With his staggering pace in the final stint of VLN6, Robin Frijns pulled the race towards him and became the undisputed ‘man of the match’. The Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 supersub built upon the groundwork laid by Connor De Phillippi in the first two hours to start his attack on the leaders and race towards victory.
Not since the first races of 2016 had Connor De Phillippi to go it without Christopher Mies. The champions duo has been unbeatable in Wolfgang Land’s Audis, successfully wrapping up ADAC GT Masters, VLN Speed Trophäe and 24 Hours of the Nürburgring titles in the span of just a year. Mies, however, is unavailable for this weekend. Instead, Audi offers the team another trump card: Robin Frijns.
“I’ve been racing with Audi for three years now, so when they asked if I want to come and do VLN6 with another team, I was happy to oblige,” Frijns, whose only Nordschleife campaigns have been with WRT, remarks. “Land has won the 24 Hours here at the Nordschleife, so it is a very good team. They’re well-known in Germany for the ADAC GT championship, and to race together with Connor De Phillippi is great.”
Connor De Phillippi is up for starting duties. At first, he follows to keep the leaders within sight in his first stint in the wet conditions of the early race hours, but then, on a new set of tyres, decides to go for it. It’s the young American who puts Frijns in the perfect position to challenge leaders Manthey and Phoenix Racing in the third and fourth act.
“It was exciting,” Frijns continues. “I came out of the pits in third place and almost immediately took the lead. I had the Phoenix Audi and Porsche of Pilet behind me and every now and then it started to drizzle. Being the first one to arrive [at the wet turns] you can lose everything and win nothing, so you have to be a bit cautious.”
Despite leading the pack, Frijns is unable to lose his pursuers through the dense traffic on the tight and twisty Nordschleife.
“There were some moments when I really wasn’t happy with the traffic. I pulled away—I was clearly faster than those behind me—and then I ended up three or four times in traffic and they could close the gap again.
“Once, I had a gap and there was a double yellow flag where you can do 120 kilometre an hour and there’s a BMW in front of me that’s doing 40, and I can’t pass. I look in my rear-view mirror and see the others come back. That does irk a bit, but also makes it very exciting.
“There are so many cars on the track. Some of them might be here for the first time and don’t really know what they’re doing as they’re driving in the middle of the track and you don’t know if they move left or right. That’s a bit tricky and you sometimes need to be able to tell where they’re going. You sometimes get that wrong and you’re off into the grass. That happened to me twice this race.
“Things also need to go your way a bit and you need to have some sort of connection with the other cars and know what they’re going to do. Flashing your lights helps, but sometimes they just don’t see you and they turn in. It can completely end your race.”
At the head of the lead group of four cars, all with a star-studded cast of drivers, the Dutchman finds himself in his element.
“That was fun, it’s really something I take pleasure in. I think it’s a bit boring when you’re driving alone. Whether you’re first or twentieth with a gap to the front and rear—I don’t care much about that.
“Racing in a group keeps you sharp.
“The Porsche passed me once because he was so close to me and the Porsche that I was about to lap probably didn’t see me. I made the wrong decision: the car in front went left, as did I, and I was back in second.
“Racing is fun when you’re leading a small group of cars behind you. When you’re slower than the other three guys behind you, it does feel somewhat uncomfortable. But this wasn’t the case—I did feel comfortable because I knew I could pull a gap whenever I wanted to.
“All in all, I’ve shown that I was the fastest at the head of the field as I could drive off every time.
“A couple of drops of rain here and there makes it exciting, especially at the end. I thought the rain would come and that does unnerve you a bit because you’re first and can lose everything again.”
Having reduced the four-way battle for the win to running all by himself out front, another problem rears its head: Sven Müller, eager to show his speed in the Krauth-sponsored Manthey Racing Porsche 991 GT3R despite being a lap down, refuses to back off from the Audi.
Müller’s shadowing is tolerated by Frijns for a few laps, then he decides to deal with it: setting a series of rapid lap times in his sprint to the chequered flag, the Porsche’s left in the Audi’s dust.
“At the start of my second stint I drove up to him, but he wouldn’t let me pass. At first, I thought it was because the other Manthey Porsche was second, that he was throwing away my time advantage to let the other Porsche get closer.
“It took me a lap and a half to get past him—I didn’t like that.
“After that he stayed close behind me and I got a bit fed up with him. With three laps to go I pulled away from him.
“It didn’t feel safe with him there. I thought maybe something was going to happen because the other Manthey Porsche was second or third.
“At that moment, the traffic was also working in my favour—you do need to have that kind of luck. That wasn’t always the case in my first stint, but was much better in my second.”
Climbing out of his car, taking the congratulations, the trophies, the cheering—the usual cool and stoic Frijns joins in the celebrations of his new team.
Now, some hours after one of the best GT races of his career, the joy of the past afternoon can still be read off his face. There used to be a time, however, when the world of racing wasn’t as kind to him. Once heralded as the Netherlands’ greatest prospect for Formula 1 success, Frijns failed to break into the sport’s top as he wasted away as a test driver.
“During my time in Formula 1 I didn’t really enjoy myself. I wasn’t driving and I didn’t feel respected for what I did. They didn’t see what I was doing in the car.
“I’ve driven just a couple of times, but when I did, I was faster than the guys who were contracted.
“Over there it’s all about the money. But here [in sports cars] it’s about what you’re doing and if you’re fast, the rest will come. That’s not the case in Formula 1.
“I’m happy to be here and feel respected. When a team like [Land] asks you to race with them, it’s gratifying and you feel appreciated.
“In Formula 1, it all revolves around money and politics. The people who should be getting a chance aren’t getting it. And then I’m not just talking about myself, but others as well. I’d bet some guys who race here can drive in other classes including Formula 1 and be fast from the get-go.
“But there are only 20 seats and it’s all about politics, having the right connections and whatnot. That isn’t my strong point.
“The only strong point I have is driving fast and that’s how I like it. I feel like I’m in the right place here.”