With 158 cars, including 37 entered in the top SP9 class for GT3 machinery, set to do battle around the hallowed 20.8 km stretch of narrow, winding tarmac, this weekend’s 44th running of the Nürburgring 24 Hours will be a true spectacle to behold. Up against the Eiffel Mountain’s famously fickle weather and the limits of human endurance, the 24 Hours held around the fabled German circuit is the race all manufacturers want to win, where heroes are made and legends formed. Here are our five things to look out for.
1. Audi on song, but Mercedes not far behind
As the defending event winners, Audi will inevitably go in as favourites, but early indications suggest that Mercedes won’t allow them to have it all their own way.
Leading Audi’s charge will be VLN form-man Frank Stippler, who won the 24 Hours in 2012. Alongside young Dane Anders Fjordbach, 41-year-old Stippler – who has raced at the Norschleife since he was 19 – was victorious in the first two VLN meetings of the year in a Phoenix-entered Audi R8 LMS, before skipping VLN3 to compete in the Blancpain Endurance Cup meeting at Silverstone.
Laurens Vanthoor and Christopher Haase made it an Audi 1-2 in VLN1 in a second Phoenix car, but weren’t far ahead of the intra-AMG scrap for third between Lance David Arnold (Haribo) and Adam Christodoulou (Black Falcon), which was eventually decided in favour of the Briton at the Tiergarten on the final lap.
With Phoenix absent for the 6 Hour Qualifying race, Mercedes landed a 1-2 finish as HTP’s Maxi Buhk, Dominik Baumann, Christian Vietoris and Thomas Jäger lead home Haribo’s Arnold, Uwe Alzen, Maxi Götz and Jan Seyffarth. Normal service was resumed in VLN2 however, with Stippler and Fjordbach returning to the top step ahead of Black Falcon quartet Christodoulou, Maro Engel, Bernd Schneider and Manuel Metzger, with Haribo third.
For the 24 Hours itself, Stippler is due to drive two cars, one with Fjordbach, Macau Master Edo Mortara and Niki Mayr-Melnhof, and the other with Haase, René Rast and Markus Winkelhock. WRT will also be out in force with two cars, while the single-car Land Motorsport squad certainly won’t be lacking in firepower, with Marc Basseng and Connor de Philippi capably assisted by DTM champions Timo Scheider and Mike Rockenfeller.
— Mike Rockenfeller (@m_rockenfeller) May 23, 2016
As for Mercedes, they have stacked their deck with nine cars (three each from Black Falcon and HTP, two from Haribo and one from Zakspeed) and bolstered their line-up with on-loan Ford GT drivers Dirk Müller and Stefan Mücke, as well as WTCC champion Rob Huff and the ultra-versatile Marco Seefried.
Neither side will want to give the other a quarter, but both will have to make sure they are not too busy focusing on what the other is doing that they become distracted from the bigger picture.
“Audi has the advantage that they raced there last season already,” Stippler told Racing.GT, “but Mercedes is at least on our level.”
2. BMW waiting in the wings
If the two-horse race is to become three, the most likely contender to step up will be BMW, now running the M6 after six years with the Z4. However, their form is difficult to judge, as Stippler explains.
“BMW had some different targets I think, they started later than the others so I don’t know what the plans were, but I expect them to be at the top level.”
After using the first two VLN meetings as extended test sessions, the M6 took pole in the Qualifying Race and swept the podium in VLN3, with Jesse Krohn, Jörg Müller and Marco Wittmann leading the sister Schubert Motorsport car driven by Martin Tomczyk, Lucas Luhr and John Edwards. The privately-entered Walkenhorst M6 of Christian Krognes, Victor Bouveng and Tom Blomqvist completed the podium in third.
Although we should be wary to draw too many conclusions from this, with several regular contenders racing at Silverstone that weekend, they still had to beat a very strong Phoenix Audi driven by Winkelhock, Christopher Mies and Christian Mamerow, plus both works Manthey Porsches, the Land Motorsport Audi which took pole in VLN1 and the HTP Mercedes shared by Mücke, Renger van der Zande and Christian Hohenadel.
The pole time set by Krohn/ Müller/ Wittmann – a 7:59.75 – was the fastest of the year so far, and will be sure to have put a few on edge, but can they maintain that one-lap pace over 24 Hours?
3. Porsche looking to fuel mileage
The new Porsche 911 GT3-R has had an inauspicious start to life, with little to shout about in the GT Masters, Blancpain or VLN so far, despite the crack Manthey squad running a full factory lineup featuring FIA WEC champion Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen, Le Mans winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, as well as Patrick Pilet, Fred Makowiecki, Kevin Estre and Jorg Bergmeister.
Frikadelli Racing caused a storm by pulling their entry in protest at what Klaus Abbelen saw as a prohibitive Balance of Performance that was leaving them some 15km/h down in the speed traps, but he wasn’t the only one to feel let down.
“You just can’t make that up – that’s only on one straight, you’ve got the whole uphill section to Karussell and Hohe Acht, and we’re losing all of that,” said Falken Motorsports’ Peter Dumbreck. “Essentially we are the newest car in the race, so it takes a while to establish a BOP and I think they’ve just hit us too hard, too early.”
Under enormous pressure, the organisers relented and allowed the Porsche to run a wider restrictor, which was enough for Abbelen to reconsider his decision, although it remains to be seen what effect it will have on their one-lap pace.
— Frikadelli Racing (@Frikadelli_R) May 19, 2016
Porsche’s saving grace could be their frugality. It is hoped that the new car will be able to run a lap longer than their competition and therefore save time in the pits, however the slightly different circuit configuration used in VLN which cuts out the run down to the Dunlop Kurve and back up through the Schumacher S means this is as yet unclear.
“In a normal VLN variant you can do 10 laps no problem, but if you add nine or ten of those loops in, it will be close,” said Dumbreck.
4. Double duty = double your luck?
It was a ploy that worked out well for Laurens Vanthoor last year. While the no. 29 WRT Audi R8 LMS he shared with Pierre Kaffer, Christer Jöns and Nicki Thiim finished seventh, his second car – the no.28 WRT shared with Christopher Mies, Nico Müller and Edward Sandström – romped home to victory, the first for the new-shape R8.
There are of course advantages and disadvantages that come from double duty. Basic maths suggests that being entered two cars increases your chance of victory, while also buying additional tracktime in the lead up to the event and ensuring that the driver is up to speed with track conditions. The payoff – sleep – is a valuable one however, particularly at a circuit as demanding as the Nordschleife where there is absolutely no room for error.
— Maro Engel (@MaroEngel) May 19, 2016
At the time of writing, Stippler, Engel, Vietoris, Hohenadel and van der Zande are all entered in two cars, while Haribo have the same four drivers entered in both cars. But while each are driving identical cars that will require minimal acclimatisation, spare a thought for Aston Martin Racing’s Darren Turner. After the Briton has finished his stints in the no. 7 Vantage GT3 with Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Pedro Lamy, he will take on duties in an SP8 Aston Martin Vantage GT8, where the mirrors will suddenly take on a whole new significance…
To view the entry list, click here.
5. Can the Glickenhaus cause an upset?
If the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus can run reliably and get in amongst the factory GT3 cars, the bespoke Italian machines running in the SPX class for unhomologated entries could cause a huge upset. The brainchild of owner Jim Glickenhaus and engineer Paolo Garella, the fully-carbon SCG003C has undergone rigorous testing to be ready for the Nürburgring, including a 30-hour run at Rijeka in Croatia and showed well against the GT3s at the Mugello 12 Hours before mechanical gremlins set in.
What’s the collective noun for some Glickenhauses? pic.twitter.com/npa776FDq1
— chris harris (@harrismonkey) April 16, 2016
As a sign of how seriously they are treating the event, SCG have acquired the services of 2013 winner Jeroen Bleekemolen to drive alongside Manuel Lauck, Franck Mailleux and Felipe Lasr, with Lasr also driving the sister SCG003C alongside Thomas Mutsch, Jeff Westphal and Andreas Simonsen. A third car, labelled the P4/5C, will be driven by Lauck and journalists Chris Harris and Jethro Bovingdon.
One would imagine that there will be many interested observers monitoring their progress…