ROWE Racing took their first ever victory in the ADAC TOTAL 24 Hours of Nurburgring as BMW triumphed after a hard fraught struggle against Audi.
The #99 BMW M6 GT3 of Nick Catsburg, Philipp Eng, Alexander Sims and Nick Yelloly took victory by 15 seconds from the #3 Team Car Collection Audi in a race that was only decided on the final pitstops as BMW scored their first victory in a decade
The distinctive yellow, white and silver BMWs have been frontrunners and podium finishers in the last few year but have never had the pace to truly challenge for victory.
That ended this year the balance of power changed from Audi to BMW as the drying track saw the BMW challenge come alive in the last six hours the as the #99 reeled in and demolished the previous Audi 1-2-3 domination of the previous hours.
The other story of the last six hours was the weather, which stayed mostly dry but damp until the last two hours when sporadic rain showers began to fall with the track became more slippery and treacherous which called forced the field to exchange their newly installed slicks for wets.
Being caught out on the wrong tyres at the wrong time caused the race to swing against the leading Audis.
First to be affected was the #29 Land Motorsport example which decided to be the first of the top runners to go onto slick tyres at the start of the 19th hour.
Unfortunately the change over was too soon as the car returned to the pits after one lap to switch back over to wets after losing 40 seconds a lap compared to their closest rivals.
This effectively eliminated them from the lead battle and they eventually finished seventh.
The #1 Phoenix Racing Audi, with DTM Championship leader Nico Muller at the wheel, had got itself into the mix through a different strategy compared to its rival and was the first of the front runners to successful switch to slicks in the 20th hour forcing their rivals to pit and change over in order to match him.
This change put them out of sequence but the strategy failed to pay off when Dries Vanthoor went off on oil at the Karussell and punctured the left rear tyre with 40 minutes to go.
Vanthoor managed to limp the Audi back to the pits but the team lost a lap and dropped to fifth place at the finish.
This left the #3 Audi as the Ingostadt marque only hope and it was the only leading Audi that was able to consistantly match the BMWs on pure pace throughout the last quarter of the race.
However they were wrong footed by the reappearance of the rain in the 22nd hour which caused the team to pit in to change over to wet tyres after a three lap stint.
This allowed the #99 BMW with Catsburg behind the wheel to grab a comfortable lead until the final pitstops.
The BMW reacted first to the #1 car pitstop to make its final pitstop, with the #99 pitting first.
The chasing #3 with Christopher Haase attempted to run longer and made their final pitstop with 18 minutes to go but they were unable to retain the lead as Catsburg stormed by to lead by 18 seconds with two full laps left to run.
Haase pushed hard to reduce the gap and took five seconds out of Catsburg on the final sector but the Dutch driver had enough in hand to take the chequered flag.
Behind the top two, the battle for third was a keenly fraught all BMW battle between the #42 Schnitzer car of Augusto Farfus and the sister #98 ROWE Racing example of Marco Wittmann duking it out, with Farfus coming out on top by 15 seconds at the end.
The Schnitzer car had initially spearheaded the BMW assault in the 18th and 19th hours but they were hit with a 32 second stop go penalty due to a pitstop time infringement, which allowed the following #99 ROWE Racing to became the top BMW entry.
The first non Audi and BMW was the sixth place #31 Frikadelli Racing Team Porsche, with the legendary rear engined cars unable to match the pace of their fellow German manufacturers throughout the race.
Still they fared better than Mercedes which despite so much promise earlier in the race saw all of their leading entries drop out or drop back, the #6 HRT was the three pointed star’s highest finisher in eighth and the last of the cars on the lead lap.