While Patrick Assenheimer in the #6 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 was souverain throughout the first hour, an earlier pitstop by the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 started by Raffaele Marciello handed the lead to Buhk. Both teams might be facing a penalty for overtaking under yellow, however. As the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series season-opener goes into the final two hours, the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 has moved into the lead.
With the wind picking up and a slight drizzle continuing to cover the windshield, polesitter Patrick Assenheimer gave himself a perfect start as he retained the lead in the #6 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3. At the same time, Matthieu Vaxivière launched his #8 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes-AMG GT3 into second at the expense of Kim Luis Schramm in the #15 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 who dropped down the order as Raffaele Marciello came by in his #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 making for a complete Mercedes-AMG top three in the opening minutes.
First victim of the race was Jonathan Hirschi in the #26 Octane126 Ferrari 488 GT3. The Swiss driver got stuck in the gravel at the Veedol chicane on the opening lap after having lost control in what appeared to have been an attempt at avoiding the early-braking Audi of Schramm.
The first lap ended with the three Mercedes-AMGs of Assenheimer, Vaxivière and Marciello staying put, while David Pittard followed in fourth after having gotten past Schramm as well – the Audi pilot ending the first 24 kilometres in fifth place – and made quick work of Marciello going onto the Nordschleife for the second time around putting his #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 in third place.
Pittard wasn’t done yet: having the run on Vaxivière out of Quiddelbach Höhe, the Brit overtook the Frenchman with a daring move around the outside at Schwedenkreuz and completing the pass into Aremberg. Despite putting the pressure on Assenheimer in the following lap, the lead remained in the hands of Haupt Racing Team. Vaxivière fought himself back into second by taking the slipstream at Döttinger Höhe at the end of the lap, but Pittard was quick to undo the GetSpeed driver’s overtake.
Having run into the slower cars and with the group of Pittard, Vaxivière, Marciello, Schramm and Frank Stippler (#5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) all fighting over second, Assenheimer opened up an 8-second gap after four laps.
The end of the fifth lap saw another attack at Döttinger Höhe on Pittard, this time by Marciello – the two drivers having gotten away from the rest of the group. The Italian successfully outbraked the BMW as the duo went into the Hohenrain chicane. This time Pittard had no rebuke and had to watch the yellow GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG run away.
Marciello was the first of the frontrunners to come in for a regular pitstop, followed into the pits by Schramm and Vaxivière. The rest of the leaders followed a lap later at the end of the seventh lap.
The second hour began with Maximilian Buhk – having taken over the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 from Marciello – grabbing the lead just as Assenheimer left the pits. Having made its pitstop a lap earlier, the GetSpeed crew was allowed a shorter minimum pitstop time explaining the ‘lost’ advantage Assenheimer held over his earlier pursuers. Michele Beretta – another early stopper – appeared close behind in third place while Mikkel Jensen who was now in the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, ran further back in fourth place.
Looking to get back into first, Assenheimer overtook Buhk – the GetSpeed pilot himself overtaking a slower car as well – in a yellow flag zone at the entrance to the Nordschleife. While possible penalties for the leading pair are still pending, Assenheimer lost the lead again to Buhk and was soon forced to also let Beretta by as the Haupt Racing Team driver got stuck behind a slower car while lapping.
As the end of the second hour closed in, Nico Müller in the #32 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 – like Buhk and Beretta an early stopper – and Mikkel Jensen had closed the gap to the three leaders and engaged in a four-way battle for second place at the start of the 13th lap. In the side-by-side action, Müller wrestled his way into second while Assenheimer barely held Jensen behind. Beretta, literally stuck in the middle of the fight, fell back to fifth place.
As the third hour began and the second pitstop window opened, most frontrunners made their pitstop after 12 and 13 laps, Assenheimer, however, went one further before handing the #6 AMG to Maro Engel for the remainder of the race. The pitstop shake-up resulted in Walkenhorst driver Jensen emerging in the lead.