Six hours of track time were dedicated on Thursday and Friday to setting the majority of positions for the 2012 edition of the 2012 Nürburgring 24 Hours, the 40th anniversary of the race. Thursday had seen a long, four-hour session starting at 7.30pm and running into the dark. This was seen as being the main focus for the teams not only for setting meaningful times but also trying out set-ups and getting drivers used to busy night-time traffic. ￼These sessions would be followed by a final run-off to set the first 40 starting positions, which were to be run in a time trial format on Friday evening.
Local specialists Manthey headed the time-sheets as the chequer fell at 11.30pm – their #11 Porsche 911-GT3 set a lap-time of 8:27.671s, several seconds ahead of the second-placed car, the #26 Mamerow Audi R8 LMS Ultra. The Audi was the only other car to dip below 8:30s. Behind those two cars was a good mix: the #3 Phoenix Audi was followed by a Vita4One BMW Z4, the #6 Aston Martin Vantage and the #4 Speedhunters WRT Audi. McLaren, Mercedes and Corvette were also represented in the top 12. ￼
There was a second two-hour session early on Friday morning. The track was quite wet from overnight rain at the start, and teams didn’t seem to be in any rush to send their cars out early. Wets were necessary to start, as the #44 Falken Porsche found out to its cost. Out on slicks, Wolf Henzler drifted off the track on the approach to Adenau and grazed the barriers, requiring light repairs. ￼
The pair of Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG were running in tandem around the GP loop for a couple of laps – likely testing fuel efficiency – before finally peeling off taking their individual turns around the full Nordschleife.
Manthey Porsche settled into the comfy armchair that it had pre-warmed the night before at the top of the timesheets, with no real desire to put more laps on the #11 car.
Halfway in, BMW were pushing on with a vengeance: four Z4s populated the top seven at this stage.
Aston were also doing well with their new Vantage, running consistently around the top 10.
With 40 minutes to go the #15 Black Falcon SLS jumped to the top of the time sheets with a single-lap run 3/10ths quicker than the time the #11 Porsche had set the night before.
20 minutes to go, and the on-board videos showed that this was the time for teams to tell their drivers to push. The SP9-class GT3s were all safely inside the cut-off: the real fight was going to be for the lower positions in the top 40, which would be fought out mainly by SP7 class cars: predominantly Porsche Cup cars.
In fact, it would be the 39 fastest, as the SP4T-class #111 Audi TT RS got a free pass into the top 40 from its previous VLN results.
At the death, the top 30 cars were all within 10 seconds of the fastest time, with 47 cars in total posting laps under the nine minute mark. The German quartet of Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Audi were all represented in the top four, and three of the four Manthey Porsches made it through: both SP9 GT3s and one of its pair of SP7s.
WRT had used used the session time to continue work on Audi R8 LMS Ultra and didn’t go out during the two hours – neither did the Haribo Corvette, Gemballa McLaren and the pair of Manthey SP9s among a number of others who decided to concentrate on car set-up, confident that they were secure in the top 40.
The order for the Top 40 Qualifying in the early evening was drawn by a raffle in the early afternoon: cars formed up line-astern on the grid and were let off at around 10-second intervals. First to be flagged off was the #25 Audi Race Experience R8 LMS Ultra; two of the Manthey Porsches had been drawn together back in 31st and 32nd, which meant some shuffling was expected on the warm-up lap. ￼
An engine and gearbox change for the Gemballa McLaren MP4-12C meant they would be one of just two cars that wouldn’t make it out in the final session. ￼
Tommy Milner took the wheel of the Haribo Corvette: he hugely improved the C6’s lap-time to an 8:24s.
The WRT Speedhunters Audi R8 LMS was driven by Edward Sandström, whose first flying lap put the team into sixth – temporarily at least. ￼
Lap times tumbled as the timing screens ran round like a fruit machine – 40 cars hammering over the line in quick succession. The first overtly quick time was by the #65 Merc, setting a lap in the mid-8:22s, only to be overtaken almost immediately as five cars, six cars, then seven cars crossed the timing beam and went faster. ￼
Next up the #26 Mamerow Audi claimed pole with an 8:19.701s lap, raising the bar even higher with a lap over two seconds faster than the previous target. Around the circuit there were clumps of traffic and drivers pushing hard – to the edge of the track and beyond. The Marc VDS BMW Z4 went out onto the run-off of the GP track, and the #3 Audi also found itself stuck behind slower cars, ruining its laps.
The #27 Porsche crewed by ‘Ring specialist and Top Gear star Sabine Schmitz put in the 22nd fastest time.
Having started third in line, Uwe Alzen in the #19 Schubert BMW Z4 put in a huge time – an 8:18.3s, pushing the BMW another 1.3 seconds ahead. It was a time that no one would be able to beat, and five seconds faster than the 2011 pole time. ￼
The #65 Heico SLS pulled itself back up to third on its second lamp only to immediately fall back to fourth when the similar #15 Black Falcon Merc set a 8:20 flat. ￼
That was pretty much the end of challenges for pole: second laps seemed slower in general, and we saw no other improvements, although the #12 Manthey Porsche put in a time that was good enough for an impressive 19th position overall and the pole in the SP7 class.
Tomorrow at 4pm CET the huge grid will be unleashed in three packs: 66 cars followed by 51 and then the final 54. ‘Weather’ is predicted: anything could happen on that front. And the race? They’ll definitely be a race, and it’s going to rage on for a day. Join us tomorrow when we’ll be bringing you full coverage from here in the Eifel mountains.
Qualifying for the 2012 Nürbrugring 24 Hours
1: #19 BMW Team Schubert Z4 8:18.382s
2: #26 Mamerow Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra +1.319s
3: #15 Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +1.668s
4: #65 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG +2.349s
5: #20 BMW Team Schubert Z4 +2.542s
11: #4 Speedhunters Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra +4.022s
￼ TOP CLASS POLES
19: SP7 #12 Wochenspiegel Team Manthey 8:26.908s
30: E1-XP #1 Global Partnership 8:32.585s
32: SP8 #83 Gazoo Racing Lexus LF-A 8:36.187s
38: SP4T #111 Raeder Audi TT RS 8:46.886s
48: SP3T #127 LMS Engineering VW Scirocco 9:00.774s
50: SP8T #23 Nissan GT-R 9:02.315s