For almost 1000 days, Christian Krognes held the Nürburgring lap record until it was finally beaten by Patric Niederhauser in qualifying for NLS4. Back at the Nordschleife for the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series NLS5 and 6 doubleheader two weeks later, the Norwegian made quick work of retaking the record, putting a 7:51.807 on the clock to reclaim his place in the record books.
It was only a taste of what was to come later that Sunday: After four hours of vigorous fighting with the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Frank Stippler and Vincent Kolb, the driver of the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 – Christian Krognes races alongside David Pittard and Ben Tuck – scored a long-awaited maiden NLS win.
“It’s my first win in NLS – it’s worth a lot to me,” says Christian Krognes, who has won at the Nürburgring before when in 2019 he won the Nürburgring 24 Hours Qualifying Race.
“It’s been a longtime dream for me since I came to the Nürburgring many years ago to first of all have the chance to win, and then to actually win the race. It is a huge deal for me, and for the team as well. They’ve had a lot of bad luck this year with technical issues and a puncture on Saturday – that definitely took us out from the fight for the win as well. Just to get every bit together is worth a lot.
“Personally, it’s a busy schedule with my kid and work and stuff so to have everything coming together and get a win – my girlfriend is at home and she needs to take care of everything while I’m gone racing – it feels even better now than it would’ve done two or three years ago. It’s a busy life at the moment but very enjoyable, so it’s extra fun when you get these results together.
“Especially with David being my teammate now for almost three years, it’s just nice when we have built a relationship like this on the track and built the set-up of this car together with our engineers, and to also bring Ben – a young and talented guy – into the mix. It is a really nice trio we have now as drivers, so to win this with them especially is a lot of fun.”
In a prelude to victory, Sunday started with a new lap record. Having set the previous record in October 2018 until it was beaten just two weeks ago, the record books could be adjusted once more.
“I knew this record would fall at some point,” Christian, whose lap record of 7:52.578 stood for 980 days, points out.
“I have a fellow Norwegian who drove a very-very quick lap earlier this year: Dennis Olsen did a 7:53 at NLS2 in qualifying, so I knew this record would fall at some point. But of course, it is not fun to see it fall, but that’s what records are for: to be broken.
“So, I just had to get my shit together and go for it again. It’s not like I’m thinking actively to get the record back, it’s just about making things simple and think about the next corner all the time and do the best you can in the next actual corner you are hitting. And that was enough to take the record back again!
“It’s kind of a bonus to all the thinking of making things simple for yourself, just doing the best job you can. And then obviously the car was there, mentally I was there, and the tyre was there. I’m very happy to have the record back in our garage.”
Interestingly, none of the sector times of the record lap were the fastest of the session, leaving room for improvement.
“Well, it was my second lap, so actually the sector times in the first lap were slightly better – of course, the tyre is at its freshest the first lap. Unfortunately, I hit some traffic that made an even quicker time impossible but given the circumstances with a second lap on the tyres, I think I was pretty happy with the lap overall. But it just means that to hold on to that record throughout this season, I think we might have to go a little bit quicker even at a later point. It will be an exciting last few races in that regard.”
After a strong opening stint by David Pittard, the BMW came in for its first pitstop after just six laps in second position.
“There was a Code 60 on track which we thought would be short, so we kind of gambled on the Code 60 to be gone as we went out, and it actually was,” Krognes explains.
“Unfortunately, another Code 60 spawned at the end of the track which the leaders then didn’t get! When they pitted, we actually lost 5 seconds on the Code 60 overall.
“So, we weren’t extremely lucky. As we exited the pits, it looked like the team had made a brilliant decision and then we were unlucky to have the Code 60 spawning at the end of the track later on. It was really a conscious decision to try and make that Code 60 work for us, but it didn’t work out this time.
“When you pit one lap earlier, you also get track position. We have one of the weaker cars in a straight line, to be fair, and knew that if we are in traffic we will struggle to get by. By pitting one lap early, we put ourselves up the field and in free air, most importantly, to go and get lap time and focus on hot lapping every single lap rather than being stuck in traffic and fighting for position – that is also part of the equation.”
With Tuck taking the wheel of the BMW for the second hour, it was his task to build a gap large enough to stay ahead of the Phoenix Racing Audi that they were battling directly and indirectly with throughout the four-hour race.
“Ben also was very lucky with a Code 60 on his out lap. The guys behind us almost were up his gearbox again, but he still increased the gap. I think he may have seen the guys in his mirrors once, but he had the pace, so he definitely just stretched the field back up again, he did a very strong job.
“Had he not gotten that lead back up again to approximately to one pitstop, we definitely would’ve been out of contention because Frank [Stippler] and Vincent [Kolb] were very quick on their last stints, so top job by him.”
The race was on with 42 minutes to go when Kolb appeared out of the pits within Krognes’ sights.
“I definitely believed I could [overtake him], but I knew he had fresh tyres so for the first lap especially he was driving in the peak of his tyre – and you could really see that, he had lots of lateral support. I knew that he would have a drop-off from lap two and three onwards, so I just kind of stayed put a bit, a little bit behind him to not sacrifice my front tyres as the closer you get the more dirtier air you get and the more you destroy your fronts, so you can’t be too close, especially when he’s driving with that ‘fresh tyre speed’.
“So, I had to just keep in touch with him because his pace was also really high, to be fair, and then I also got the message that he would get a time penalty. We wouldn’t want to take any risks and I thought I’d get my chance a little later on when his tyres are more similar to mine in terms of degradation.”
In a strange twist, the stewards revoked the time penalty given to Phoenix Racing: it was not a yellow flag under which they had overtaken, but a white flag.
“Three laps before the end I suddenly got the call that his penalty would be cancelled! Then I just had to apply as much pressure as I could. Mainly I had to do that on the GP track. We were really strong on the ‘GP’ with the Yokohamas so I knew that was kind of our best chance to overtake. On the Nordschleife we also didn’t have the straight-line speed to really get up his gearbox and kind of stress him, so it had to be done at the GP.
“It was a bit lucky, to be fair, that we had the traffic there coming up and I was able to utilise that. I was very happy when I got alongside him because I knew I had the tyre to get around him on the outside for the next left before the backstraight. At the point I had got up to his side and I knew that this would go through unless he’d kick me out of the track and he didn’t, so fair enough to him, I know a lot of guys would have done so! But he kept it clean and luckily I could make the pass work.
“That was a big relieve. Even though throughout the stint I believed I would overtake him, it’s always nice to see it work out in the end as well.”
Reversing the time penalty for the Audi, as annoyingly as it must’ve have been, might have helped Krognes pull off the spectacular move around the outside of Vincent Kolb, he suggests.
“While I was assured that he would get a penalty I didn’t want to take a lot of risks. I know this chassis is going to be used for the Spa 24 Hours by Walkenhorst, so I wouldn’t take a lot of risks to get by. Also, his pace was certainly very strong the first two laps, so I was happy to settle a bit behind him and then try and save my tyres as well for a shot later on.
“In that regard, it did affect my plan a little bit. Had I known that I had to get by from the get-go, I might have put some more pressure in those areas where I could, but I kind of knew my shot would come at the last stage of the stint anyway. So that was the plan all along.
“You could say it fit into the plan – it could even have helped because I kept such a distance that I wasn’t affected by dirty air at all, so I really had the tyre to get him at the end. Had I been up on his gearbox really since the start, I might have missed that opportunity in the end. It could be that it actually helped us!”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic and the health measures imposed on travellers to Norway, combining his private and professional life with racing prompted Krognes to reconsider his career in motorsport. Now that life is slowly getting back to normal and success has arrived, he is a lot more optimistic about his future as a race car driver.
“I definitely want to keep doing it, it’s not like I’m settling in for this to be my last season. It works out well for the time being.
“With Corona it was very hard: Quarantine, getting home, I couldn’t deliver my kid to kindergarten. It left a lot of pressure on my girlfriend timewise. And she’s at least as ambitious as I am in her business life. It’s simply to get the time together for everyone and make sure that she also is happy and gets the time she deserves to be successful as well, so it’s all a balance.
“I think we’ve found a reasonable solution now and I’m really hopeful and definitely think I can continue racing for next year if that comes together.
“Racing is a really big part of my life, it would be heartbreaking not to be able to continue to do that, that’s for sure, but I need to have the time to enjoy it as well. Being on the track while I know that Ida and Sanna are at home struggling or my work is struggling, that wouldn’t make sense.
“It’s all part of a fine balance. I’m happy to see that it’s working out now, it’s going into a really good direction.”
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