June will arrive in the Eifel Mountains of Germany a few months early this weekend as the spirit of the ADAC 24 Hours of Nurburgring descends over the Nordschleife for a six hour qualifying race.
The event, termed the ‘little brother’ of the 24 hours set for June 19-22, is not essentially a qualification race. Instead, just a week after the opening race of the VLN series that regularly takes on the infamous tarmac of the likes of Flugplatz, Bergwerk and Pflanzgarten, this weekend’s running offers teams and drivers the chance to build up experience around the 26km track.
Including the six hour race that provides the crescendo to the event teams will get nearly 12 hours running on the Nordschleife. As well as the priceless testing time the qualifying race weekend will also take the first steps in deciding the look of the very front of the field for the 24 Hours weekend. The qualifying shootout that decides the front portion of the grid for the 24 Hours has been trimmed by 10 team to 30 compared to its previous iteration, this weekend teams have their chance to book themselves one of ten places in that top 30.
The 24 Hours of Nurburgring has become one of the most fiercely contested GT races of the year, with works supported teams from Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Aston Martin and BMW all set to return for the 2014 edition later in the year. However, with the opportunity to get an advantage over their opponents several of the top teams will start the 24 Hours campaigns this weekend.
Foremost among those are Black Falcon, who won the race last year thanks to heroic drives from Bernd Schneider and the late Sean Edwards.
Their lone Mercedes SLS for the weekend will be shared between Saudi driver Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Stephan Rosler, Christian Menzel and Jeroen Bleekemolen. Also representing the three pointed star brand are ROWE Racing, who claimed third and fourth at last year’s 24 Hours and HTP Motorsport – the team who ran Maximilian Buhk to the Blancpain Endurance Series championship with victory in the 1000km race on the Nurburgring Grand Prix track. The team, which also finished second in the Bathurst 12 Hours in February, brings together Harold Primat – part of their team Down Under – and Maximilian Gotz who, with his namesake won twice in last year’s Blancpain series.
They will face strong opposition from BMW, who have four works supported cars on the entry list – two from Team Schubert, two from Marc VDS, the Belgian team who finished second in both the 24 hour and 1000km events at the track last season.
Audi will also have multiple cars trying to stake an early claim as they try to retake the crown they won in 2012. By far the most eye catching line-up for the six hours is the Audi Race Experience team in which record breaking skydiver Felix Baumgartner joins Audi veterans Frank Biela, Marco Werner and Pierre Kaffer.
Under represented for the weekend will be Porsche with just two 911 contesting the Blue Riband SP9-GT3 class, one from Haribo Racing Team – featuring Richard Westbrook – the other in the ever familiar colours of Team Falken Tire.
However, while the fastest times and the ten top 30 places on offer will likely be decided between the GT3 teams there will, just as in the 24 Hours itself, be multiple classes in action the single model Cup classes for the Opel Astra and new BMW M235i.
The entry also include a Mazda MX-5 from Mazda Motorsports Team Jota. The team’s driving duties will be split between Japanese Teruaki Kato, former F1 driver Stefan Johansson and Brit Owen Mildenhall, long a part of the Jota Mazda set-up having been part of the team who brought a GT4 version of the car into the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.
British racing is further represented by Rotek Racing, the British Touring Car Championship newcomers. The Robb Holland headed team have a base at the Nurburgring and will run two cars in the race, a Audi TTRS for Rob Huff and Kevin Gleason (both part of Rotek’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill winning team from last December) and Richard Meins.
Holland himself will have a hand in driving an Audi RS4 with VLN regular Danny Kubasik, Bill Caswell and fellow BTCC man Rob Austin returning to the Nordschleife for the first time since the filming of ‘Rush’ which featured Austin at the wheel of his Surtees TS19.
theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have reports from the Nurburgring across the weekend as we too prepare for June’s 24 Hour event.