Knocked down twice, yet Manthey Racing’s number 912 Porsche 991 GT3R got right back up, fighting on to become champion of the Nürburgring 24 Hours. In the drenching final hour, with the unleashed Fred Makowiecki behind the wheel of the battered and bruised Porsche and team-mates Patrick Pilet, Nicky Tandy and Richard Lietz anxiously looking on from the garage, the Frenchman gave it his everything in pursuit of glory, claiming the crown after a thrilling battle with Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3’s Adam Christodoulou.
Going back to the previous day, Patrick Pilet already finds himself in a precarious situation minutes after the green flag is waved: his Porsche has just suffered a puncture on the opening lap. Limping back to the pits, the Frenchman loses almost half a lap, dropping the neon-coloured Porsche out of contention for the hours to come.
The number 912 team is down but not out. Clocking some of the fastest laps of the race reinvigorates the squad’s determination to race back to the front. In the evening that follows, Pilet, Makowiecki, Tandy and Lietz take the bull by the horns and with their blistering pace bring it into Sunday in fourth place with second soon theirs. Hours later, in the darkness of night, they inherit the lead when car number 911 team-mate Romain Dumas slips on oil and crashes out.
Dumas’ accident destroys a weekend of domination by ‘Grello’, but Pilet doesn’t want to hear anything about the number 911 deserving the win over anyone else. Pilet, too, has had his fair share of bad luck.
“It doesn’t work like that,” newly crowned Nürburgring 24 Hours champion Pilet says.
“For sure, they had an amazing qualification and an amazing beginning of the race, but it’s 24 hours of racing and we also had many tough moments. We know—unfortunately—that you can’t make mistakes on this track; you have to survive.
“I feel sad for them because they did a great job, but we also got unfortunate at one point: on lap 1 we got a puncture and completely lost contact with the front.
“But, after that we were extremely quick compared to the whole field and caught up with the others by making up around 3 minutes on track. That’s amazing. You can’t do it when not all drivers are giving it 100-percent.”
“Everything was a gift for us,” Fred Makowiecki continues.
“When you lose 3 minutes in the first lap after the puncture, you know it’ll be a long race. Then we saw that we had the speed, and then we saw that if we didn’t give up we could catch up and come back. When we did come back and were running from tenth to first position, we thought ‘maybe…’ and we pushed and pushed and pushed.”
With the number 912 out in front and exchanging the lead with Black Falcon over the course of Sunday morning, everything is set for an unforgettable finale. But then the team is knocked down for a second time when a Code 60 infringement means they have to serve a minutes-long stop-and-go penalty.
The way now seems clear for Black Falcon to retake the Nürburgring 24 Hours title, when a thick fog descends on the Nordschleife to halt the running of the ‘24 Hours’ for the next few hours.
Manthey Racing is given a second chance to go for victory when the race is back on.
“We got ready for the final stint when we got together with all four drivers and said, ‘OK, do we all agree that it’s win or nothing?’ We all agreed,” Makowiecki describes the moments before the one-stint dash to the finish.
“To be honest, if I could not follow the Mercedes because it would’ve been too quick, the plan was to go over the limit.
“At the restart the race was reset. We were given a second chance because we had lost contact due to the penalty. When you have a gap to the leader here, it’s difficult to come back. You will always end up in a Code 60 which the leader won’t. This was the case for the number 911 at the beginning, where they gained like 3 minutes with a Code 60 they didn’t get while the others did—that was very fortunate for them.
“When I was behind Adam I saw that it would be tough. There aren’t many chances to overtake. There is Döttinger Höhe and the braking for the first corner, but after that it’s difficult to overtake. That’s why, when I saw there was a small gap where I could get a chance, I tried. If I don’t do it now, you never know when that chance presents itself.
“From the beginning we knew that we would go door-to-door. You try a bit harder when you’re fighting for the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring—you are not so polite, but we weren’t disrespectful.
“Adam was also very strong, it was not easy for either of us to not make a mistake and in the end it went well for us.”
Pilet watches it all from the pits, walking back and forth in the garage and observing the battle without a single thing he can do.
“It’s more difficult in the box than in the car, actually,” Pilet says.
“But I have full faith in Fred.
“We talked with each other, all four of us, and said, ‘just go for it, we have nothing to lose.’ We don’t want to finish second—we just want to win, and Fred did a mega job.
“It was an amazing overtake and the pace he had was incredible.
“I was stressed because I could not do anything, but I trust him for the full 100-percent.”
With the AMG elbowed out of the way, ‘Mako’s next mission is to keep the ever fiercely racing Adam Christodoulou behind him.
“I knew that when I overtook and he was behind me, that I would be quicker. But you never know what will happen in traffic.
“The goal was to keep him behind me. We had so much aquaplaning, that was a problem. The conditions were difficult, it was easy to make a mistake. I didn’t make any, he did—and then we made it.
“To win the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring is something you want to achieve in your racing career but it’s one of the hardest races to win. This year, with Patrick, Nick and Richard, we won this race here at the Ring and I’m fricking proud of that.”
Meanwhile around him in the Manthey Racing lounge, the party gets going. Crew members are making their way upstairs, catching Makowiecki’s attention as they loudly cheer in celebration.
“They did it too—without them we are nothing.”