The autumn racing season has begun with Black Falcon’s third win of the year at the Nürburgring. In the 58. ADAC Reinoldus-Langstreckenrennen the green Mercedes-AMG GT3 took a different approach to its strategy early on, allowing drivers Maro Engel, Manuel Metzger and Hubert Haupt to take the victory in the fastest VLN race in years—a race so fast it nearly cost them the win.

GALLERY | INTERVIEW MARO ENGEL

Late September is usually the start of ‘record season’ at the Nürburgring: the cool temperatures in the morning give the engines just that little extra boost needed to attack old records. This morning is no different. When at 10 o’clock the starting grid is locked in, Jordan Tresson has put his number 35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 on pole position with a lap of 7:55.468—just too seconds off the current lap record. And not only Tresson is fast: seven other cars follow him into the sub-8 minutes, with the number 22 Wochenspiegel Team Monschau Ferrari 488 GT3 missing pole by just .121 seconds and the number 6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 in third, a mere 0.245 seconds off. Last race’s pole-winner David Pittard in the Total-sponsored Walkenhorst BMW starts fourth, despite being less than 3 tenths away from Tresson’s lap time.

Tresson’s pole is to no use as he’s already passed by Wochenspiegel Ferrari racer Oliver Kainz when the lights go green. Whether it was a jump start or not—Walkenhorst is adamant it was—the stewards give the Ferrari a pass. For the Walkenhorst crew the first stint isn’t much to celebrate anyway: after fighting to get back into the lead for the first kilometres, Tresson disappears into the field as he struggles with a mysterious lack of grip.

Paired together for the first couple of laps, Wochenspiegel Ferrari team-mates Oliver Kainz and Nico Menzel—racing the ‘junior’ Ferrari alongside his father Christian Menzel and Leonard Weiss—are reeled back in by Maro Engel in the Black Falcon AMG and Frikadelli Racing Porsche 991 GT3R pilot Norbert Siedler. The higher top-speed of the Porsche gives Siedler the chance to slipstream past Engel at the Döttinger Höhe straight and then with a decisive move on the back straight of the Grand Prix course takes second place from Menzel in the split-second the Ferrari is backed up by a backmarker. As Siedler slots into second place, the quartet steers onto the Nordschleife for the fourth time.

Stuck in the growing group of leaders—Alexander Müller in the number 30 Frikadelli Porsche and GetSpeed Performance Porsche 991 GT3R racer Steve Jans have also joined at the front—Black Falcon decides to call Engel in for the AMG’s first pitstop of the race. It’s just the end of the fourth lap, but they need Engel to get out of traffic and set quicker lap times: it’s the only way they can get past the cars in front. Black Falcon turns its strategy around: instead of a final 4-lap sprint to the finish, they do the shortest stint first and finish with a 8-lap stint.

The plan seems to work: after his pitstop, Engel registers lap times that are seconds quicker than the frontrunners.

While the sun slowly disappears behind a cover of clouds in the second and third hour, the pace of the race picks up. The surprising lack of accidents lets the racers fly non-stop over the complete 24 kilometres of the Nürburgring with only lapped cars for the occasional slowdown.

After 12 laps Engel comes in to hand over the car to Manuel Metzger. Engel’s second stop marks the end of almost two hours of racing at unrelenting speed for the German. Metzger resumes the race and immediately continues to extend the gap necessary to stay in front after the final round of pitstops. The number 31 Frikadelli Porsche of Norbert Siedler and Lance David Arnold—having emerged as Black Falcon’s main challenger after moving into first place in the second hour—can, like the AMG, only go 8 laps on a full tank of fuel. Doing their 8-lap stints first before finishing with a shorter stint, however, has given the Porsche squad more leeway in fuel load if lap times under 8 minutes and 10 seconds continue to be set. At this point, it is starting to look like the race will go for 29 instead of 28 laps—one more than Black Falcon anticipated.

Over an hour is left on the clock when Metzger brings the AMG in for its final pitstop of the day—or so he hopes. Hubert Haupt takes over but still the track is completely green, there are no yellow flags to slow down the lap times and making it to the finish without a splash-and-dash is now seriously in doubt: a 9-lap stint is impossible without slowing down dramatically.

Siedler, meanwhile, marches on in the Frikadelli Porsche. The Barweiler team knows Black Falcon will be dead in the water if they manage to push it to 29 laps. Catching up to the green AMG won’t be possible: Haupt, a gentleman driver but rising to the occasion, loses only seconds per lap to the Austrian pro driver on a gap of half a minute.

Things are starting to look rather hopeless for Black Falcon. It’s half an hour to go and they desperately need the pace to ease up if they want to make the distance without a quick refueling. Today, however, is Black Falcon’s lucky day, and they have an unwitting duo to thank for it: an accident involving Thomas Leyherr in the Lifecarracing BMW M235i Racing Cup and the Ring-Attack Porsche Porsche 911 GT3 Cup sends both cars crashing into the guardrail at Kesselchen and triggers the first Code 60 in hours.

A sigh of relief in the Black Falcon command stand: the delay is enough for the AMG squad to end the race after 28 laps and secure victory. 8 seconds after the clock reaches zero, Haupt comes crossing the finish line to take the team’s second VLN and third Nürburgring win of the year.

Despite Siedler and Arnold’s equally high pace throughout the whole four hours, Frikadelli Racing comes 18 seconds short of its third victory of the season. If only that crash at Kesselchen hadn’t happened…

Almost a minute after the winners, the Falken Motorsports BMW M6 GT3 appears out of the Hohenrain-Chicane and speeds onto the start-finish straight. Stef Dusseldorp takes his third podium finish in just as many races. At the start of the weekend the Dutchman had hopes of making it a 3-2-1 series to finish to his Nordschleife season on a high, but a ninth starting position already put a dent in that. Falken needed to take a chance on a different strategy which allowed Dusseldorp and team-mate Peter Dumbreck to race the BMW to a hard-fought third place.

 
 

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