Despite winning the 2016 Nürburgring 24 Hours, Manuel Metzger is a name still unfamiliar with many in GT racing circles. James Newbold explains why that’s set to change in 2017.
For frequenters of the Nordschleife, Manuel Metzger needs no introduction. A graduate of the lowly Dacia Logan Cup – which also produced Audi ace Christopher Haase – and the Belgian Clio Cup, Metzger has spent the last six years establishing himself as one of the go-to men on the ‘Ring. He scored the biggest win of his career to date in the 24 Hours last year with Maro Engel, Bernd Schneider and Adam Christodoulou, in 2015 achieved the unique feat of taking back-to-back overall victories in the Nordschleife-based VLN series despite racing cars belonging to different classes and was crowned champion of the VLN5’s V5 class for production 3-litre cars as long ago as 2011.
Trouble is, not everyone is a Nordschleife aficionado and the 30-year-old will be the first to admit that his CV away from the Green Hell is rather limited. A handful of Dubai 24 Hours outings in the lower classes and a single attempt at the Spa 24 Hours in a Pro-Am Mercedes are the sum total of his experience in recent years, so Metzger is anxious to demonstrate that there is more to him than being handy on one 20.8 km stretch of road.
“I was very lucky to be in the squad in 2016 with Black Falcon and the AMG guys and I hope to carry that momentum into 2017,” said Metzger, who set a new lap record of 7:54.496 in qualifying for VLN7 last September.
“I’m working on a Blancpain campaign and I’m still in talks mainly with Black Falcon, so hopefully we can do something together to get me more onto the Grand Prix tracks. The Nordschleife has its own rules and of course it’s good if you’re quick there, but that doesn’t say that you are quick on other tracks – I need to prove that now.”
Metzger’s recent history suggests he is more than capable of doing just that, if given the chance. Having progressed through the ranks of the VLN with Black Falcon since 2011, Metzger earned his chance to race in the top SP9 class for GT3-spec machinery after an impressive qualifying run at VLN6 in 2015, when he pipped the factory-run Manthey Porsche to SP7 class pole.
He made good on his chance by swooping to victory in VLN9 with Christodoulou, Yelmer Buurman and Hubert Haupt, but few expected Metzger to repeat the feat in the final race of the year, back in the SP7 Porsche alongside Porsche Supercup champion Philipp Eng and Dutch gentleman driver Gerwin Schuring.
However, the tepid October temperatures and looming mist suited the Porsche down to the ground and after taking over from Eng, Metzger managed to stay within reach of the leading Twin Busch Audi. Superior fuel economy meant Schuring took the lead after his stop, when fog stopped play for good. Once the result was counted back two laps, they became the first SP7 team to win outright since 2009.
“We were pretty lucky, but sometimes you need to have luck,” Metzger reflects. “Of course the SP7 car is not as quick as the SP9 car because it has less aero and it doesn’t have the development tires, but it uses less fuel and has a bigger fuel tank, so we could nearly do 10 laps, unlike many others.
“Philipp Eng started the race and did a great job, then I did the second stint and was nearly at the same pace as the leading Audi. Then we made a driver change to Gerwin and after one or two laps the race was red flagged, so we just had one pitstop while all the other SP9 cars had two pitstops, so that was the main reason we won this race, but still we were always in contention for the top five. The race was totally dry and in both stints the raw pace of the car was really good. The track was really quick, it was cold and not really sunny, so the gap was closer than normal to the SP9 cars.”
After his giant-killing run in VLN10, Metzger was rewarded with a seat in the crack AMG line-up for the Nürburgring 24 Hours and more than played his part in a memorable victory for the three-pointed star. Amid the drama of Engel’s last lap pass on Christian Hohenadel, Metzger’s prodigious pace during the night and early morning could easily be overlooked, but proved vital in bringing the No. 4 car back into contention after it had been delayed by a vibration.
“The night was so hard and intense, I think I have done five 24 hour races now at the Nürburgring but I never experienced anything like that with the rain showers on slicks, then dry with fog and again rain, so it was really demanding,” he said.
“The engineer told me on the radio ‘hey, you are minus five or eight seconds quicker than everybody else on track’ and I thought ‘what the hell is going on!’ It was unreal for me, every stint I had was perfect and I didn’t do any mistakes. It’s not that often that you can say you had a 24 hour race which was nearly perfect.
“I knew we were a quick team because in the preparation races and in the testing, all the drivers worked hard together to improve their speed and to see in which corners you can learn from the other drivers. The whole communication in the team and also with the engineer was quite good, so I felt comfortable. But to be honest, I think it took around half a year to recognise what really happened there. To win this race is a really special moment, I won’t forget that easily.”
But would Metzger have pulled the same move as Engel, if given the opportunity?
“I wouldn’t have done it there!” he laughs. “He was so far away, I would have waited for another chance. We all were surprised in the pit box thinking ‘what did he just do! Did he really do that?’ I think everybody was shocked, it doesn’t matter if you are Black Falcon, HTP or just the spectators, everybody was like ‘woah, what just happened, it’s crazy!’”
Metzger will go up against Engel this weekend in Dubai, where the pair are entered in separate Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3s. Paired with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Patrick Assenheimer and Khaled Al Qubaisi, the Silver-rated Metzger is optimistic of continuing his 100% record in 24 hour races with the car, but knows the sister car Engel will share with Buurman, Haupt, Abdulaziz al Faisal and Michal Bronisewski will be tough to beat.
“There are 100 cars on track, it’s a very small track and the night is very long, it’s more than 12 hours and with the Code 60s, with refuelling and all the tactics, a lot can happen there,” he said. “The main thing is traffic and staying out of trouble until sunrise, so we will see where we are in the morning and then start to push.
“Maro in the other car with Broniszewski, Haupt, Yelmer and Aziz, this is really a strong car, but we have five or six other cars who can win this race with a very strong line-up as well. There are a lot of cars to look at, but for sure the sister car will be the benchmark for us to stay in front of them, hopefully!”
A good run in the Middle East will go a long way to showing that Metzger is no one-trick pony and will perhaps even give him a leg up to a Blancpain ride. If it does come off, then it won’t be long before the cat is let out of the bag on AMG’s secret weapon…