2012 Nurburgring 24 Hours: Race Review

by James Broomhead
Lights ablaze the no.3 Audi R8 LMS ultra heads for Nurburgring victory (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Lights ablaze the no.3 Audi R8 LMS ultra heads for Nurburgring victory (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

According to some counts the Nordschleife has 73 corners twisting and turning through the Eifel Mountains. The 40th edition of the Nurburgring 24 Hours had just as many twists as four manufacturers and more than a dozen teams battled it out at the top of the 180 car field.

In total eight different driver crews took their turn in the lead of the race but all but a few fell out contention as the pace necessary to win the race dominated by factory assisted teams with GT3 machinery was translated into a spiralling rate of attrition. The steady stream of retirements and delayed rather left a winner by process of elimination rather than sheer performance as the no.3 Audi Sport Team Phoenix line of Marc Basseng, Christopher Haase, Frank Stippler and Markus Winkelhock emerged victorious by almost a complete lap of the legendary 25km venue.

The quartet and the Audi R8 LMS ultra only took a secure hold of the race lead in the closing hours with another spate of mechanical problems for would be rivals with both the final remaining Team Manthey Porsche and the no.20 BMW Team Schubert BMW Z4 making pitstops within laps of each other.

For the Porsche squad – Olaf Manthey's team the defending champions from last year – the problem was with the brakes on the no.11 car the five minute stop needed to resolve the issue dropping them from third to sixth and off the lead lap. Two laps later Dominic Schwager brought the Z4 in to pits after completing a slow lap the Team Schubert pit crew going to work on the rear axle of the car.

It was a problem reminiscent of that which blunted the challenge of the sister BMW which Uwe Alzen had qualified on pole position. The no.19 car – Jorg and Dirk Muller and Dirk Adorf completing the line-up – arguably dominated the first half of the race. After leading from pole position Jorg Muller he became one of the early victims of a puncture, though in being able to return to the pits he fared better than Jeroen Bleekemolen who had a right-rear tyre blow on the super-fast Dottinger Hohe straight pitching the Black Falcon Mercedes SLS into a series of spins and hard contact with the metal Armco that flanks the Nordschleife.

BMW Team Schubert BMW Z4 (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

BMW started the battle of the manufacturers on top, but driveshaft problems proved their undoing (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

A quick stop to replace the defective tyre on Muller BMWs at the end of lap four was, in many ways, a blessing in disguise as it left the team off sequence with much of the field in terms of pitstops. When the rest of the front runners – led by the no.65 Hankook Team Heico Mercedes – made their stops shortly after the conclusion of the first hour it was the BMW that assumed the lead – shadowed by Marc VDS Racing's similar car another early pit caller.

But then problems started to strike. Driveshaft issues claimed the pole sitter delivering the lead to the no.2 Audi of Stippler, Christopher Mies, Rene Rast and Marcel Fassler. The Playstation sponsored team had slowly made their way up the order until they were running second behind the BMW.

The Audi squad led into the early morning but were caught out by a rain shower that left the entire track treacherous, Mies spinning into the barriers and damaging the front of the blue car.

While the Phoenix team worked to replace the front bodywork and splitter on their R8 the rain the strategy scramble shuffled the field, some that had taken starring roles early on – the Hankook Heico Mercedes for example fell back – while others moved forwards. ROWE Racing took the lead for the first time ahead of the no.3 Audi with Raeder Motorsport's green and white Audi moved into third place (though Thomas Mutsch would crash the car out the race with seven hours remaining).

Hankook Team Heico Mercedes SLS (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Heico's no.65 team - early leaders - endured a late puncture, then heartbreaking retirement....

For the opening half of the race ROWE's no.22 team had been the quiet team – unfancied behind the Black Falcon and Heico machines the four man team of US sportscar star Klaus Graf, Thomas Jager, Jan Seyffahrt and Alexander Roloff – took the lead, holding an advantage of several minutes as the race entered its quarter. However, after exiting the pits after a scheduled stop – maintaining their lead by just a fraction of a second over the no.3 Audi – increasingly ever-present as the race entered its decisive stages – the Mercedes pitted with a broken shock absorber that ruled it out of a fight for the race lead before further problems doomed it not to finish the race.

Even once the Audi had established itself in a lead it – hindsight informs us – was never to leave the Nordschleife continued to claim it's victims in the battle for the podium.

Consigned to a battle for second with the Mamerow Racing Audi – another of the race's quiet achievers – was the no.65 Hankook Heico Mercedes. However, within 90 minutes of the end of the race the team suffered first a puncture that dropped them back to third then, just 15 minutes from the end of the race the car – smoking – stopped at Hohe Acht to set up the last twist of the race.

Team Manthey Porsche (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

.....which left Manthey's no.11 in third place and set the scene for a bizarre end to the race (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Richard Lietz in the no.11 Manthey Porsche held third position, chased by the no.66 Hankook Mercedes, as the pair wound around the track with minutes to go. The pair came back off the Nordschleife and onto the Grand Prix circuit with just 20 seconds to go, but faced with having to complete a final lap at full racing speed, and without the fuel to do so Lietz braked before the line, the Mercedes sailing through to take third while the Porsche was collected by a Renault Clio on the line, creating a scene of unexpected chaos for when Marc Basseng crossed the line to claim the victory – the official margin of victory just four minutes over Mamerow Racing as Basseng eased back in the closing hours to avoid becoming another leader to have to forfeit the point for a unscheduled stop.

In contrast to the main category the lead in many of the other classes was settled through much of the race.

Gazoo Racing scored SP8 victory with the beautiful Lexus LFA, surviving a scare of an overlong pit call early in the race to easily keep the Aston Martin Racing Zagato at bay for the class win. Kremer Racing won the all-Porsche battle in SP7, again leading for most of the race .

P 4/5 Competizione (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

The Ferari-based P 4/5 hybrid won the 'best of the rest' behind the GT3 cars (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

The attrition among the GT3 cars lifted both Lexus and Porsche into the top 15 overall, though both finished behind the impressive Ferrari engined P 4/5 Competizione hybrid of Nicola Larini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Manuel Lauck. Despite a small refuelling fire in the race's opening hours the team rallied to finish as the best non GT3 – and best non German – team in the race.

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