates. The pole-sitting Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 and fellow front-row starter Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 go for safe and are fitted rain tyres. Frikadelli Racing, on the other hand, sees an opportunity and gambles with intermediates. With scattered showers during the day in the forecast but for the moment even the sun cracking through the clouds, intermediates might just be the way to go for the first stint.
How fast the tarmac is drying soon becomes obvious when after only one race lap the leading Black Falcon AMG of Maro Engel enters pit lane for slick tyres, followed by VLN1 race winner Frank Stippler in the Phoenix Audi and a large number of other GT3s. In just one lap a dry enough line has appeared to ditch the wet weather rubber.
Not all frontrunners are changing to slicks yet. Frikadelli Racing’s Sabine Schmitz is still going strong in her Porsche 991 GT3R on intermediates, as is Matias Henkola in the Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3, the new leader of the race. Slick tyres prove to be the best choice, though, and Stippler and Engel are rapidly closing the gap to the cars that didn’t stop after the opening lap, soon overtaking those that are still on treaded tyres.
Watching the other cars go by, the remaining GT3s are forced to change to slicks as well, although new dark clouds are slowly returning.
“We were one of the few who started on the right tyres, the intermediates,” Frikadelli Porsche pilot Patrick Huisman says. The Dutchman sees his team return to the front of the field by choosing to go with intermediates, but then asked for just a little bit too much. “Everyone in front of us was on rain tyres. Sabine [Schmitz] did the start and got to the front well, but maybe stayed out one lap too long.”
Frikadelli would eventually find its way back to the front. On slick tyres and with Huisman behind the wheel the team climbs to fourth position, within arms reach of the podium. All seems to be going well, until a problem with the tie rod forces the Porsche 991 GT3R into the pits for repairs.
It’s not just the weather and the slower cars that Stippler and Engel are battling. Running just tenths apart, it’s a battle between the two German compatriots. Stippler, who has passed Engel through the first-lap pit stops, has to defend from the charging AMG. Almost does Engel make the pass, but running onto the wet grass saves Stippler from having to yield to the young AMG worksdriver.
Only after the second round of pit stops the AMG takes over the lead, having stopped a lap earlier than the Audi. The duel now continues with Bernd Schneider behind the wheel of the AMG and Anders Fjordbach in the Audi.
Black Falcon leads until the final hour, although the gap never reaches over thirty seconds. Manuel Metzger holds first position with half an hour to go when he enters pit lane to hand over the car to Adam Christodoulou. Unleashing the Brit on the Nordschleife has often brought Black Falcon more than what seemed possible at the time, but when Christodoulou leaves the pits, victory is out of reach. Phoenix, needing to do only two pit stops for driver changes, is all set with Stippler having taken over from Fjordbach many laps ago. There’s just one more obstacle to overcome: as the clock reaches zero, the heavens open up once more today.
“The last lap was really insane. Many cars crashed into the barriers. Perhaps even at every fifth corner there was a car left or right in the barrier,” Black Falcon Porsche 991 GT3 Cup BF driver Tim Scheerbarth describes the final minutes of the race. The Dormagener and his Spanish team mate, Alex Toril, got through the final lap without a problem to take today’s win in SP7 without much resistance from the rest of the class. “But not me, we finished without a scratch on our car, so we are really happy.”
At 16:09 the blue-white Audi finally appears through the raindrops. An extremely cautious final lap on slick tyres through the rain and past crashed cars secures Stippler of the team’s second win in just as many races. Even Christodoulou, usually one of the most daring drivers in the field, plays it safe and cruises to the chequered flag, followed by Uwe Alzen in the Haribo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 in third.
While Audi and AMG are all set for a competitive 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, some teams and manufacturers still have some work to do. Frikadelli Racing is one of those wondering why they can’t keep up. It’s no secret that the new Porsche is hit hard by the Nordschleife-specific Balance of Performance, but that’s only part of the story.
“No, I think that Porsche in general, also at Manthey and Falken, is still having problems, in particular with the roadability,” Patrick Huisman answers when asked if Frikadelli is ready for the 24 Hours. “In additional to that, we’re also losing out with the Balance of Performance. When you look at the lap times, I think it’s almost ten seconds, so that’s pretty much. I hope that the organisation for the 24 Hours will do something about that, but right now we have the weakest car of the GT3s.
“On the one side it’s the top speed [due to the Balance of Performance], on the other side we all have some sort of problem with the brakes, which isn’t very typical for Porsche. Normally they’re very good cars on the brakes, but we all have a braking problem and they can’t quite figure out what it is.”
Not much time remains until the start of the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring on 28 May. If Porsche, or any other manufacturer, is to sort any kind of problem out in a competitive environment, it will have to be done during the third VLN race that takes place in two weeks time.