While I normally use this space to briefly cover each event from the weekend that most recently evaporated, this week, there was very little motorsport of note, aside from one giant elephant in the room. A DTM event? The NASCAR All-Star race? Indy qualifying? (Friend of the blog, Graham Rahal starts a respectable 12th) Moto GP? None hold a candle, and all pale in comparison to the epic tale of the 2012 ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 hour event.
To find out what happened, read on.
BMW Team Schubert started the week with an amazing Pole position during the “top 40” qualifying session on Friday afternoon. 2012 was Schubert’s tenth attempt to conquer the green hell in as many years. Driver Uwe Alzen turned a time of eight minutes and eighteen seconds to throw his V8 powered Z4 coupe on the top of the tables by just over a second from the Mamerow Racing Audi R8 LMS, which started second. The pole was a great start, but nearly meaningless in a 24 hour event, especially with such a stacked field.
A grand total of 171 cars took the grid with more than 600 drivers scheduled to push them through 24 hours of agony and fatigue. Separated into 28 classes and four divisions, nearly anyone has a car eligible for competition, from brand new endurance machines from BMW, Porsche, Audi, Mercedes all the way down to a lowly 1.8t powered Mk3 Golf, or a Toyota FX16. Competing for overall victory in the SP9 class, effectively billed for FIA GT3 cars (including the aforementioned Z4, SLS AMGs, R8 LMS, and Porsche GT3 R models). Playing out as it should, it’s Heico Mercedes vs. Schubert BMW vs. Manthey Porsche vs. Team Phoenix Audi for top honors.
The Nurburgring can claim many a car. The part of the ground that your tires stick to is very close to the never ending sections of ARMCO, not to mention the stop start nature of the track, the high g-forces of the pair of Karoussels, and much slower traffic using poor judgement around every bend, and you have a recipe for high attrition rates.
Beginning the race was a large contingent of SP9 category cars, 31 to be exact. By 4pm the following afternoon, only 16 of them would be classified at the end. When I said that the pole position would mean little in the race, I wasn’t kidding. The pole sitting BMW was sidelined in the overnight section for a failed driveshaft losing 6 laps, while it’s sister car had some gearbox issues after leading for a stint. Porsche was never truly a threat, as the rules were highly unfavorable to the brand and team that had won five of the previous six 24 hour events here. Porsche decided not to enter as a factory team, and Manthey Racing was forced to enter as a privateer with a much lower budget. While they still had the great drivers, they just did not have the car to be competitive. With these two German manufacturers out of contention, the race narrowed to a Audi V. Merc grudge match.
The first major hit to Audi came when Chris Mies crashed the leading R8 in light rain conditions in hour 15. This handed the lead to Klaus Graf in the ROWE racing SLS AMG, and Graf certainly impressed given the weather conditions. In hour 18, Graf’s Merc suffered a race ending suspension failure. From that point on, it was Audi’s race to run, as the second Phoenix Racing Audi was gifted the lead, with a supporting cast of one: Mamerow Racing’s R8 in second position, to fend off the competition. This would prove unnecessary, as the pair of four-ringed sports cars were more than a lap up on the competition.
With a half hour to go, a Heico SLS retained the third position, the #11 Manthey car in fourth, and a second Heico in fifth place. It was obvious that the fifth placed car was gaining ground, and quickly, on fourth at a rate of around 6 seconds per lap, with only a 13 second deficit at worst. The third placed Heico car suddenly and inexplicably suffered an overheating issue that resulted in retirement after an attempt to drive it back to the pits for work failed, and the driver was forced to pull off.
Having promoted the Manthey car to the podium, and the only remaining Heico car to fourth and closing, the retirement certainly threw some spice on an already exciting battle. By the time the Manthey Porsche passed the crippled Heico, the second SLS AMG was on it’s rear bumper, where it would stay for the remaining two laps as they fought, tooth and nail, to maintain or gain a podium position. Bragging rights and country pride were on the line.
Here is where the complications begin. The leading Phoenix Audi had slowed dramatically to prevent the need for another lap as the clock wound down. The luxury of a lap up on the competition allowed the leader a wide margin to slow, and he crossed the line only seconds after the clock ticked to 24:00. The problem with this is the previously mentioned battle between Porsche and AMG forced both cars to pass the leading Audi to regain the lead lap. This meant that both cars would need to complete another lap in order to qualify for the final standings.
The Mercedes, clearly the faster car, was surely not bothered by the prospect of another lap, especially considering the fact that a recent pitstop meant plenty of fuel to complete another 15.7 miles. The Porsche, however, had planned for a 9 lap stint, and this turn of events added a tenth lap to the stint. Knowing that the car would not finish the lap on it’s current fuel load, Manthey were forced to call their driver to forfeit the 3rd place to Heico and wait for the leader to cross before then crossing the line themselves.
Whether the call was made too late, or exactly what the issue was, we may never know, however, the Porsche visibly slams on the brakes mere meters before start/finish line to wait out the R8’s arrival. The Porsche then coasts across the line, eliminating the tactical advantage. To make matters worse, a driver in a Renault Clio, clearly not expecting a Porsche GT3 R to be stopped on track in front of him, and clearly paying more attention to the flag stand than the road in front of him, completely rails the right rear fender of the Manthey car, leaving his left front planted deep in the Porsche’s bumper. You got your Clio in my GT3! Hey, you got your GT3 in my Clio! See if you can make out what happened in the youtube clip below.
Regardless, congratulations to Audi, Phoenix racing, and Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase, Frank Stippler and Markus Winkelhock, who led a 1-2 finish for the German manufacturer. This was Audi’s first victory at the 24 hour, and the first victory for the brand new R8 LMS “Ultra”.
– 171 cars and more than 600 drivers participated in this weekend’s 24-hour race
– The track length of the Nürburgring Nordschleife plus Grand Prix circuit is 15.7 miles and features 170 corners
– 235,000 spectators witnessed the action-packed weekend of racing
– A total of 273,965 miles were covered during the race, as a result of a total of 17,450 completed laps
– The winning Audi completed 155 laps, while an E90 chassis BMW 325i completed only a single lap before retiring.