After a race that included more twists, up and downs than the Nordschleife itself it was the Schnitzer run BMW M3 E92 that claimed the checkered flag in the Nurburgring 24 Hours.
The car, shared between WTCC pilot Augusto Farfus, Pedro Lamy, Uwe Alzen and Jorg Muller completed 154 laps of the 25km Nurburgring Nordschleife. The car had run relatively faultlessly throughout the race, the only hiccups of not being a stop for a puncture and a ten minute repair to a hole in the radiator caused by a piece of stricken Audi.
The car had found its way into third place with only five hours remaining, but was soon promoted into second with the demise of the no.2 Abt Sportsline Audi, apparently with a driveshaft problem. Second then because first with only a few hours to go, when the leader – the Manthey Racing Hybrid Porsche pulled off the track on the far side of the Nordschleife with an engine problem. While the orange and white car hauled back to the pits on a truck any chance of the car – which features a flywheel system and two 60kw electric motors – taking a landmark victory had long departed.
The BMW took the lead, but even then the race threatened to turn again as problems emerged with the car on the final stint.
The car suffered a brief flash fuel fire in the pits as the car was handed to Uwe Alzen to bring home. The first showing of flame was quickly greeted by a cloud of extinguisher, the car unharmed as it was sent back on its way with a hefty shove from the team. The shove betrayed the team's other concern – gearbox problems.
“During my last stint we lost fourth gear,” admitted Muller, after the race. “The problem gradually got worse. The main priority was to be careful and keep the car in the race.”
Alzen nursed the car home, sacrificing some of the nine minute lead over the second place Hankook Team Farnbacher Ferrari the BMW held before its final stop.
When the car crossed line it claimed the fifth N24 win for the Schnitzer outfit – their first since 2005. “Days like this are the ultimate reason why I love my profession so much,” said team manager Charlie Lamm The commitment shown by the entire team today is really unique. We had to overcome some tricky situations, but always believed in ourselves.”
The victory also saw Portuguese Lamy equal Marcel Tiemann's record of five Nurburgring 24 Hours victories.
The late failures for both Porsche and Audi capped miserable races for the manufacturers, which were, largely, expected to dominate the race.
Audi R8 LMS from official customer, but still privateer, teams had taken the front four places on the grid, but had quickly found themselves swamped by the combination of Manthey and Mamerow Racing Porsches. Much of the early running was dominated by the no.1 Manthey Racing entry with Porsche works drivers Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard alongside Tiemann.
However, the car was one of a flurry claimed by the late evening and the arrival of darkness over the Eifel mountains. The car, which Lieb at the controls was caught up in another runner's accident, severely damaging the green and yellow 911 and forcing team principal Olaf Manthey into withdrawing the car – an act the Nordschleife legend described as “bitter”.
The retirement followed hot on the heels of the end of the Mamerow Racing effort. The leading Audi also hit trouble at the same time. The no.100 Abt entry inherited the lead from the no.1 crew, only to, similarly be caught out by one of the many slower cars on the 200 strong entry list. The car, driven at the time by Marco Werner, was forced off the track while trying to lap another car, the ensuing accident tearing off the left-rear suspension of the pole-sitting car he shared with Brit Oliver Jarvis, Timo Scheider and Mattias Ekstrom.
The rash of retirements saw the Hybrid – staffed by Porsche factory pilots Jorg Bergmeister, Richard Lietz, Marco Holzer and Martin Ragginger – move into a stable lead, which it would hold for eight hours, before Bergmiester pulled the car off the track. “I heard a loud noise at the rear of the car and suddenly the power went,” he described, the car coasting limply down through a series of sweeping curves powered only by gravity en route to retirement.
The BMW made up the two lap deficit, to take the lead and never surrendered it, the Hankook Ferrari taking second overall and SP7 class laurels, with sportscar veterans, but Nordschleife virgins Dominik Farnbacher and Allan Simonsen amongst the driving quartet.
The Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS of Dennis Rostek, Luca Ludwig, Marc Bronzel and Markus Winkelhock was the surprise winner of the SP9 class for GT3 machinery, one lap ahead of the Need For Speed by Schubert Racing BMW Z4 – a car that only made it's GT3 debut a fortnight earlier.
The pair of works Aston Martins finished second and third in the SP8 class, missing out on the laurels to one of the Lexus LF-A of Gazoo Racing. The V12 Vantage – Kermit – had held the class lead until mid-morning when a combination of fuel pump and driveshaft problems left the car and driver Richard Meaden stranded on track.
Only a team effort involving a Aston Martin Cygnet display car could bring the car back to the pits, the team only losing sixteen minutes, returned the car to the race, drivers Chris Porrit, Meaden and Peter Cate able to pull back inside the top 40 – their teammate Oliver Mathai having been taken ill earlier in the race.
It finished just behind Katie the debutant four-door Aston Martin Rapide, which enjoyed a largely trouble free run though the race
The race, and the Nordschleife track, was as unforgiving as ever, with only 123 cars surviving to be classified finishers. Amongst the casualties where the all British effort of Team Parker Racing, who could only muster 37 laps.
However, the undisputed award for most dramatic exit, went to British journalist Roger Green and his burning Lotus Exige. The rear of the car engulfed in flame, and losing braking power the experienced racer was forced to slow the car down against the barriers before bailing out of the still moving, still burning car, narrowly avoiding being run over by the runaway Lotus.
Green survived the accident unscathed, his next known whereabouts reportedly being somewhere around the track – drinking beer.
That just might sum up the madness of the event.