Leading never seems to be a good idea at the Nürburgring 24 Hours: it’s almost a dead-cert for fate to deal you a bum card. Of the leaders from early on in the race, only the two Heico Hankook Mercedes SLS, the #3 Phoenix and #26 Mamerow Audi R8 LMS Ultras haven’t suffered any major problems, and it’s this quartet who are still in contention in the late stages of the race..
We’d left off last time at just over halfway through the 24 hours, with the #2 Phoenix Audi leading after problems for the #19 Schubert BMW Z4 that had been at the sharp end through all of the first phase of the race. A driveshaft failure took the Z4 out of contention, though the BMW was eventually repaired and sent back out.
Phoenix’s second R8, #3, had moved up to the tail of its sister car, and took the lead around dawn as the #2 car pitted after running round for a short period in first and second positions. The #22 Rowe SLS completed the top three – but heavy rain was predicted for around 7am.
6.30am: the #2 Audi appears in the pits minus most of its front end. It looks like the rain has come earlier than expected.
Scratch another car from the lead battle; #2 would be another car to rejoin covered in tank tape and well down the order. Schubert’s second Z4, #20, assumed the lead. Into the 14th hour the #22 SLS moved into first place after making some great tactical calls in the changeable conditions: they would pull out an almost four minute gap over the next couple of laps.
But soon after there were more accidents due to the slippery conditions: the #10 Manthey Porsche hit the barriers of the Grand Prix track and sustains heavy front-end damage and a rear-left puncture – it struggled round the track minus all of its front-mounted radiators and dangling various important parts. Many cars could now be seen either limping around or sporting major bodywork damage.
Even cars now in one piece following early trouble were still putting the hammer down, like the pair of growling Aston Martin Vantages.
Finishing would become the target for many teams.
Passing into the 16th hour cars had been swapping to cut slicks as a drying line appeared: lap times were still 30 seconds off the dry pace. All four marques were still represented up front though, with the #22 SLS, #3 Audi, #20 BMW and #11 Porsche running first to fourth. The Speedhunters WRT Audi was back in 41st, but making up places through the slower class cars on a mission to get back onto the tail of the remaining GT3 cars.
The #9 Audi R8 LMS was the next victim of the Nordschleife’s unforgiving barriers around 9am: Thomas Mutsch ends up facing the wrong way on a downhill section minus a lot of the right of the car and is towed off the track. The Phoenix Audi was pushing hard and had caught up to the tail of the #22 SLS – which then peeled off into the pits trailing smoke. Another car fell: it was pushed into the Rowe Racing garage to have suspension damage repaired.
At midday, with four hours to go, the order was the #3 Phoenix Audi, #20 Schubert Z4, #65 Heico SLS, #26 Mamerow Audi, #66 Heico SLS, #11 Manthey Porsche.
But there were concerns for several teams as the temperatures rose and the track dried completely.
The leading two cars pitted together; the #3 Audi rolled out without problems, but the #20 was receiving closer attention – and was then pushed back into its garage, the bonnet and wheels come off and it’s jacked up. The mechanics went to work on the rear underside of the Z4. It begins its slide down the leaderboard. Game over for #20, and it would rejoin in traffic outside the top 10.
In general the pits were beginning to calm down, certainly compared to the frenzy of the previous day.
Slower cars were making it as clear as possible when they were peeling off into the pit-lane, as the entrance was just over a blind crest.
Stops were still carried out at a frantic pace when cars arrived…
…mechanics lined up behind stopped cars to help push them back into life.
But in between, the waiting game was taking its toll.
Behind the leading GT3 cars, the P4/5 was still going strongly in 14th place.
The #150 Kremer Porsche Cup car was running like a train as the highest SP7 car, in 15th overall.
The #83 Lexus LF-A was just behind in 18th, leading its class.
The Aston Martin Zagato has been chasing down the Lexus, but early problems haven’t allowed it to get into a proper race with the LF-A.
Speedhunters’ Audi R8 was recovering slowly up the order and looking like it could make it back into the top 20 by the end of the race. Smooth stops and quick laps were helping that objective.
For the drivers there would likely be just one more until the end of the race.
There was also a constant stream of cars coming in for stop-go penalties due to either exceeding track limits or pit-lane infringements: the pit officials were kept busy shuttling cars in and out of the penalty box.
Now out of stickers, Camille and Julie walked the paddock soaking up the hot sun. The weather has in general been incredibly good this weekend relative to how it normally is during the 24 Hours.
The smallest mistake or accident could still change the result of this race: the two Heico Hankook Mercedes SLS and the #26 Mamerow Audi R8 are still in striking distance of the #3 Phoenix car with less than two hours to go.
2012 Nürbrugring 24 Hours – positions after 22 hours
1: #3 Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Ultra 141 laps
2: #26 Mamerow Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra +1 lap
3: #65 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +1 lap
4: #66 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +1 lap
5: #11 Manthey Porsche 911 GT3R +1 lap
6: #29 Marc VDS BMW Z4 +1 lap
8: #18 Vita4One BMW Z4 +1 lap
9: #28 Porsche 911 GT3R +1 lap
10: #20 BMW Team Schubert Z4 +1 lap
TOP CLASS POSITIONS
AT #190 Audi A4
SP2T #143 Mini
SP3 #166 Gazoo
SP3T #133 Subaru
SP4T #111 Raeder Audi TT RS
SP5 #106 BMW 1
SP6 #98 BMW Z4
SP7 #150 Kremer Porsche (in the top 20 overall)
SP8 #83 LFA (also in the top 20 overall)
SP10 #70 BMW M3
V3 #200 GT86
V4 #208 Mercedes-Benz C230
V5 #222 Z4
V6 #233 Black Falcon BMW M3