Mercedes joined the list of manufacturers to win the Nurburgring 24 Hours as the Black Falcon team of Sean Edwards, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Bernd Schneider and Nicki Thiim emerged victorious by very nearly three minutes in race that will go down in history for a nine hour red flag due to heavy rain.
The rain was always forecast, though it missed the start of the race. However, once it arrived it remained and with the return of the fog that had forced the cancellation of much of the support package on the first morning of the meeting there was little organisers could do but bring the race to a halt as conditions deteriorated.
Eventually it was the return of daylight, rather than the cessation of the rain that made a restart possible, with the cars returning to the track for a restart at 8pm, a little over nine hours since the start of the null period.
The restart – initially with a lap behind a safety car (something which does not normally exist in the Nurburging 24 Hours) – was led by Pedro Lamy in the Aston Martin Racing #007 Vantage.
In the first part of the race Lamy and the AMR team – Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Allan Simonsen – had been the surprise package, the British team competing with – and for a time beating – the might of the German manufacturers at the front of the race. Twice the Bilstein blue and yellow car took the lead on pure speed. First Simonsen, then Turner were able to drag past into the lead, passing the #4 Phoenix Racing Audi on both occasions.
The first time the Aston took the lead Turner enjoyed only a single 25km lap on point before making a scheduled pitstop. However, when Turner passed Ferdinand Stuck in the #4 car at the end of the Dottinger Hohe straight it was the beginning of a near full stint in the lead. Having only pitted from the lead two laps earlier the team were among the first to change to wets, returning to pits as much of the field did at the start of the fourth hour.
The advantage of the swift change gave the team an – at that point in the race – unprecedented lead of over half a minute, Stefan Mucke now chased by the pair of Manthey Racing Porsches, the SP7 leading car lead the SP9 entry in the same class as the lead Aston. The lead ebbed away, though not at the speed suggested by the concern shown by Lamy’s post qualifying about the car’s chances in a wet race.
The SP7 car – the #18 of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Lucas Luhr – was arguably primed to take the lead before both they and the Aston ahead pitted, with the red flag coming out a lap later.
While an exceptional decision it was one largely supported by the drivers, Nordschliefe veteran Sabine Schmitz, one of the drivers in the #11 Porsche comparing the conditions around the track to those on a Bering Sea shrimper!
One the restart the complexion of the race had changed almost entirely. Pedro Lamy led the field to the restart but was quickly swallowed up around the Nordschleife as he fell to fifth at the line, his Saturday evening worries realised on Monday morning. He was not alone in his struggles in the conditions that greeted them as both Manthey Porsches also began to fall back from being overall contenders to fighting to remain in the top ten. The SP7 car that had come so near to taking the lead before the red flag would still win its class, having dominated it throughout the race, but would do so ‘down’ in seventh place. A gear selection problem for the SP9 entry for Olaf Manthey’s team would lose them a handful of laps in the garage.
However, for every team that fell away in the light of morning there was another that moved forward, and these were to be the teams that would fight for the victory.
As Lamy went from the lead to fifth, Maxime Martin performed the opposite manoeuvre, leaping from fifth to put the BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS car he shared with Andrea Piccini, Richard Goransson and Yelmer Buurman in the lead for the first time. He was followed to the front by teammate Bas Leinders in the team’s other car, though Leinders would crash out of fourth place at Bergwerk shortly after. His exit was one of a flurry of incidents at the start of the seventeenth hour of the race.
The first few laps after the restart had been incident free, but with a lap Bernd Schneider skated into an area of the turn one gravel trap left largely unexplored since an F1 rookie called Lewis Hamilton was craned back onto the circuit from a similar depth. Like Hamilton multiple DTM champion Schneider, for whom the victory came on his first ever finish in the Nurburgring 24 Hours, was put back on the track by marshals, who the German verbally bequeathed as case of beer to post race.
There were also spins for the #22 ROWE Racing Mercedes, and the #20 BMW Team Schubert car, Dirk Adorf incredibly lucky to escape relatively undamaged from a spin at the crest of the Flugplatz hill. It, and Leinders’ crash, were part of a difficult race for the BMW teams. The tone was set inside the first hour when the two Schubert cars made contact while slowing down through an area governed by yellow flags. Claudia Hurtgen pitted the #20 with a rear puncture, but Uwe Alzen fared less well in the #19, returning to the garage with steering damage that would prove terminal.
There was early – very early – first lap early – drama for Christian Mamerow in the #2 Audi. After starting third he had fallen back on the opening lap before pulling out of the slipstream of a Manthey Porsche to take back a place on the Dottinger Hohe. However, as he pulled out the front splitter on the car broke, almost immediately putting the 2012 runners-up a lap down, a deficit only made worse when the problem recurred on his return to the track.
Mercedes’ chances of victory had also taken damage in the first hour. Between them the ROWE Racing and Black Falcon teams had paced both the qualifying sessions, as well as free practice. However, while their rivals had seemingly found the pace to deal with the Mercedes domination in the build-up the #10 that had topped both the ‘open’ qualifying sessions was facing backwards up the hill at Pflanzgarten with broken rear suspension within the first two hours of the race.
Andreas Simonsen did get the car – at an ever increasing angle of yaw – back to the pits but with it Mercedes’ advantage seemed to have been lost. But while they may have been late to the lead, the #23 ROWE Racing team taking the lead shortly before 10am to put an SLS ahead for the first time, they came to dominate the final six hours of the race.
Martin had given up the lead after a single stint, handing the BMW over to Yelmer Buurman who fell to second place, and over a minute behind Lance David Arnold in the #23 Mercedes but in the changing conditions as showers continued to sprinkle a continually drying track it was the revolving combination of Schneider and Edwards who were the class of the field.
After Schneider’s turn one off a scheduled stop earlier than their rivals had helped push them back up the order, with their alternative strategy helping them to the lead just before noon with every lap in the final five hours being led by a Mercedes. The #9 led the lion’s share with the #23 team picking up the scraps as they and their teammates in the #22 began to close on an all Mercedes podium.
In the end there was only one man who could stop that from happening as the challenges from the #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix and the Falken Motorsports Porsche fell apart late on.
That was Maxime Martin.
The Marc VDS team installed the Belgian for a double stint to end the race. He made it up to second place as the pair of ROWE cars completed the own final stops before having to stop himself six laps from the end of the race. Having been comfortably faster than all three of the Mercedes ahead of him in the first half of his stint there was little surprise as he quickly made his way past both ROWE cars on track.
He passed the first of the pair – the #23 after the Mercedes driver had made a mistake in the chicane before Flugplatz with a second pass, into second place coming only a few corners later with a move around the outside of Schwedenkreuz.
With second place secured, but a three minute void between he and Edwards in the lead Martin did all he could to take the battle for the lead to the very end of the 24 hours, pushing the Englishman onto a final racing lap as only the top two completed the 88 laps that made the 2013 race the shortest Nurburgring 24 Hours in the event’s history.
Edwards’ final winning margin was 2:39, Martin having succeeded in taking nearly a minute out of the lead in just the four laps after he passed both Mercedes.
The fight for third place was decided by a penultimate lap pitstop for the #23, leaving the #22 team of Klaus Graf, Thomas Jaeger, Jan Seyffarth and Nico Bastian to complete the podium.
The #1 team finished as the best of the Audi teams in fifth place, with the SP7 Manthey Racing race the best Porsche. The pole sitting Phoenix Racing #4 finished eighth with the #3 G-Drive/Phoenix Audi and the Aston Martin Racing #007 completing the overall top ten.
Among the 20 classes that took part in the race seven class winners ended the race in the top 40 overall, though only the SP9 and SP7 winners were in the top half of that bracket.
The lone Corvette in the race, crewed by Tobias Guttroff, Joachim Kiesch, Volker Strycek and Arno Klasen, won in SP8 beating both the Gazoo Racing Lexus LFA and the GT Corse Ferrari 458, the Ferrari team having been the nearest challengers until falling out of the race.
Audi TTs won both the SP3T and SP4T classes for Raeder Motorsport and Besaplast Racing Team respectively. The partly British crewed Nova Race Ginetta G50 fell to second in the SP10 class in the final laps, losing out to Bonk Motorsport’s #58 BMW.
The final class winner to make it into the top 40 was the best of the works run Peugeot 208 GTI. The team of Christiaan Frankenhout, Vincent Rademecker, Johnny Neiderhauser and Giacomo Ricci led home a 1-2-3 for the fantastic looking cars in 32nd position overall.