With three wins in the last four years, the pressure on Audi to once more take victory in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, is on. Knowing what is it like to win one of the world’s most gruelling races, is Edward Sandström. Together with WRT, the Swede won one year ago. Looking for his first major win, is Land Motorsport’s Connor De Phillippi. While not a champion yet, keeping up with his big-name teammates is only one indication that it’s just a matter of time. As we count down to the start, we talked with both Audi drivers about what it takes to win the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring.
Back with WRT but not with his 2015 co-champions, is Edward Sandström. The Swede shared his win last year with Christopher Mies, Laurens Vanthoor and Nico Müller. This weekend, however, he’s moved to the number 2 Audi R8 LMS GT3 with youngsters Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard and Fred Vervisch as teammates.
In 2015 the WRT team went into the lead during the early hours of Sunday morning, when overnight several of their competitors were taken out by mechanical failures and the rain that had hit the track shortly after sundown. It’s that moment, the night, where races are often won or lost.
“It’s the old saying: You have to be in the race at 7 o’clock in the morning, because then the second half starts,” Sandström explains. “When the daylight comes, you have to be there in a decent position. But to keep it calm until that point is quite tricky. Everyone gets excited and you always want to stay as far up as possible, but you have to stay smart.
“It also depends on how the race develops. Like this year, with the predicted thunderstorms, you never know.”
De Phillippi also sees making it through the night as an important milestone.
“Some people will be really aggressive and maybe that’ll work, but I think that with tricky conditions like [what’s in the forecast], the risk of being collected in a crash or making some kind of mistake, will be very high.
“I think you just have to make it through the night, that’s the first key. And then really go for the win in the last five or six hours, that’s what we need to do.
“I’m looking forward to driving in the night, that’s something that I like to do. Just working the traffic, with so many cars, it’ll keep things interesting. The main thing is keeping the car in one piece and then being able to fight in the last five to six hours.”
To make it through the night, chances are high that teams will have to weather the storm that is forecast for the afternoon and early evening. But De Phillippi won’t be fazed by that.
“You can drive yourself crazy if you think about [the weather] too much before the race,” the 23-year-old says. “We’ve seen it today, when we looked at the weather report and saw it was supposed to be raining all day. But it hasn’t been that way. So at this point I’m not really believing what the weather report says.
“I think we’ll have rain at some point during the race, and you just have to adapt to the conditions as best as you can. You have to kind of measure the risk and reward and see what the others are doing. When the others are pushing and attacking, you have to be prepared to react and do the same thing. But then again, I think it’s really important to make it through the night and having the car in working condition in the morning to battle for the win.”
As proven last year when the R8 was only available to Audi’s two worksteams WRT and Phoenix Racing, the newest model of the Audi R8 is a beast in the wet. It’s that performance in the rain that might very well bring a second consecutive win to the brand from Ingolstadt.
“The car was running very good in the wet,” Sandström reflects on the weekend so far. “A lot can change due to the temperatures and everyone wants to say that the others have a better chance so they can lift the pressure. But I think we all have good cars and it will be a hard battle between a lot of good manufacturers.”
One car that Sandström will have to battle is the Land Audi. Having come back to VLN for the first time in many years, Land is yet to find that last bit of speed to take on the absolute top team. But it’s not the car’s drivers that’s holding them back. With De Phillippi being joined by Audi heavy weights Marc Basseng, Timo Schneider and Mike Rockenfeller, Wolfgang Land has one of the strongest driver line-ups in the field. Audi’s track-side support isn’t any less than Phoenix or WRT either, De Phillippi says.
“I would say, overall, we have the same support as WRT. We’re in the same pit box, we have the same engineers, we have access to the same information. So I would say, as far as information and help from Audi’s side, they’ve been extremely fair and they’ve given us everything that we need and support us in every way.”
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