After three hours of the 2012 Nurburgring 24 Hours it's a 1-2 for BMW and the GT3 BMW Z4 with both cars off the normal pit schedule after early stops in the first hour.
Starting the pole sitting no.19 BMW Team Schubert entry Jorg Muller led the firth three laps before a right-rear puncture forced him into the pits, letting Lance David Arnold in the Hankook Team Heico Mercedes SLS to take the lead.
Muller's puncture was one of a number of high profile tyre failures in the opening hour. The no.27 Timbuli Racing Porsche – pace setter in the Thursday's free practice session – and the no.90 Haribo liveried Corvette both had right-rear tyre let go. Marc Hennerici was able to bring the Timbuli car back to the pits Richard Westbrook, however, was not so lucky the Briton pulling the Corvette he shares with Tommy Milner, Jan Magnussen and Daniel Keilwitz over on the Dottinger Hohe inside the first hour.
The most spectacular and destructive failure was that on Jeroen Bleekemolen's Black Falcon Mercedes SLS. The Dutchman's right rear Yokahama blew at full speed on the Dottinger Hohe, pitching the no.15 car into the barriers in a series of spins that would knock the car that started third out of the race. A Porsche in a lower class later collected some of the debris, itself spinning into the wall resulting in a lengthy period of yellow flag waving on the normally flat out straight to end the Nordschleife.
In a sequence of events eerily similar to Le Mans last year both GT3 Aston Martin Vantages were effectively knocked out of contention withing minutes of each other. The no.006 returned to the garage with a transmission issue, while the no.007 became another victim of a puncture, pulling off the track after the bridge at Breidscheid.
When the bulk of the GT3 class shortly after the end of the first hour it the Muller started no.19 (Dirk Muller, Uwe Alzen and Dirk Adorf the other drivers) that assumed the lead with the Marc VDS run Z4 – another to make an early stop – in second place, though 46 seconds in arrears with the no.22 ROWE Racing Mercedes closing in.
The sequence of BMW and Mercedes teams swapping the lead – Hankook Heico enjoying running 1-2 and nose to tail for several laps before the best of the Audi R8 LMS inserted itself between the black, white and orange SLS machines.
The problems among the top cars were not limited to tyres nor the GT3 class. After hovering around the top 20 the P 4/5 Competizione had a brief fire in the pits, losing lap in the process of putting out the flash fire and making sure of the car's intetgrity dropping 31st by the end of the third hour.
The Lexus LFA leads the SP8 class in 23rd overall, making it the best non GT3 car in the field after three hours. Timbuli Racing's Porsche leads SP7 in 25th overall with Raeder Motorsport's Audi TT RS the final class leader in the top 30 heading the SP4T class. No.111 – another TT RS – the only representative of the class in yesterday's top-40 qualifying shootout – had a wheel come off the lap after making a pitstop shortly before the hour.
2012 Nurburgring 24 Hours Selected Class Leaders After Three Hours
SP9 GT3 – N.19 BMW Team Schubert BMW Z4 – Muller/Muller/Adorf/Alzen
SP8 – No.83 Gazoo Racing Lexus LFA – Kinoshita/Iida/Wakisaka
SP7 – No.47 Timbuli Racing Porsche 997 GT3 – Busch/Allgauer/Al-Azhari Karim/Seefried
SP4T – No.110 Raeder Motorsport Audi TT RS – Schmersal/”Tiger”/Kaiser/Sluis
SP8T – No.23 Team Nissan GT-R Nissan GT-R – Suzuki/Tanaka/Hoshino/Krumm
SP6 – No.98 Dorr Motorsport BMW Z4 Coupe – Scheibner/Weishar/Aust/Dorr
SP10 GT4 – no.72 Porsche 997 – Viebahn/Christodovlov/Mayes/Outzen