A new year at the Nürburgring has begun for Matias Henkola. On his return to the Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, the Finnish racer from Porvoo completed the VLN season opener gathering important set-up data for the upcoming season. The beautiful bright sunny day ended with a top 25 finish in the 63. ADAC Westfalenfahrt.
Morning qualifying saw the number 35 BMW M6 GT3 slot into 30th position on the grid.
“We had a tough qualifying. The car wasn’t very fast, so we had to start from 30th place. All the other BMWs were struggling a bit for speed as well and when sitting on the starting grid, I could only see BMWs around me. It almost reminded me of when I ran in the BMW Cup some years ago,” Henkola laughs.
With all eyes of the many thousands of fans that had flocked to the Eifel race track focused on the big field of cars, the lights went green for the 4-hour endurance race.
“I kinda went into the race with silk gloves on because I was surrounded by BMWs and knew that all cars should gather as much info as possible from the race. I didn’t want to push too hard with my fellow competitors from BMW. The focus was just on my main goal, which was to get the laps needed with a consistent and fast race pace.
“We tried out a new set-up for the race and needed the information on how the car would change over a stint. The overall balance of the car was good. Considering this was a baseline set-up made with the new aerodynamic regulations in mind and without any real running on the track before this weekend, I have to give a lot of credit to our engineers.”
Henkola controlled the pace to the runners in front of him for a couple of laps before placing an attack on two fellow BMW M6 GT3 pilots he had in his sights since the start.
“The Schubert BMW and Dunlop-branded BMW from Walkenhorst were in front of me. They were pushing quite hard and were rough on their tyres, so I just controlled the situation and hung back a couple of car lengths for a few laps, waiting for a spot to overtake. They had a bad exit onto the Döttinger Höhe and I used the slipstream to pass both in one go.
“On my second stint I raced together with the Rowe BMWs. They were a couple of car lengths in front of me and the gap remained the same. Using them as a reference, the pace of the car was as good as it could be and stayed consistent over the stint. BMW obviously doesn’t have the pace to compete for top positions in the field right now, but I think we are going in the right direction.”
After two stints Henkola came into the pits from tenth place to hand the PlayStation-sponsored BMW over to team owner and driver Henry Walkenhorst. The GT Academy winner from 2010, Jordan Tresson, was tasked with the final stint. The Frenchman took the chequered flag in 22nd place before disqualification took the car out of the final results.
Despite this setback, Henkola looks back satisfied as the focus was on preparing for the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in May, which he will compete in with the team’s other car, the Dunlop BMW M6 GT3.
“I think the pace of our cars was as good as all the other BMWs. The setup and the tyres were working nicely. Our engineers and Dunlop have obviously done a lot of work during the winter and I’m super happy that we are on such a good path already from the first proper outing on the Nordschleife this year.”
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