Another 24 Hour race, another weekend without sleep, another step along the road, destination? Well, who can say?
The 2010 Nurburgring 24 Hours was a triumph for BMW and Team Schnitzer, who outran and outlasted the opposition till they were the only Werks effort still circulating without having suffered some form of calamity.
The driver line up of Jorg Muller, Uwe Alzen, Pedro Lamy and Augusto Farfus hardly put a wheel out of place during the torrid race twice round the clock. They saw off strong factory backed challenges from Porsche and Audi and completed 154 laps of the 25.378 kilometre circuit (or 2,428 miles in real money). This was one trip round the Nordschleife less than the record set in 2009 by Manthey Racing.
The BMW M3 GT2 was by no means the fastest car in the race, nor the most developed but BMW did have one weapon in its armoury that has come out on top so many times before, Charly Lamm and Team Schnitzer.Stories of insane workloads at Schnitzer were running through the paddock. The M3 GT2 project was a late addition by BMW's board after canning the Formula One team and with Le Mans Series, Le Mans and VLN cars to build there was much to do in a short period of time. The focus for Munich is now fixed on product related marketing and away from the financially profligate halo brand building that was supposed to follow success in Grand Prix.
Like all the classics, the Nurburgring 24 Hours is an event, not just a race. It is defined as much as anything by the hordes of hardy fans who throng the circuit for the best part of a week. The conditions this year were tough enough on the pampered media such as I, at least I got to sleep indoors and take a hot shower every day. Camping in the mud at near-zero temperatures requires a great deal of committment…………and beer.
Still the organisers were able to boast of 220,000 spectators, certainly there were plenty of people about.
The big news for SpeedHunters was the amazing fourth place overall that the Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 GT3 scored.
But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The sun made a rare appearance at the start of the race and this seemed to encourage Marcel Tiemann in the Manthey Racing Porsche GT3 R who vaulted up from seventh on the grid to lead the race as the cars left the stadium section and headed out into the forests.
Struggling to keep up were the quartet of Audis that had taken the honours in Qualifying, even DTM ace Timo Scheider in the #100 Abt Sportsline R8 could not match the scorching pace of the lead Manthey car.
Indeed by the time the clock struck four, two other Porsches had grabbed second and third spots on the leaderboard. #8 with Lance David Arnold driving was another Manthey run effort.
Chris Mamerow took his own Porsche GT3 R up to third.
Holding station behind the Porsche trio and the Audis were the other main contenders for victory, the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid.
And the BMW M3 GT2 pair.
Indeed as the race entered its second hour the #26 BMW was the first front runner to strike problems. Dirk Werner had been complaining the the M3's handling was "edgy". Early in his second stint he got onto the grass while passing a backmarker and clouted the armco. The result? Replacement for the left front suspension, rear shock absorber and radiator. Six laps lost, victory chances gone.
Another front runner that retired early in the race was the Team Need for Speed BMW Z4 GT3.
As the sun went down the #1 Porsche still dominated but was unable to get clear of the the two chasing Audis. Numerous yellow flag areas as damage to cars and track is being repaired kept the overall speeds down but the prospect of a fifth win in a row still seemed likely for Manthey.
The #100 Audi gained in pace as the track became less green and the tyres worked better, enabling the drivers to push even harder.
Third place for the #98 Audi, here with Hans Stuck Jnr. at the wheel. Stuck, who is 59 this year, won the first Nurburgring 24 Hours back in 1970. The car was pushed off course during the first hour of darkness, struck the kerb, ruptured an oil pipe, causing the engine to blow.
The eighth hour saw the race change direction completely. First Marc Lieb in #1 collected someone else's accident destroying much of the left side of the 911, even Manthey's experienced crew could not make repairs to get the car back into the race. The dream was over, win number five would not happen for the team, this year.
20 minutes later Marco Werner in the #100 Audi had a similar experience in the same part of the track, the rear suspension was damaged beyond repair. Another favourite out.
This pushed #99 into the lead and they would stay there till dawn when problems with the transmission forced a change of the rear axle, this was managed in an incredible seven minutes. This did not solve the Audi's troubles, and a full gearbox change was next on the menu and that ended their chances of winning.
So the lead switched once again, this time to the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid, with Jorg Bergmeister giving a champion's performance behind the wheel.
Meanwhile all the dramas that afflicted the leaders had the happy consequence for SpeedHunters of seeing the Team Need For Speed Z4 run in the top five, could there be the dream of a podium?
The battle for lead was down to the survivor from each of the factories. #2 kept Audi's hopes alive, having recovered from some problems early on they tried to get onto terms with the Hybrid. All in vain as a driveshaft failure stranded Lucas Luhr at Pflanzgarten and the Audi joined the list of retirements.
So this meant that Porsche's main challenge was from the #25 BMW which was keeping the pressure up all the time trying to force a mistake or uncover a weakness in the Hybrid. As the Porsche had completed 6 days of testing at the Nordschleife, trouble free, it seemed a tall order.
One team that had put its demons behind them was the Farnbacher Ferrari 430. Fastest in Thursday Qualifying, disaster had struck in Friday's session when the car speared off the road causing considerable damage. After repairs they started from 46th place, so the team of Allan Simonsen, Dominik Farnbacher, Marco Seefried and Lehman Keen were discounted. The drivers all agreed to avoid kerbs and look after the engine and gearbox and hope that the race would come to them……………third place with three hours to go proved the worth of that strategy.
There was to be another twist in the tail of this amazing race, the bulletproof Porsche falters, first an exhaust manifold needed replacing then in an act of wanton cruelty by the Racing Gods, with less than two hours to run, Jorg Bergmeister had the engine stall on him at Breidscheid, ending Porsche's dream of a Hybrid victory.
So as Last Man Standing, #25 BMW M3 GT2 took the flag at 15.00 hours. Even then there were some anxious moments in the BMW pit as the gearbox started to give problems during the final hours and with the Ferrari on the same lap there would be no relaxing before the chequered flag was waved. In the end there was just under four minutes advantage over the Farnbacher car, nails will have been bitten short.
This win was number 19 for BMW at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, it was Pedro Lamy's fifth victory in the event tieing him on the winners list with Marcel Tiemann. To make BMW and Schnitzer's race complete the #26 car recovered to take seventh place, a great team effort.
So another 24 Hours spent at a race track, Nurburgring is more than a bit special, in places it is completely mental, for drivers, photographers and marshals, we all breath a sigh of relief that it over for this year……………then look forward to the next race.
Next year it is said that Mercedes will be on parade………………..
I will be looking at the rest of the field later this week.