Michele Di Martino raced for no less than four teams during the 2022 VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) season. Starting out with the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Konrad Motorsport, the German went on to race with TKS-Motorsport, Racing one and finally Mühlner Motorsport. A journey through the paddock with one important goal: get back into fighting form.
“It was a good chance for me to drive different cars this season,” Di Martino says.
“Unfortunately, Konrad wasn’t driving so much, I’m a bit sad about that because I’m really close with Franz. But it was a good chance for me and I tried different categories like two different GT3 cars, the Cup Porsche with Mühlner was real fun to drive, it is so close to GT3, and also I did two races with the BMW M2 which was also fun.
“I think it’s good to sometimes change cars so you can adapt to them. Every car is a little bit different and you have to change your driving style. This year I learned a lot especially in the rain with the Porsche. We practiced a lot in the wet and I think I raised my driving skills – it was fun!”
One thing that Di Martino missed in previous years were the direct fights. That’s why he decided to race with other teams when Konrad raced elsewhere.
“I had the opportunity – but I also felt a bit sad about it – that I always had really good teammates on the Lambo like Axcil [Jefferies] and Jordan [Pepper]. I’m not a Pro driver – I only do NLS – and those guys are real Pro drivers, so I was a little bit off the pace all year. Franz always decided to let me drive at the end or the middle stint. With all the technical issues we had, I was always driving by myself, not fighting with the others, a little bit like rally, timed driving.
“I feel a little bit disappointing because I lose a little bit of the driving skills not fighting with other people. At the end of the season with Mühlner I did the start in the last race, started fighting again with the others.”
Those battles were important to regain his fighting spirit. The final races of 2022 saw Di Martino join Porsche 911 GT3 Cup top team Mühlner Motorsport.
“First of all, if someone is behind you, when you’re not prepared, you start to get nervous and make mistakes. And also to see where you can attack, where is the gap, you start to lose a little bit of confidence in that. Following somebody in the slipstream is quite different to drive. The biggest problem is that you start to make mistakes in the fight with others. If you always do the start stints and fight, then you are better prepared for this and make fewer mistakes.
“Especially the last race was quite cool, with Mühlner. I did the start and was directly in the top, at the front like P5 amongst the GT3s and fought with them. I fought with the other Porsche Cup cars and directly felt that something inside of me awoke.
“Now I feel much more ready due to the last races than I was at the beginning of the season.”
Having raced with some of the best GT3 teams at the Nürburgring, Di Martino is impressed by the Bernhard Mühlner-led operation.
“In my opinion, for a Cup team, which is not GT3, it is super professional. They always arrive with one or two big trucks because they also have the LMP program and if they are not doing that they always have two trucks, a lot of mechanics who are really professional and the engineer is also very professional.
“The team is good, in my option, and for a non-GT3 team it is very professional. You can feel that they’re also doing LMP. For me there is no big difference with Walkenhorst or Konrad. Konrad is always a little bit more tight on budget, but Franz Konrad is super competitive with the few guys he has on the car. For me it was not hard to change teams.”
This year also saw Di Martino return to the team with which he scored his biggest success, winning the 2015 BMW M235i Racing Cup class of the VLN: TKS-Motorsport. The team is one of many who switched to the new BMW M2 CS Racing.
“It’s always nice to return there, we are always in touch with them. When there is the possibility, I jump in the car. In the past there were different customers, like alongside Noah Nagelsdiek who is now racing in the Porsche Cup. I joined father and son and coached them a little.
“We are always in touch with the team and it’s fun to drive with them. The car is nice, completely different with only mechanical grip, more like a road car. But for me it’s fun to also do those races. And the fighting in the cup categories is always so close, you have to be super prepared.”
Another team he got to know was Racing one, the local team that since a couple of years enters the Ferrari 488 GT3. Despite technical issues, Di Martino got a taste of what it’s like to race another Italian sports car.
“We had a brake issue with the Ferrari, already in my qualifying stint – I did two laps in the wet with the car, so it wasn’t the perfect condition to drive. What was really different [from the Lamborghini Huracán GT3] is the seat position: the view is more like in an LMP, the front hood is quite high, in the Lambo the front is shorter.
“Also compared to the BMW M6 GT3, it’s a complete different seat position and you have to adapt to that.
“In general, the car was quite good to drive, it felt like a proper race car. Every car has its advantages so for me it was nice to drive, but they weren’t the perfect conditions.
“I think the TC and ABS are quite nice, the electronics are superb. You can change everything in the car. In the Lambo you have only one button for ten steps of TC. But in the Ferrari, you can set up everything, not only the TC in general but also when it kicks in and how hard it kicks in – and that was quite a new experience for me.”
With 2023 just around the corner, what will the year hold for the pilot from the North Rhine-Westphalian town of Eitorf?
“We are still in contact with Mühlner, they want me to drive for them next season. They say I did a good job in the three races we did together – we were always fighting for the podium. They asked, but it’s not 100 percent sure yet what I will do, we will talk with them at the Essen Motor Show and let’s see what will happen.
“I also don’t know what Franz Konrad will do – I think he is also not sure himself because it’s always tight with the budget!
“Next year I hope for a little bit more constant season: stay with one team and not change teams as much. And to have a good line-up on the car, a well-prepared car with which I can do a lot of milage. With Konrad it was mixed this season where we had moments where we drove a lot and were really competitive, and then had problems and that costs you driving time. If you’re only doing NLS against Pro drivers in GT3s, it’s not so nice, you don’t have enough driving time. So, I hope for more driving team and continue to improve my driving skills.
“I also want to give a big thanks to everyone who joined me this season, who pushed me. Especially a big thanks to my dad and my family.”
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