Three months on from his unforgettable win in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, Connor De Phillippi returned to victory lane at the Nordschleife. This time there was no last-minute drama, no thriller comeback. Instead, a commanding display of power by the Land Motorsport team led the way to victory.
While Robin Frijns stole the limelight in the later stages of VLN’s 40. RCM DMV Grenzlandrennen, it was his teammate De Phillippi who set the stage for the push into the lead. In the wet and slippery opening hour, he held on and slowed down, waiting for the second stint to strike and bring the car right up to the leaders.
“It was one of the most difficult races I’ve had to do,” the American says. “Especially at the beginning, in my first stint, it was incredibly difficult with half the track being wet. I’ve never experienced that here at the Nürburgring. Even though I’ve done a lot of races, I’ve never before been in a situation where I needed to be on slicks when the track is almost completely wet.
“I was a bit too careful in the beginning, knowing I had to keep the car on track. Then, in the second stint, I had much more confidence with the track in these conditions and I was able to close the gap to the lead cars when in the end of my stint the car was really good.
“The key, in the beginning of the race, was to keep the car on the track—a lot of cars were flying off left and right—and just being within striking distance of the lead group. That’s what I was trying to do in my second stint: get closer to the leaders. I knew that as long as we were in the top three that we’d have a chance at the end.
“I think it was just managing the risk at the beginning when it was wet, and saving all our goodies for the end. We managed to do that today.”
While all eyes are on the back and forth between Phoenix Racing and Manthey Racing, away from the frontline the Land team awakens when De Phillippi rejoins the race for his second hour in the car with sights set at the leaders.
“It started in my second stint. In my first stint, we lost some time just driving a bit too careful and I also had a quite big tyre degradation at the beginning.
“In my second stint we went to a different set of tyres, a different compound, and that functioned much better and I was able to nearly close the gap to the lead group.”
Having played his part, De Phillippi sat down in the pitbox to watch Frijns unleashed and storm to victory.
“Once we learned that information about the tyres, Robin got to drive on this new set, the one I got to drive in my second stint, and he drove to the end with this type of tyre. That was definitely the way to go—I think that’s where the performance came from.
“The struggle at the beginning was a bit tyre-related and me being a bit careful, but then the performance came after that.”
A different brand of tyres betrays the underlying motive for what this race really was about. No longer racing with Dunlop, but Michelin tyres, the first steps towards title prolongation in the 2018 24 Hours of the Nürburgring have been taken.
“[We’re back with Michelin] for this weekend, yes. It’s all preparation for next year’s 24-hour race. That’s the big one and the homework always starts as soon as the last one is over—that’s what we’re doing here today.
“A lot of the Audi guys were also here supporting us.
“It was certainly a good result and I’m happy for Michelin to be with us on top of the podium as well. It proves that our team can make any tyre work, so far.
“We’ll see what we’ll run next year.”
De Phillippi won’t be lingering in the paddock for very long to celebrate the win. Road Atlanta calls. As part of the North American Endurance Cup, the track where he learned most of his racecraft is the stage of the season finale in October.
Land Motorsport returns to the USA to defend the colours of Audi, and isn’t going unprepared: days after VLN6 a test at Road Atlanta is scheduled to start the modern classic in the best possible position.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to racing at Road Atlanta. I’ve never driven there in a GT car, only formula cars.
“I think we have some unfinished business in the US and hopefully we can get our first win together.
“It’s kinda where my groundwork was laid, where I’ve learned everything. I started there and at Sebring in Skip Barber, at some of these classic courses with a lot of slipstreaming, a lot of big packs with 10 and 15 cars togethers, learning a lot of strategy. A lot of my intelligent side of racing, I learned it there. It has a special place in my heart and to go back there is always special.”
“And of course, racing in the US always is, for the team and myself. We’re all excited. Our drivers line-up will be very good and of course, we’re a top team, so there are no excuses to not have a chance to fight for the win.”
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