BMW continued their dominance in the 2023 NLS season taking their third win in three outings in today’s NLS3 54. Adenauer ADAC Rundstrecken-Trophy at the Nordschleife. The #44 BMW Junior Team of Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen, who finished in P3 in NLS2, took victory having recovered from a poor start. The result makes it three different BMW teams taking top honours in every race so far this year.
Despite early problems it was a comfortable win nearly 17 seconds ahead of the #99 BMW of Marco Wittmann and Maxime Martin following a double stint from Max Hesse in the final 2 hours to take the chequered flag.
P3 went to the #39 Audi Sport Team Land Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies and Patric Niederhauser.
At the start it was the #98 BMW of Sheldon van der Linde on pole position with the #44 Junior team with Neil Verhagen on board starting from P2. At the first corner Verhagen lost multiple places as he went too deep into the turn and ran wide. The problems didn’t end for the young American driver who moments later found himself taking to the grass on the exit of the cut-through. Setting himself a mountain to climb to regain the lost positions, Verhagen showed his true steel as he put the problems behind him and set about chasing after the leaders.
There were problems also for the #34 Walkenhorst of Kuba Giermaziak and Jesse Krohn which didn’t even get off the GP circuit before returning to the pits after picking up heavy front left damage at turn one following contact with the #19 Getspeed Mercedes-AMG GT3. The winners of NLS2 were eventually able to get back out on track to come home in P78 after completing 23 laps compared to the winner’s total of 28 laps.
At the front meanwhile, Frank Stippler in the #5 Scherer Sport PHX Audi R8 LMS GT3 he shared with Vincent Kolb passed the #98 of Sheldon van der Linde leaving the South African looking in his mirrors for the now hard-charging Verhagen. The BMW Junior team seemed to have got the set up right and the #44 and appeared to have a little bit more speed on their rival BMW team, Rowe Racing. By lap 4 Verhagen was up to third having already chased down and passed Marco Wittmann in the #99 Rowe Racing BMW along the Dottinger Hohe and was now targeting Stippler in the Audi ahead of him.
Early leader Sheldon van der Linde continued to drop down the field and lost P3 to Haase who despite putting two wheels of his #39 Audi Sport Team Land Audi R8 LMS GT3 on the grass, was able to pass the BMW at Mutkurve. Haase was soon up with Verhagen showing the Audi’s pace was well on par with the BMW. Having pushed his way through the field to second, Verhagen now found himself defending from Haase.
With a number of slow zones in the first sector, Verhagen had a better run and not only dropped Haase but caught up with Stippler in the leading Audi.
Further back David Pittard was having an epic drive in the #30 Frikadelli Racing Team Ferrari 296 GT3 he shared with Felipe Fernández Laser having pushed his way up to fifth.
At the pitstops the #44 BMW of Verhagen stopped on lap 6, allowing Dan Harper to take over the BMW and Sheldon van der Linde brought in the #98 Rowe Racing BMW followed by Pittard in the #30 Ferrari. The rest of the leading pack stopped a lap later with Vincent Kolb taking over from Stippler in the leading #5 Audi. Patric Niederhauser took over from Haase in the #39 Audi and Maxime Martin took over in the #99 BMW.
Halfway through the second stint there was a three-car battle developing at the front with Maro Engel leading in the #9 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 he shared with Adam Christodoulou and Fabian Schiller from the #30 Ferrari of David Pittard with Dan Harper close behind in the #44 BMW.
Pittard took the lead along the Döttinger Höhe having got two wheels on the grass to get past Engel. The risk probably wasn’t worth it as Engel dived for the pit lane leaving the Frikadelli Ferrari of Pittard in the lead having made up 17 places from the start in his 2-hour double stint.
Harper was still just behind Pittard with the Englishman and Ulsterman circulating now within a few tenths of each other.
The #44 BMW eventually hit the front of the pack as Pittard was held up by the #42 Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport Porsche 992 GT3R of Marco Siegfried. A lap down on the leader, Siegfried was in no hurry to pull over and entering into Pflanzgarten II, Pittard briefly backed off and left a BMW M4 GT3-sized hole on the inside which Harper took grateful advantage of to take the lead from the Ferrari.
Harper and Pittard both stopped on lap 14, Pittard handing over to teammate Felipe Fernández Laser after his epic two-hour double stint. Unfortunately for the Frikadelli team, they returned to the track some 30 seconds after Max Hesse in the BMW after the Ferrari needed the front left brake disc changing during the stop. From there on Harper was able to stretch the legs of the BMW eventually pulling the lead to nearly 17 seconds at the end whilst Laser brought the Ferrari home down in sixth 50.5 second behind first place.
In the last hour the battle was for the final podium places with Maxime Martin and Christopher Haase fighting hard for second and third place in the #99 BMW and #39 Audi. Despite showing its pace against the BMWs in the early stages of the race, the Audi was unable to make any advantage it had count and Maxime Martin easily kept ahead of Haase eventually opening the gap to third place to 8 seconds.
Further back a battle was also raging for eighth place with the #4 Falken Motorsports Porsche 992 GT3R of Sven Müller calling on all his experience to try and pass the #5 Audi of Vincent Kolb. In the penultimate lap Müller got a little too close and whilst attempting to negotiate backmarkers gave the Audi a tap from behind which the stewards judged was sufficient to send Muller to the newly installed penalty zone between corners one and two.
The penalty was enough to give Kolb a few seconds of breathing space but Müller had made up the deficit to Kolb on the final lap and was alongside the Audi on the final run along Döttinger Höhe but despite being alongside going into Tiergarten, Kolb was equal to the challenge and held the position to the line.
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