It’s the start of the penultimate lap of the Nürburgring 24 Hours Qualifying Race and Christian Krognes sits in second place as he pitches the #101 Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 into Tiergarten — turbos chattering.
Krognes has been handed finishing duties aboard the Playstation-backed BMW and as the 6-hour timer ticks under 13 minutes to go, he has target firmly in his sights. It’s the leader: Jesse Krohn in the #99 Rowe Racing BMW.
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A snap of oversteer exiting the Yokohama-S for Krohn is the only invitation Krognes needs and he’s up the inside at Valvoline-Kurve. It’s a perfectly executed overtake.
The LED-positional screen in the windscreen adjusts itself to the new information which it validates at the next timing beam — Krognes is in front. ‘002’ becomes ‘001’ and it remains that way until the chequered flag where the Norwegian finishes 12 seconds in front.
The victory did not come easy for the #101 Walkenhorst Motorsport crew — Krognes and teammates David Pittard and Nick Yelloly had to fight through from 21st on the grid combined with rapidly changing weather conditions at the start. All three drivers were superbly quick in their stints and managed traffic well, while Walkenhorst Motorsport were faultless in their own right. For that, the entire team can hold their heads up very high at the result and how it was earnt.
“We chose cut slicks for the start which was a good choice. Eighty-percent of the field was on rain tyres so it was only a matter of getting through the traffic and then setting off and chasing the Falken BMW who were also on cut slicks,” explains Krognes.
“They were quick and I tried to follow waiting for the window to pit again for slicks because it was completely dry at the end of the stint. And the super softs, that the cut slicks are based on, were starting to move and lose performance. I told the team that I wanted to pit and they gave me the room to do that.
“From that point on it was just about chasing the pack. I was stuck behind in a queue of cars, the Rowe cars most notably. There was a lot of fighting and a bit more fierce at times than I expected, especially with the Phoenix Audi! I almost lost the car there as we touched, but was a bit lucky that things went well, and had to wait with that move. I then managed to get him later on.”
As Krognes was getting ready for the driver change so that he could jump in a second time, now for the final stint, team owner Henry Walkenhorst gave the seasoned racer some words of encouragement as a victory lay within their grasp.
“I was back in the car for the last stint and that was just 110-percent going for it. Pretty soon I realised I was catching Jesse Krohn, I could see him coming closer,” says Krognes.
“It was inspirational to see, knowing it was for the lead and also how much it means for Henry. He came to me before I went into the car and told me how much it means to him, he wanted this so badly and I’m really happy for him.
“As I closed in, I saw that we were matched in speed on the Nordschleife, at least pace-wise it felt like that, and then I had a massive advantage on the low-speed parts.
“Any place with apex speed below 120 or so, I had a good advantage. Pretty soon I realised I’d have to do it on the GP track, on some of the traction zones. The first time I tried he pushed me a bit and I had to back off, and then the second time it finally worked out even though it was close. I was a bit lucky with hitting traffic at the right spot because he had to brake and I wasn’t really alongside him.
“I really wanted that one. It was either take it or crash it. It felt good going by, and then it was all about stretching the gap and maintain it, not take too many risks. Quite a race!”
With the flagship Nürburgring 24 Hours a little over a month away which will see Krognes partner Yelloly, Pittard and Lucas Ordóñez, the 29-year old feels confident in the package they will be bringing to the ‘N24’.
“It leaves us a bit surprised about the performance of the tyres – a good surprise,” Krognes said when asked what the German team’s qualifying race win means for the upcoming Green Hell endurance classic.
“It seems that we have some more in the slick tyres than the other teams have. I’m really happy about that. Especially when it’s dry at the 24 Hours, we’ll be right up there with the leaders, I hope.
“It’ll all depend on what’s going to happen now. We don’t know how the tyres work when it’s really hot, but I’m hopeful of that being the case as well.”
Not only is Krognes buoyed by the Walkenhorst Motorsport-BMW package, but he is also excited by the potential of the driver line-up.
“They’re so quick, I’m telling you,” he enthused of his co-drivers.
“It’s Nick’s second race here ever in a GT3 and he has just dialled in like he’s been here for several years. David has been a rocket since he came here. And also Lucas who will be with us for the ‘24’ was very quick in VLN1.
“I couldn’t be happier, it’s probably one of the strongest line-ups I’ve ever been with.”
Miguel Bosch contributed to this report.
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