Before leaving the Nürburgring paddock, BMW works driver Philipp Eng drops by the Land motorhome to congratulate his competitors on their hard-fought victory. The Austrian knows the feeling of winning one of the biggest endurance races in the world, having conquered last year’s 24 Hours of Spa with BMW. Today, however, he goes home empty-handed, with nothing to show for except a tenth place.
“I’m just very tired and happy that it’s over,” a visibly exhausted Eng says. “This is such a cool race and throughout the 24 hours you get so many impressions. Once it’s done, on the one side you’re always happy that you’ve made it. But on the other side, we’ve finished in P10, which is not what we wanted.
“We had a tyre failure early on in the race which cost us about four and a half minutes and that was it. You don’t make up that time in a 24-hour sprint race like it is now.
“We knew then that it was over, but we kept fighting until the end. We saw a slight chance at the end with the rain. I was in the car and can only tell you that it was crazy. Suddenly, there was rain. We boxed for wet tyres, which was absolutely the right decision. With that we won two places and finished tenth, which is an OK result, but it doesn’t show what we really wanted to do.
“Next year,” Eng sighs.
There are positives to be taken away from the weekend, however, as Eng looks at the co-operation between the BMW squads.
“This weekend was a good team effort from everyone, to get at least one BMW M6 GT3 onto the podium. We also need to thank all the other teams that helped us, and everyone who helped each other during the preparation.
“Rowe Racing did an excellent job, but the whole BMW family has shown again what it is capable of.”
The influence of the weather went further than the race-changing rain storm at the end. Over the past several days, the sun had been shining bright over the Eifel Rennstrecke causing many teams to struggle in the heat to make the tyres last. BMW’s anchor team Rowe Racing was no exception, but fared better than others on the same Michelin rubber.
“The heat definitely played a big role. We had to manage the tyres a lot, not overstress and push them too hard at the beginning. It was very tricky to make them last for the distance.
“In the end, it always comes down to how quickly you can adapt. I think that within the BMW camp everyone adapted pretty well and that’s one of the reasons why we have one car on the podium, the only one on Michelins that made it onto the podium.”
The effect of the heat on the tyres caused Audi so much concern that the eventual winners made a last-minute call to ditch the quickly deteriorating Michelins and switch to the longer lasting Dunlop tyres. Whether BMW should’ve made the same call doesn’t interest Eng.
“I didn’t ask this as it’s not in my hands. This is down to BMW to decide, I just use the tools I’m handed and try and get the maximum out of the package each time I hit the circuit. That’s what my job is.”
Up next in the series of classics is the 24 Hours of Spa, the race in which BMW turned it all around a year ago and took the final victory to wash away the bitter taste left after the race at the Nürburgring. Eng is eager to repeat the story.
“It’s our goal [to win it again]. I hope we’ve used up our bad luck in the 24 hour races and can gain some good momentum there.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s always such a great race. The Nürburgring isn’t off the bucket list, and while Spa is, we want to defend the title.”