On a hot summer day 15 months ago the Nürburgring was introduced to the Lexus RC-F GT3. It’s been a long way with few ups and many downs since then as both Emil Frey Racing and Farnbacher Racing struggled to get to grips with the Japanese car. Realising the car needed more, Toyota put its full weight behind the project as it tasked both Technocraft and Toyota Motorsport GmbH with producing a complete overhaul of the GT3 variant of the brand’s flagship model. It didn’t take long for the 2017-spec Lexus RC-F GT Prototype to shine: As it won the 2016 DMV 250-Meilen-Rennen in its debut race Lexus also became the first Asian manufacturer to win in VLN.
Morning practice is delayed by a layer of mist that has covered the valleys at the higher parts of the track. It doesn’t take long before the mist is lifted and the light at the end of pit lane turns green. Visibility still isn’t great and the rain from above makes for treacherous conditions leading to yellow flags scattered all over track. One of them is at the end of the lap, just before pit lane, for a stalled BMW M235i Cup. The last one to make it through the Hohenrain-Schikane before a long Code 60 Zone appears is Norbert Siedler, who races over the finish line to set the ultimate pole lap in the Frikadelli Racing Porsche 991 GT3R.
Patrick Huisman takes over the Porsche for the start. It’s stopped raining and after a short discussion on the grid the team decides to call the Dutchman into the pits right after the formation lap. When the light turns green Connor De Phillippi in the Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 successfully attacks Uwe Alzen in the Haribo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 for the lead. Huisman, meanwhile, has shot off into pit lane to let the Frikadelli crew change the rain tyres for slicks. It seems like a good idea at the time, but when Huisman returns to the race the lack of grip spins him around.
Frikadelli is only one of a few teams that dare to go on dry-weather tyres this early on. Most cars continue towards the start on rain tyres. Several rows back Mario Farnbacher brings his Lexus RC-F GT Prototype to the lights. The team has opted to start on Michelin wets disguised as Yokohamas.
“We saw during the formation lap that the first half of the track was dry and the last half was wet,” Mario Farnbacher says. “It was difficult to make the right choice of tyres. For safety reasons we decided to stay on rain tyres for two laps and then come into the pits going into the third lap.
“I then went on slicks and I think it was the right decision in terms of safety and speed.”
In front De Phillippi is going fast, but the newly-crowned ADAC GT Masters champion has the old fox Alzen all over the back of his Audi. Not known for his courteousness on the race track, the German shoves the leader out of the way and claims his position at the top of the table. He will soon yield the lead to get slick tyres.
It’ll be the closest Haribo Racing will get to the win today. Chasing after man with a mission Frank Stippler in the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, Alzen bumps into the back of Stippler’s car when the pair arrives at a yellow flag zone. It’s not a hard hit, but it’s enough to damage the AMG’s cooler. The plume of white smoke that Alzen carries around forces him to park his car to avoid overheating the V8 engine.
For the first time in days the sun appears. The rays of sunlight that make it through the gaps in the clouds soon start to dry out the whole Nordschleife. Now on real, slick Yokohamas, Mario Farnbacher is discovering the Prototype’s full potential in the dry.
“We never drove the car in dry conditions before,” Dominik Farnbacher, who is set to take over from his brother for the middle stint, explains. “We came here on Friday morning to test and see how the car behaves on the Nürburgring, but the only thing we could get were rainy laps. We just did back-to-back tests with different tyre compounds.
“After qualifying we hadn’t done one dry lap so it was hard to find a set-up as we don’t have a baseline set-up for this car on the Nürburgring. We just used all of our experience from the previous times we were here with the old generation car. We more or less brought some things over which helped.”
Shortly before the end of his stint the youngest of the Farnbachers takes the lead away from the Rowe Racing BMW M6 GT3, at the end of the lap coming in for the planned drivers change. It’s now Dominik’s turn to take the wheel and get to know the car in dry conditions.
“After my first lap in the dry I could right away tell that the car is really good on the Nürburgring,” Dominik Farnbacher says. “It was very consistent and easy to drive, I didn’t sweat one drop. The car is very stable in high-speed corners and very drivable. I never had a hard time to keep the car under control, it was always easy to drive and that makes it friendly for a driver and gives you good feedback and on top of that makes you feel very confident in the car.”
Having made its first appearance in the lead, Lexus is untouchable for the rest of the field. The only thing that can still stop Farnbacher Racing is the returning rain during the endgame and the play to conserve fuel.
“What I first of all had to do was to save fuel,” Mario Farnbacher says. He’s gotten back into the carbon-coloured GT for the final stint in the four-hour race. “We tried to do an extra lap and that was pretty difficult in the beginning. It was hard for me to manage the fuel consumption and at the same time maintain a good level of speed. Especially towards the end when all the rain came down it became even more difficult.
“The good thing was, we had a pretty good gap and I think that made it easy to keep the car on track and bring it to the finish.”
Rowe Racing manages to knock off almost half a second in the final lap, but it’s to no avail. Stef Dusseldorp and Alexanders Sims, despite a very strong appearance today, will be leaving the penultimate round of the VLN championship with second place. They are followed by the Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies-driven Land Audi in third.
History is made when the Lexus RC-F GT Prototype crosses the line for the 28th and final time. As Dominik Farnbacher says, the win is a testament to the effort put into the car by the various racing departments of Toyota.
“Kinoshita-san, the head of Toyota Motorsport, developed Toyota’s WEC car and he also developed this car. So there’s quite a lot of experience from the LMP1 project which is influencing the Lexus project. We have a lot of strong guys behind us. We’re coming strong.
“For this race we got really special tyres from Yokohama, used in Super GT, and that makes a big difference. Usually you don’t get such a tyre, but Toyota made a special deal with Yokohama to bring it to Europe and it paid out.”
“This was the first victory for a Japanese car on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife,” Mario Farnbacher adds, “but I’m also proud to stand here for the first time together with my brother and my dad, who is also the team manager and engineer, with the win. I’m thankful for that, and for Lexus and everyone who supports us.”
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