BMW Storm The Ring At N24 Qualifying Race

by James Broomhead
Z4 GT3s filled the first four spots at the end of six hours (Credit: ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours)

Four teams with the BMW Z4 GT3 turned the Eifel Mountains of the Rhineland a Bavarian blue and white, finishing first, second, third and fourth in the qualifying race for the ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours.

Victory in the six hour event on the Nuburgring Nordschleife went to the BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS entry shared between Maxime Martin, Uwe Alzen and Marco Wittmann. Though they were officially credited with 41 laps, one more circuit of the 24km track than their nearest challengers, the margin of victory was much slimmer. Only 44 seconds separated them from the BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert #20 of Claudia Hurtgen, Dominik Baumann and Jens Klingmann, yet those 44 seconds included the crucial one in which the flag fell, inserting an artificial gulf into the standings.

The second Schubert Z4 GT3 completed the podium. The car driven by Dirk Werner, Dirk Mueller, Lucas Luhr and Alexander Sims crossed the line 20 seconds behind their teammates, but over a minute ahead of Marc VDS’ second entry that completed the BMW domination.

Of the three manufacturers best represented in the field for the race BMW were perhaps the least well fancied, starting – as they did – on the very edge of the top ten on a grid forged behind the dominance of the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of HTP Motorsport that converted pole position into an early lead under Maximilian Gotz with Jeroen Bleekemolen helping add to the SLS domination as he took second place on the opening lap in the Black Falcon entered example.

Audi, however, soon made their move to the front led by the pair of Prosperia-Abt Racing R8 LMS which were able to simply drive by the SLS on the Dottinger Hohe home straight.

The two cars would bow out of the race before the end. The #9 car gradually slipped from contention, eventually retiring with just ten minutes of the race to go. The demise of the #10 car, was, however, even more mystifying. Fighting inside of the top five the car went of an innocuous 180-degree spin at the first corner, only to stall and have to be pulled into an ignominious retirement behind the barriers.

The Mercedes threat remained relatively constant, even as the BMW team’s stranglehold on the race grew tighter. The Black Falcon entry – driven by Abdul AlFaisal, Stephan Rosler and Christian Menzel alongside Bleekemolen – finished fifth – the best behind the quartet of quartered roundels while the HTP Motorsport entry was on course to break up the four Z4s until a mechanical problem proved too much to fix inside of the final hour.

That left the race to be settled between the four BMWs, though the Marc VDS #26 of Bas Leinders, Makus Paltalla, Nicky Catsburg and Dirk Adorf had been fighting to make up time ever since a slow puncture led to an extra pitstop in the first half of the race.

An early pitstop had been the Schubert team’s first move towards the front of the race. Pitting the #20 car after only a handful of laps gave them – once the rest of the leaders had made their own scheduled pitstops around the hour mark – the race lead, and they were to remain a factor in the battle for victory from that point on.

Once it became clear that the winner would likely come from the BMW stable the race developed a cat-and-mouse, each team able to inch closer to another during the stints, but never able to pounce. A 32 second penalty – the norm for not meeting the minimum pit stop time – for the #25 Marc VDS team looked to have played right into the hands of the Schubert chasers, as did a very late pitstop, but they were kept at a comfortable arms length at the checkered flag.

Porsche and Nissan, each with a single entry in the premier SP9 class, did not fare well with both the Haribo Racing Team and Schulze Motorsport retiring whilst running in the top ten. The Schulze Nissan bowed out with a suspected turbo problem, while the Porsche fell to a substantial accident that contributed to a 50 minute barrier repair on the Nordschleife.

It was a poor day for the Haribo team, the squad’s SP7 car retiring with mechanical failure shortly before the GT3’s car accident. They had deposed the GetSpeed Performance team as leaders in SP7 but it was the class pole sitters who won the class, helped into seventh place overall as the SP9 entrants were hit by delays.

Also breaking into the top 10 were Rotek Racing, the team of Rob Huff, Kevin Gleason and Richard Meins ending an almost faultless run in their Audi TT RS in ninth place. The team moved slowly toward the top ten, enjoying a dice with Felix Baumgartner in the Audi Race Experience #502 before Frank Biela took over and moved the GT3 machine clear. However, they would be delayed by a underfloor problem that necessitated a very brief stay in the garage, but one long enough to push them down to 13th, one place behind the sister car – #18 – which had encountered problems of its own including a right-rear puncture and a spin at the entrance to the Nordschleife.

The BMW Motorsport entered #235 M235i finished in 16th overall winning the Cup 2 class set aside for BMW’s new racer. The V6 class winning Porsche Cayman of Black Falcon Team Reissdorf Akolholfre finished 17th, the last of the class winners inside the top 20.

Rotek Racing’s other entry in the race – the SP8 Audi RS4 – picked up class honours, though, as it finished 34th, more due to the misfortune of the Hyundai Motor Deutschland Genesis Coupe which flirted with the top 20 overall before it broke down opposite the pits, leading to an early retirement.

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