Frédéric Makowiecki fended off a hard-charging Jusuf Owega – on his SP9/GT3 debut – to secure the first VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) win of the season in what was a thrilling second-half of the race battle between the victorious Manthey Racing squad and the Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi team.
The two teams battled since just after the halfway mark of the opening four-hour race, and the likely winner shifted between the Porsche and the Audi throughout as the two cars demonstrated marginally different performance on the straights and the corners respectively. The bright yellow Grello Porsche had the strength on the straights, but consistently lost ever so slightly in the twistier sequence of corners to give Owega a chance of the win until the very final corner.
NLS1: QUALIFYING REPORT | RACE REPORT | INTERVIEW FRED MAKOWIECKI | GALLERY
The fact that the #911 and the #29 became the last two real threats for the victory came from the blistering average speed throughout the stints, with early front-runners fading away as the two teams at the front really turned the screw and left the other teams trailing in their wake.
That said, one early favourite – the #3 Falken Motorsports – was a victim of what seemed to be a typical tangle on the Nordschleife with a lower-class Porsche Cayman. It’s a shame its race got cut off early, as Patrick Pilet was easily the fastest as the start, as he rocketed the Porsche to the front.
First, he scythed between the BMW Junior Team BMW M4 GT3 and the pole-sitting Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to claim second, and then out-muscled Axcil Jefferies in the Mercedes Arena section to power into the lead.
Pilet held that lead until the team pulled him slightly early for his first stop on Lap 5. Handing over to Marco Seefried, the car then started hitting issues. The first sign of trouble was three laps later as the car appeared to have spun and become stuck at Kesselchen, which dropped it down the order, and then finally retired having come together seemingly with a Porsche Cayman and hit the barriers – suffering the misfortune of being brought back into the pits on the back of a low loader.
Inheriting the lead was the Schubert Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, with Niklas Krütten giving an early taste of how the lead battle would shape up as he led a three-way fight to the lead with Laurens Vanthoor in the #911 Manthey Porsche and Chris Mies in the #29 Land Audi.
Holding off the chargers for a time, Krütten was powerless to retain first place as he was on the wrong-end of a textbook example of how well a slipstream can benefit the cars behind. Vanthoor and Mies sped past the BMW on the Döttinger Höhe before Mies used the edge of the grass to squeeze through the smallest of gaps to take the lead.
A lap later, 20 of 29, and Vanthoor took the lead going through Tiergarten, but Mies had the better line as the pair picked their way through traffic on the GP circuit and shoved his way back up to the top.
The final round of pitstops gave the #911, now back in the hands of Makowiecki, a slender lead over the #29 but Jusuf Owega – who did three races last season in a Team Manthol Porsche Cayman S – quickly set about slicing that lead down, and with three laps to go was sitting right under the 911 GT3 R’s rear-wing.
As they battled for the lead, the only difference between them turned out to be experience levels around the Nürburgring, as Makowiecki made his knowledge count. Threading through traffic, the Frenchman always seemed to pick the best moments to make his move, with Owega left doing the best he can to try and keep up.
Indeed, that difference in experience levels came to be the defining moment of the race. Heading into Tiergarten with the chequered flag nearly in sight, Makowiecki was blocked slightly by a Renault Megane, which gave Owega the slightest glimmer of making a move. However, both drivers committed to the outside line on the right-handed element of the sequence and the German found his path blocked, allowing Makowiecki to open up the slightest of gaps and cross the line first – 1.231sec in hand.
The fact that the Manthey squad was even in contention was thanks in no small part to Makowiecki, who took on the opening stint. The team was outside the top 10 for most of the opening hour, before rapid stints from Makowiecki and then Michael Christensen put them in right up in contention.
It helped too, that some of their rivals seemed to slow as the race went on. The Konrad Lamborghini started brightly, but ultimately slipped outside of the top 10 and into 11th, while the BMW Junior Team car seemed to lose a lot of pace in its opening stint with Max Hesse behind the wheel, before recovering to take 10th.
The sunny and dry race – a rarity really for the NLS opener in recent years – seemed to suit Audi and Porsche. It was the KCMG entry which took the final slot on the podium after Dennis Olsen prevailed in a cracking scrap with Team Phoenix’s Ricardo Feller in the closing laps, the latter ran pretty strongly for much of the race, but Olsen capitalised on Josh Burdon’s solid double-stint in the middle of the race to put himself right into position to mug Feller of a podium.
Fifth went to the Team Bilstein Mercedes-AMG GT3. Unseen from the cameras, Raffaele Marciello seemed to lose some time in the last couple of laps as he was right on the back of the Olsen/Feller battle for a time, but had dropped back when Olsen made his decisive move.
Schubert Motorsport took sixth with its BMW, benefitting from the Car Collection Audi of Christopher Haase and Nico Müller having to make a fourth stop – compared to the three for everyone else in the top 10 – for what appeared to be a puncture. They took seventh, ahead of the second Team Phoenix Audi R8 LMS GT3, which was another of those entries which seemed to fade down the order after the halfway mark.
The #24 Car Collection Audi of Patric Niederhauser, Dennis Feltzer and Patrick Kolb took ninth, with the previously mentioned BMW Junior Team entry rounding out the top ten.
Notable outside that top ten, it was a bad day all round for Falken Motorsport with the #4 Porsche completing just three laps before Martin Ragginger had to pit the car with an unidentified technical gremlin.
Thankfully, teams don’t have to wait too long to get back out on the Nürburgring. NLS2 is in just two weeks on April 9 – check out the full calendar for 2022 here.
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