8 seconds after the clock stopped at zero, Black Falcon crossed the finish line to take the victory in VLN7. It was a nerve-racking ending for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 team in a race that should’ve been 29 laps, but ended with 28 which was just enough for them to take the win.
At the centre of Black Falcon’s win was an unusually short first stint of only 4 laps, followed by three 8-lap stints. The change of strategy became necessary when Maro Engel had nowhere to go in the leading group of cars.
“The start was a little bit unfortunate because the second-placed car went really early, when the red lights were still on, so the left side of the grid got away better,” says Maro Engel, who shared his green Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Manuel Metzger and Hubert Haupt.
“I dropped a position instead of gaining anything.
“When I was back in third, I got overtaken by the Porsche because I couldn’t overtake the Ferrari in front of me on the straight. The Porsche was so much quicker on the straight, but I couldn’t do anything. I felt like I was being held up and could go quicker. I was stuck in P4.
“We started talking about using the first possible opportunity to come in and pit, which was lap 4. We did that and it got us out of traffic and from there on I had a very clean 8-lap stint. After that we just managed to gradually increase the lead—the virtual lead even. Manuel kept increasing that lead.
“Getting out of traffic was the key. I think that if we would’ve stayed in traffic the risk is very high—you have to take a lot of risk to try and overtake with the top-speed deficit we have. You could see there was not much I could do on Döttinger Höhe. Even though I had a good run on the Ferrari, I couldn’t overtake him and the Porsche came from behind and overtook me.
“It was clear that if we wanted to overtake we needed to do it by strategy because we simply didn’t have enough top-speed to really make a clean move against them.”
Although the early pitstop paved the way for Maro Engel and his co-drivers to run faster lap times than they could’ve otherwise, the team didn’t expect the race to go without Code 60s for well over two hours, threatening to push the distance of the race to 29 instead of the calculated 28 laps.
“In the end the early pitstop worked very well, but it was very close: if it would have been another lap it would’ve been one lap too many for us. The plan we had was for 28 laps. It was a very unusually quick race, but eventually it turned out well for us.
“There’s two ways of looking at it: we were very lucky the late Code 60 at Kesselchen happened—it helped and brought us the win. On the other hand, it’s very unusual to have 20 green laps of racing. When Manuel got out of the car he said: ‘Holy hell, I just had 8 laps of pure green, not a single yellow flag, I’ve never had that happen here’.
“In the last three or four years, there has never been a race going for 29 laps and we’re quite happy it stayed that way! But it was very close indeed.
“If there wouldn’t have been a Code 60, we would’ve had to come in and do a splash-and-dash and quite frankly, Frikadelli would’ve overtaken us and we would’ve finished second. It certainly still would’ve been a good result—it wouldn’t have taken anything away from the quality of the car and the drives of Manuel, Hubert and myself—but obviously, winning is a much nicer feeling.”
It was Haupt who drove the car to the flag. The German gentleman racer doubled down on his excellent race in the Blancpain GT Sprint Cup finale last week with a win in VLN, earning him the praise of his team-mates as he held Siedler at bay.
“Hubert’s on a roll,” says Engel.
“Look at his results: he was really strong last weekend winning the Silver Cup and finishing second overall in Blancpain GT Sprint, and before that he won the 6-hour race here, and winning today. He’s like red wine: getting better with age.”
With this win in the bag, Engel’s attention now shifts to the Blancpain GT season finale at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“I think this will be my last VLN, unfortunately, so it’s great for me to finish the year here at the Nürburgring with a win. My last race here was the 24-hour race and that was a bit of an unlucky ending—it’s nice to get this win. I’m already looking forward to next year—racing here is always fantastic.
“Next weekend I go to Barcelona for the Blancpain GT Endurance season finale. We’re in second place with Yelmer and Luca, one point behind Raffaele Marciello who’s leading the championship. It’s full-attack to try to win the race and get as many points as possible and hopefully take the championship.”