Six Not Out At The Nürburgring 24 Hours


What an opening period for this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours! Hours before the start the officials started assembling cars on the grid: all three starting groups were crammed onto the length of the entire start-line, with the pole car right down on the sloping approach to the first turn and the third group stretching back towards the Nordschleife link at the final turn of the Grand Prix track.

Getting onto the grid was enough of a challenge: it was like throwing yourself into a sea of people. Swimming against the tide, eventually you could make it to the front of the grid, where the #19 Schubert BMW Z4 and #26 Mamerow Audi R8 LMS Ultra were completely obscured by a mass of people.

For Camille and Julie, Speedhunters sticker-business was good – an entire box of stickers was unloaded during the grid-walk!

Two SLS crews made their way to the Mercedes grandstand at the first turn and paid their respects to the huge crowd.

In the relative calm of the pit-lane, engineers discussed strategy and the mechanics began to set up their corners of the garages: each garage was being shared by four or more teams.

Meanwhile, back in the paddock the teams were carrying out their final preparations, laying out skeletal outlines of cars comprised of spares and bodywork around a spine of major components.

A 24-hour race is all about preparation: around a track as challenging as the Nordschleife damage from the track itself as from contact with other cars. Parts will need replacing through measured wear or necessity, so the crews have to be able to get to the required parts as quickly as possible: especially when their awnings are a short run away.

Come quarter to four, with the grid somehow cleared, the first group of predominantly GT3 cars were flagged away for their long formation lap around the track. A minute or so later, the second group pulled away, and finally the third group.

There was a brief moment of calm… Then the flags would start waving in the tribunes as the cars approached… 4pm, and at the other end of the straight the first 66 cars crawled through the Hohenrain Chicane and back onto the Grand Prix track for the rolling start.

The #19 Schubert BMW Z4 with Jorg Muller at the wheel sprinted away as the lights went green and immediately pushed on, opening up a small lead. The #16 Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS was turned around at the first corner by the Lexus LF-A; a Porsche also rotated early on. Edward Sanström in the #4 Speedhunters WRT Audi R8 retained his 11th-place starting position during the opening phase, and was involved in a big battle with three other cars.

There was an incredible sight at Flugplatz as over 60 GT cars flew over the jump in quick succession, and towards the end of the lap cars were three-wide as they ran down the Döttinger Höhe. At the front #19 BMW continued to sprint away: Muller held a nine second lead by the end of the first lap and set a lap-time that wouldn’t be beaten for some time.

Barely two laps had passed before the leaders began to catch the slower cars from the third starting group: despite the length of track there’s a greater density of traffic here than even at Le Mans.

There were breath-taking sights as cars flashed past back-markers, like a police chase through rush-hour traffic. Despite it being so early in the race, some fantastically optimistic moves were made as GT3 cars sometimes split either side of production cars through the ridiculously narrow chutes of the ‘Ring, headlights flashing crazily. The poor corner workers were having to constantly wave blue overtaking flags: they need some kind of mechanical arm to wave flags for them…

By the second lap the #19 Z4 led from the #65 Hankook SLS, #20 sister Z4, #11 Manthey Porsche and #15 Black Falcon SLS. The BMW’s lead had been slashed as soon as he hit traffic, but #65’s efforts to catch him were held up by having to fight off the attention of Claudia Hürtgen in the #20 Z4.

Edward had made his way up to ninth, and was now involved in a fight with another two cars. Just 20 seconds covered the first 20 places at this stage. Then we saw the first of a series of accidents to remind everyone just how this track could bite: the V4-class #206 E90 BMW smashed into a barrier, destroying the front of the car, and a Seat and Mini also hit the retaining walls. Yellow flag zones for the accidents resulted in lap-times 30 seconds slower than expected, showing that drivers really were respecting the flags.


At the end of lap four the #19 and #29 Marc VDS BMWs both pitted early: this would put them out of sequence from then on, but with fuel pumps in the garages shared between perhaps a dozen cars it made sense to reduce the chance of being caught up in a fight to get gas.

By the fifth lap Edward was right on the boot lid of the #2 Phoenix Audi and #15 Black Falcon SLS: they were screaming round the Nordschleife as a trio – until they reached the long straight at Döttinger Höhe. #2 slipstreamed up behind the SLS, but as they reached v-max just inches apart the rear-right tyre on the SLS exploded and the car turned hard right into the barrier. Edward and #2 just avoid the accident, but double-yellows fly.

Worse was to come, as the straight became a magnet for accidents: a Porsche Cayman came steaming up Döttinger Höhe seemingly oblivious to the slowing traffic, crested the rise, braked, locked up and also speared off into the barrier, wiping out the front end and spewing radiator fluid onto the track, adding to the remains of the SLS. The #90 Corvette also then stopped in the same area with damage, after a flailing punctured tyre took out the C6’s battery. It then became the World Of Punctures: more and more cars had to struggle back to the pits with destroyed rubber trailing behind.

Aston Martin had a horrific opening hour: both the #006 and #007 Vantages were in trouble, with the former stuck in the pits with suspected gearbox problems and the latter stranded at Adenau with a cut tyre. At least the Zagato was running without issue, giving Aston some cheer.

Up front, of the 31 GT3 cars that had started together just 17 remained in the same group due to the accidents and punctures. Kremer’s SP7-class Porsche Cup car was running well though, into the to p20, with the P4/5 close behind.

On the sixth lap, an hour in, most of the leading GT3 cars began to pit – the #11 Manthey Porsche, run by the multiple 24-hour winning team, ominously decided to stay out and assumed the lead the next time round.

The crowd favourites seemed pretty clear: the packed grandstands at the first turn would cheer the BMWs, Sciroccos and the every-popular Opel Manta. At the end of the second hour #19 still led from #29, now with the pair of Heico Hankook SLS behind them.

The next excitement was in the pit-lane, after it seems the fire suppression system on the P4/5 was set off during refuelling. Come lap 17, the #11 Manthey Porsche again cycled round to lead; the #006 Aston also struggled back onto the track, almost two hours down. The #22 Rowe Racing SLS moved into third at the top of the third hour, ahead of the #65 SLS.

Just as it seemed to be clear, the Döttinger Höhe again witnessed a big crash: a Porsche Cup car went in hard, also on the crest, and the whole track came to a virtual standstill at this point as track workers tried to clear yet another incident.

Then came an even bigger accident: the Gemballa McLaren, with racing legend Klaus Ludwig at the wheel, collided with a Seat Leon Supercopa: they impacted the barriers and self-destructed as they spun down a hundred yards or more of track. A meteor field of debris was left strewn across the track and this became another neutralised area. Next: at the first turn the #24 Audi R8 ran wide – coming back onto the track he was hit by a Renault Clio that had also gone wide. The Clio stopped immediately and was loaded onto a flatbed; the Audi slowly made its way back to the pits.

By the fourth hour there was only one BMW in the top five; behind the leading #19 car were the Rowe and Hankook SLS. The Opel Manta was merrily leading its SP3 class, and the LF-A in SP8.

The fifth hour wore on the and the skies began to darken. The armco was finally repaired on the Döttinger Höhe the McLaren crash site, and the lap-times began to fall again: Andrea Piccini in the #4 Speedhunters Audi set the fastest lap since the pre-crashfest period, though still not as fast as the blitzing, clear of traffic opening stint.

As the sixth hour ticked over, the pace was still hot and on target for the distance record: they must complete at least 13 laps every two hours: the #19 BMW continued to lead, having completed 39 laps. 18 hours to go, and it’s now pitch black in Germany. Time for Sean and Paddy to venture Out There. Into the forest…

2012 Nürbrugring 24 Hours – positions after six hours
1: #19 BMW Team Schubert Z4 39 Laps
2: #2 Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Ultra +24.3s
3: #22 Rowe Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +58.6s
4: #20 BMW Team Schubert Z4 +1:22s
5: #65 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +1:29s
6: #3 Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Ultra +2:19s
7: #26 #26 Mamerow Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra +1 lap
8: #11 Manthey Porsche 911 GT3R +1 lap
9: #66 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +1 lap
10: 4 WRT Speedhunters Audi R8 LMS Ultra +1 lap


TOP CLASS POSITIONS
AT #189 Scirocco
SP2T #148 Mini
SP3 #155 Opel Manta

SP3T #133 Subaru
SP4T #110 Raeder Audi TT RS
SP5 #105 BMW M3

SP6 #99 BMW M3
SP7 #150 Kremer Porsche (in the top 20 overall)
SP8 #83 LFA (also in the top 20 overall)
V3 #200 GT86

SP10 #102 BMW M3
V6 #234 Black Falcon BMW M3
V5 #222 Z4
V4 #213 BMW 325 E92

Jonathan Moore

Speedhunters at the 2012 Nürburgring 24 Hours

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4 comments
MatsNorway
MatsNorway

Some info about the classes would be nice. good stuff. Love the Manta


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