It’s been six weeks since the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and eleven since the last VLN race. As we’re getting back to racing at the Nordschleife for the 60. ADAC ACAS H&R-Cup this weekend, here’s what happened in the Eifel so far this year.
VLN1: No stopping Grello
Snow had kept the pre-season test from happening the week before, but the Nürburgring returned to bright sunny skies the next. Manthey Racing fired its first warning shots in preparation for the 24 Hours: a superb pole-lap clears the way for a dominant victory of Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber and Kévin Estre. The number 911 Porsche 991 GT3R was never under real threat from its pursuers, even with its high race pace puts some cars in trouble with their fuel mileage by squeezing out one more lap before the chequered flag is waved.
Mücke Motorsport finishes second, courtesy of a stellar finale by Nico Müller. The young Swiss races the Audi R8 LMS GT3 from fifth up to second in the final half hour. In the closing minutes the Falken Motorsports Porsche 991 GT3R is relegated to third by Müller, when Klaus Bachler misses the green flag at the end of a Code 60 Zone and is passed by the pink Audi.
VLN2: Crash, repair, win
Jesse Krohn had the worst of practice sessions when he crashed his Rowe Racing BMW M6 GT3 into the barriers at Eschbach on Friday afternoon. After a long day and night of repairs, the BMW returned in time to qualify eight on the grid.
In front it’s a Porsche-filled first starting row. Romain Dumas in the number 911 Manthey Porsche takes the green first, flanked by fellow countryman Patrick Pilet in the sister neon-coloured Manthey Porsche. Maro Engel, whose Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 is back in fighting spirits after a lackluster 2017, joins the fight and takes the lead early on when Dumas’ first encounter of the day with traffic forces him onto the grass.
Pitstop strategy is the name of the game for VLN2: Dumas pits early to hand over the car to Laurens Vanthoor, while Connor De Phillippi in the Rowe BMW runs one lap further than the rest of the lead group. The early-stop variation demands from Vanthoor to maintain a high pace and it cost him everything: nearing the end of the Porsche’s third stint, Vanthoor crashes out at Galgenkopf.
Black Falcon’s hope for victories grows with Manthey’s retirement, but Rowe Racing is still out there, with Krohn pushing the BMW’s final pitstop further and further to profit from a shorter minimum pitstop time. The trick works: Krohn comes out of the pits in first place with half an hour to go. Black Falcon’s Dirk Müller can only watch as Krohn in the distance takes the win.
After being suckered in VLN1 by Audi works driver Nico Müller, Bachler returns the favour to Audi by stealing the final step on the podium from Land Motorsport: Marcel Fässler is unaware of the Falken Porsche hiding in the dense traffic behind him and sees Bachler only after being shoved off the podium.
Nürburgring 24 Hours Qualification Race: Double Dutch
The two Dutchman Yelmer Buurman and Nick Catsburg perform at the top of their game in the 6-hour Qualification Race. The final hour sees Catsburg in the Rowe BMW close in on Black Falcon AMG pilot Buurman. With a few laps to go the gap is down to mere seconds. Buurman, however, fends off decisive attacks from his fellow countryman who even uses the grass as race track in an attempt to take the win. The AMG works driver holds on to end Black Falcon’s winless streak in SP9/GT3 that goes back to its 2016 ‘N24’ victory.
Nürburgring 24 Hours: Rebirth of the legend
This is the race that everyone had been working towards. Everything up to here has just been practice. Porsche had flexed its muscles in the months before, refusing to hide its true form. During qualification Laurens Vanthoor puts the number 911 Manthey Porsche on pole position with a new lap record, while team-mate Kévin Estre takes the start and drives off from the rest of the field in the opening hours. It wasn’t the popular ‘Grello’ that would go on to take the win, though. In the darkness of night, Romain Dumas hits oil on track and smashes into the wall at Schwalbenschwanz, ending the car’s strong run.
Thunderstorms arrive shortly after, putting the drivers out on track to the test. While many contenders find themselves in the barriers, Manuel Metzger challenges the Manthey Porsche of Fred Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy. With a daring overtake into Wehrseifen the Black Falcon AMG pilot takes the lead for the first time. Black Falcon and Manthey continue to exchange the lead, with Manthey seemingly having to yield the win to Black Falcon when in the late morning the number 912 Porsche is penalised for a Code 60 Zone infringement.
Then the weather throws another wildcard into the mix: a thick layer of fog descends on the Nordschleife and temporarily halts the race. At the restart, the gaps are closed and the time penalty for Porsche undone. Fred Makowiecki knows his task: overtake Black Falcon AMG driver Adam Christodoulou and after a fierce battle, he does. As Christodoulou aquaplanes all over the track, it’s the Englishman, not the Porsche team, who has to yield.
In the fight for third place, it’s eventually Buurman who takes the bronze.
VLN3: A look ahead
VLN is back in action this weekend for the first time since April. With the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and the run-up to the race completed, the endurance championship is now on its own.
The longer time between the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and the next VLN race has brought a bigger GT starting field to the follow-up VLN race than in most other years. 13 GT3s amongst a total of 164 entries will take the start this weekend, with all the usual suspects making an appearance such as Walkenhorst Motorsport’s two BMW M6 GT3s (Jonathan Hirschi/Jordan Tresson/Hunter Abbott and Henry Walkenhorst/Andreas Ziegler/Rudi Adams), four Porsche 991 GT3Rs from GetSpeed (Steve Jans/Marek Bröckmann/Christopher Gerhard), Frikadelli Racing (Klaus Abbelen/Sabine Schmitz/Alexander Müller and Lance David Arnold/Felipe Fernández Laser) and Falken Motorsports (Klaus Bachler/Dirk Werner) who also bring a BMW M6 GT3 for Alexandre Imperator and Jens Klingmann, and the two Ferrari 488 GT3s (Christian Menzel/Leonard Weiss and Georg Weiss/Oliver Kainz/Jochen Krumbach) of last year’s ADAC ACAS H&R-Cup winners Wochenspiegel Team Monschau. Audi is represented by Phoenix Racing (Frank Stippler/Vincent Klob) and Car Collection Motorsport (Klaus Koch/Oliver Bender/Peter Schmidt). HTP Motorsport-run AutoArena brings its Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Patrick Assenheimer/Kenneth Heyer) to fly the lone AMG flag in the championship’s top class. Konrad Motorsport is also back, entering its Lamborghini Huracán GT3 for Michele Di Martino and Christopher Brück.
For Sabine Schmitz, this weekend marks her return in the Frikadelli Racing Porsche 991 GT3R. The 1996 and 1997 Nürburgring 24 Hours champion is back after a long illness that has kept her out of the car since the end of last year. A definite decision regarding Schmitz’ participation in the race is made after practice on Friday.
On Thursday summer begins, but the first days will be all but that. Temperatures and precipitation in Western Europe has been on a rollercoaster for the past month going as high as into the low 30s while approaching 10 degrees Celsius on other days, and from bright sunny skies to hailstorms causing flash floods on other days. On raceday a north-western wind brings in cool air, keeping temperatures around 13 degrees with a chance of light rain towards the finish. The sun will make only sporadic appearances which should make the track surface conditions easy on the tyres.