The first qualifying session for the 2015 ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours ended in spectacular fashion with possession of the top time changing after the checkered flag fell to end the four hour session that took the 150 or so teams from day into night and from rain into the dry.
It was the change in weather conditions that helped pave the way for a breathless second half of the session during which times fell from just up ten minutes to rival the 8:29.079 set in the free practice session earlier in the afternoon. When the first drivers ventured out onto the Nordschleife leaving rooster tails of spray behind them it was though that much of the session would be an irrelevance, with the lap times set always likely to be beaten during the second qualifying session scheduled for Friday morning.
However, as the light faded around the 25km circuit the rain ceased and the track began to dry. The 9:56.014 that Markus Palttala set in the early stages of the session had been protected by the rain for another 90 minutes. However, when Joerg Muller bettered the time in the sister BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS BMW it signalled a start to a two-and-a-half-hour free for all as eight teams from four manufacturers took turns to lead the way as the times tumbled downwards.
The final moments of the session brought Aston Martin Racing to the top for the first time in the session, the #6 Vantage GT3 leaping up the order with an 8:32.701, five seconds faster than the Joerg Muller lap that held sway at that point. But as more cars completed the final laps of the session the Aston team (Jonny Adam, Richie Stanaway, Matthias Lauda and Stefan Mucke) were pushed down to fifth behind three Audi squads and the #25 Marc VDS team that, through Palttala, had held provisional pole during the rains.
The team, completed by Maxime Martin, Lucas Luhr and Richard Westbrook, were second fastest though they also picked up a penalty that will see their fastest lap qualifying deleted after they were caught speeding through one of the limited sections of the circuit. Their lap slotted them into second as Rene Rast put the #1 Audi Sport Team Phoenix R8 LMS fastest with a lap of 8:29.806. The team of Rast, Christian Mamerow, Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock is the same as won the race a year ago. The BMW team were just 89 thousandths slower with the #29 crew from Audi Sport Team WRT third fastest.
All of the top five, the second Team WRT R8 LMS fourth ahead of the Aston, are among those that need a strong showing in the qualifying sessions to book their places in the top-30 shootout that will decide the front most part of the grid. 18 teams have already secured their slots via performances in the VLN series or in the Qualifying Race for the Nurburgring 24 Hours held last year, leaving 12 spaces to be claimed over the two days ahead of the race.
Also staking a claim to one of the up for grabs places were the #2 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 and the Bentley Team HTP entry that made it five different marques in the top ten. Bentley, a newcomer to the N24, were among those challenging for the top time during the session, Guy Smith briefly holding the top time in the #85 car from the works stable.
The Wochenspiegel Team Manthey Porsche of Georg Weiss, Oliver Kainz, Jochen Krumbach and Michael Christensen was 12th fastest, topping the SP-Pro class ahead of the Schulze Motorsport Nissan GT-R GT3 that made sure that all but one of the GT3 brands in the race had a car in the top 13 after the first session. Porsche was the only exception, their best SP9 entry a lowly 29th overall.
The #20 BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert entry that set the pace in free practice was 18th fastest. They are one of the teams already guaranteed a berth in the top 30 shootout, scheduled for 5:10pm local time (4:10pm UK).
The Frikadelli Racing Team entry set the fastest time in SP7 class, the car driven by Frank Kraelling, Marc Gindorf, Connor de Phillipi and Klaus Abbelen 20th overall.
The changing conditions allowed for some heroic moments by those teams outside of the top group on the entry, Manthey Racing’s #92 SP7 Porsche making forays into the overall top five at times, as did the pair of Audi Race Experience cars, the team using the older spec R8 LMS ultra against the new designs R8s of the Phoenix and WRT teams.
Among the other classes in the race the better of the SP-X category Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG 003c was 37th overall, Rotek Racing’s Audi TTRS topped SP4T and the fox tail topped Opel Manta of Kissling Motorsport set thee fastest time in SP3 having been the slowest car in the class in their earlier session.
The second, two hour, session is scheduled to start at 9:30am local time (8:30am UK).