BMW Junior Team won the fourth round of the 2021 VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) for youngsters Dan Harper, Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse’s first-ever race win at the Nordschleife, and the youngest-ever victory in the series’ history. This is our play-by-play report of the race as it happened.
NLS4: LIVESTREAM | ENTRY LIST | TOBIAS MÜLLER JOINS FRIKADELLI | BMW WITHDRAWS M4 GT3 | QUALIFYING REPORT | RACE REPORT | PLAY-BY-PLAY | GALLERY
New lap record holder Patrick Niederhauser led the field to the green aboard his SP9/GT3 Pro-Am entry #24 Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3, followed by the #44 BMW Junior Team BMW M6 GT3 of Neil Verhagen.
Ben Tuck, in third place in the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, wasn’t as lucky as the front-row starters, getting caught up in a first-turn melee also involving Nico Menzel (#25 Huber Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R) and Jakub Giermaziak (#2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3), with the latter being spun around and having to join at the back of the first starting group while Menzel moved into third place behind Verhagen. Tuck lost momentum through the Mercedes-Arena and when gathered back up settled in seventh place on the back of a six-car group of pursuers.
20-year-old Verhagen stuck to the back of Niederhauser’s Audi through the opening lap, slipstreaming past into Tiergarten and taking the lead. The Swiss driver, however, returned the favour a couple of turns later at the Grand Prix course, reclaiming first place.
Axcil Jefferies (#7 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3), still going strong after an impressive performance in qualifying for the Nürburgring 24 Hours, made up two places during the first lap, crossing the finish line after lap one in fourth position behind Menzel and ahead of Frank Stippler (#5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3), Moritz Kranz (#9 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3) and Ben Tuck.
While Niedernauser raced off in the distance in the first half hour, the six-car group led by Verhagen ran within three seconds of each other. Menzel, on a roll in the opening laps, was challenging for second place when in traffic in the Mercedes-Arena he got hit by Verhagen and spun around, dropping him to seventh place. Meanwhile, Jefferies snuck into second place on the same lap, followed by Stippler getting past Verhagen on the next lap.
The end of lap six saw both Jefferies and Tuck dive into the pits for an early pitstop. While Tuck’s stop was all routine, Jefferies’ stop needed a small repair on the right rear fender – a quick fix made by team boss Franz Konrad himself.
Lap 6 pitstops: #7 Konrad Lambo (Axcil Jefferies), #34 Walkenhorst BMW (Ben Tuck ➟ David Pittard).
Lap 7 pitstops: #24 Lionspeed Audi (Patric Niederhauser ➟ Patrick Kolb), #5 Phoenix Audi (Frank Stippler ➟ Vincent Kolb, #9 GetSpeed AMG (Moritz Kranz ➟ Janine Shoffner), #44 BMW Junior (Neil Verhagen ➟ Max Hesse), #25 Huber Porsche (Nico Menzel ➟ Johannes Stengel), #12 Dinamic Porsche (Michele Beretta), #2 GetSpeed AMG (Jakub Giermaziak ➟ Frank Kechele).
Next time by the remaining cars at the front came in for their stop. The gap opened by Niederhauser – who handed over the #24 Lionspeed Audi to Patrick Kolb – was large enough for his co-driver to stay ahead of Jefferies and Pittard who had stopped after six laps and therefore could profit from a shorter pitstop time. Lacking GT3 experience, Silver-rated Patrick Kolb was quickly being reeled in by the unleashed Jefferies. Kolb would, however, not be simply put aside by the pros, staying ahead until eventually yielding to the Zimbabwean when the Lambo appeared side-by-side going into the high-speed Tiergarten at the end of Döttinger Höhe. By making optimal use of traffic, Pittard and Max Hesse (#44 BMW Junior Team BMW M6 GT3) – looking to close the gap to Jefferies – would have to wait a little longer, not getting past the Audi until a lap later.
As the halfway mark arrived, the race was turned completely upside down as the complete top three suffered setbacks and failures.
Flying in second and edging in on the Konrad Lamborghini, Pittard suddenly suffered a gearbox failure, ending the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3’s race in the garage.
At the same time, Hesse was given a drive-through penalty for the contact the #44 BMW made with the #25 Huber Porsche in the first hour dropping him back to behind Vincent Kolb in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 and #12 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R driven by Michele Beretta.
Luck, again, wasn’t on Konrad’s side either: coming up on its pit window, the #7 Lamborghini suffered a puncture. Crawling back to the pits took Jefferies four minutes, costing the team the lead and a shot at the win.
Lap 13 pitstops: #44 BMW Junior (Max Hesse) (drive-through).
Lap 14 pitstops: #7 Konrad Lambo (Axcil Jefferies ➟ Michele Di Martino) (puncture).
Lap 15 pitstops: #24 Lionspeed Audi (Patrick Kolb ➟ Lorenzo Rocco), #5 Phoenix Audi (Vincent Kolb ➟ Frank Stippler), #44 BMW Junior (Max Hesse ➟ Dan Harper), #2 GetSpeed AMG (Frank Kechele ➟ Jakub Giermaziak), #12 Dinamic Porsche (Michele Beretta ➟ Adrien De Leener), #9 GetSpeed AMG (Janine Shoffner ➟ Moritz Kranz).
All this trouble up ahead gave Patrick Kolb back the lead, as behind him Vincent Kolb – not related – bogged down after a few laps in closing the gap to his fellow Audi driver.
Going into the third hour, driver changes had put Lorenzo Rocco in the race-leading #24 Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3, Frank Stippler in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 and Dan Harper in the #44 BMW Team Junior BMW M6 GT3. Jakub Giermaziak meanwhile was back aboard the #2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3, having recovered from his first-turn spin and would soon move into third place suggesting what could have been.
Having gotten past the Lionspeed Audi of Bronze driver Rocco in the pits – the Audi refusing to immediately start and losing over 40 seconds – Harper made his move for the lead overtaking Stippler into Tiergarten – a popular but dangerous place for overtakes during the race.
Although having lost the lead, Nordschleife veteran Stippler stayed nose-to-tail to the BMW Junior, keeping the pressure on and fainting attacks trying to unnerve the youngster.
Lap 22 pitstops: #12 Dinamic Porsche (Adrien De Leener), #7 Konrad Lambo (Michele Di Martino ➟ Jefferies), #9 GetSpeed AMG (Moritz Kranz).
Lap 23 pitstops: #44 BMW Junior (Dan Harper), #5 Phoenix Audi (Frank Stippler ➟ Vincent Kolb), #2 GetSpeed AMG (Jakub Giermaziak), #24 Lionspeed Audi (Lorenzo Rocco ➟ Milan Dontje), #25 Huber Porsche (Stefan Aust).
Lap 25 pitstops: #24 Lionspeed Audi (Milan Dontje) (diffusor repair).
With 40 minutes remaining the final round of pitstops arrived. Showing its trust in its junior driver, Phoenix Racing elected to replace Stippler for Vincent Kolb for the final laps. Although the fractionally quicker pitstop sent Kolb out of the pits ahead of Harper, it took only a few turns for the BMW to take back the lead.
What Stippler couldn’t, Kolb did: put the young American under just enough pressure to force him into an error. Coming out of Galgenkopf, Harper was too eager to get past a slower car and went through the grass. Although nearly losing control, Harper just held on to bring the car back on the track and stay in the lead with Kolb still trailing.
From there on, one final attempt to attack Harper was thrwarted and Harper rid himself of the Audi, driving to the finish to take the chequered flag after 28 laps, 2.5 seconds ahead of Kolb. Giermaziak had recovered to third place, but a yellow flag infringement cost the #9 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 a five-minute penalty, dropping the Pole and his German co-driver Frank Kechele back to sixth place. Konrad Motorsport inherited the final step on the podium, coming in 4 minutes and 26 seconds behind the winner.
Top 10 52. Adenauer ADAC Rundstrecken-Trophy
- #44 BMW Junior Team BMW M6 GT3 (N. Verhagen/M. Hesse/B. Harper) 28 laps
- #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (F. Stippler/V. Kolb)
- #7 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (A. Jefferies/M. Di Martino)
- #12 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R (M. Beretta/A. De Leener)
- #25 Huber Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R (N. Menzel/J. Stengel/S. Aust) SP9/GT3 Pro-Am
- #2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 (J. Giermaziak/F. Kechele)
- #24 Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 (P. Niederhauser/P. Kolb/L. Rocco/M. Dontje) SP9/GT3 Pro-Am
- #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 (M. Von Bohlen/J. Müller/T. Neubauer)
- #9 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 (M. Kranz/Ja. Shoffner) SP9/GT3 Am
- #22 WTM Powered by Phoenix Ferrari 488 GT3 (J. Krumbach/G. Weiss/L. Weiss)
Please consider making a donation so we can keep bringing you our best content from the racetrack.