1⁰ Celsius & thick fog greeted us for qualifying at the opening round of VLN – the 64th running of the ADAC Westfalenfahrt.
A pretty clean session, albeit delayed by 20 minutes, just a couple of lazy spins, a smoking and/or steaming #400 Cayman and heavy rear end damage to the #609 Porsche of Wolfgang Destree.
As the session came to a close, there was a coming together involving three of the production BMWs at the Yokohama S, but at least two of them would be fine for the race.
The morning saw 162 cars set a time with fourteen below the 08:10 mark – the top seven less than 2 seconds apart; but it was the #911 Manthey Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor that ended up on top with an 08:03.
The short turnaround between qualifying and the race gave no scope to recover the earlier delay, so the green flag lap finally began at 12:20, with the big worry being the sight of the ever present Opel Manta trundling down the pit lane while the Konrad Lamborghini was left sat on the trolley jacks with no work being done.
The lead group formed up two by two and at 12:40, they were released with the #911 Porsche making a break for it as the Ferrari #22 seeming to take time getting up to speed.
Group two took the start and promptly went in every direction into turn 1 – by the time group three came around, the recovery trucks were already on site so was all clear before the leaders came by again.
A brilliant move from the #99 Rowe BMW just before Tiergarten saw them draft past the Porsches #4 Falken & #12 Manthey.
Not even halfway round lap 2 and the leaders hit traffic, mainly due to the train of six cars that started from the pits.
Three wide out of the Döttinger Höhe briefly in the battle for 4th, saw the #35 BMW of Hunter Abbott being able to fend off the charging pack.
A couple of slow zones out on track due to lower class cars having incidents meant the start of lap 3 saw 4th to 20th running almost nose to tail into Aremberg.
The #98 Rowe BMW came round into the pits on lap 3; didn’t look too dramatic a stop, but seemed far too early (the car would end up making 6 stops through the race).
A lot of work was taking place to repair barriers just before the Flugplatz, slow zones were in place for most of the first half of the race.
Maxi Buhk’s Mercedes #48 came into the pits at the start of lap 4 for a routine, if early, stop as the #133 Lamborghini went pirouetting through the hairpin kicking up grass and mud across the track.
45 minutes into the race and the top three had spaced themselves out with the #911 Porsche leading #22 Ferrari & 47 HTP Mercedes, the latter of which came into the pits as lap 5 begins.
Spot on 1 hour the leader came in for their first stop as had most of the SP9 cars; but interestingly the Wochenspiegel Ferrari stayed out for a turn at the top of the timing screen.
We then saw a ridiculous moment as #5 Phoenix Audi went round the outside of a backmarker then swept hard right and dive-bombed the pit entry which was already occupied by the Land #29; somehow it was the lightest of touches and everyone continued.
Three sections of the Nordschleife were under at least waved yellows, if not slow zones, as the first hour was completed, which perhaps explained the Ferrari’s ability to eek another lap of fuel from the tank, but 7 laps was as far as they dared go.
#98 BMW made their second stop on lap 7, but again everything seemed cool and calculated – We never did get word on why they were seemingly only able to do half stints.
As it all shook out, the big winners from the first round of pit stops were the Mercedes cars which ended up 1st (#47 HTP) & 3rd (#48 MANN) – significantly, the #47 had a lead of over 30 seconds to the #911 Porsche.
We were able to get a clear track for laps 9 & 10 and all the front runners set their fastest laps, in particular the 2nd placed #911 Porsche who cut the lead down to 19 seconds and #22 Ferrari who scored the fastest lap of anyone at 8:06.8; but by lap 11 there was another slow zone at Brünnchen as the #98 Rowe BMW came in to pit again along with the #48 Mercedes.
The following lap saw the #47 Mercedes pit from the lead, Renger van der Zande getting out which allowed Manthey #911 to head the pack into lap 14 followed by the BWT Pink Audi of Winkelhock/Müller.
Over at Hohenrain, the #99 Rowe made a classic pass at the expense of Land Audi as the pair hunted down the sole Renault RS01 which had a stealthy run in the first half of the race – all of them were in contention for a solid result.
The advantage of stopping out of sequence was beautifully demonstrated with 1hr 45min to go as half the population of Germany decided to pit at the same time as the leader – No drama, but Jochen Krumbach sets the fastest lap for #22 Ferrari as he took P1 for a lap before coming in.
The next phase of the race saw action slowed down – even the fastest cars unable to go faster than 8:30 due to slow zones & recovery vehicles on track; but this did bring the lead 5 cars all within spitting distance:
#911 Manthey Porsche
#47 HTP Mercedes
#912 Manthey Porsche
#24 BWT Audi
#22 Wochenspiegel Ferrari
Having stretched the fuel through the race, the #22 Ferrari now switched to back-timing as they came in for their final stop as soon as they could make it to the end – pitting before anyone else, which therefor meant a longer stop than their competitors.
Trouble hit the #99 Rowe BMW as the car pulled off to the side of the track out of 9th position, the car quickly wheeled behind the Armco.
The 2nd (#47 HTP Mercedes) & 3rd (#912 Porsche) place cars came in for their final stops on lap 20.
Wochenspiegel’s Ferrari driver clearly knew the challenge was on – setting the fastest lap at 8:00.971, but it didn’t work out for them as they would still be outside the top ten after the leaders made their final stops.
With just five laps to go, the #911 had a healthy lead from the #4 Falken Porsche which snuck up onto a healthy 2nd place followed by the arguing Audis of #29 (Land) & #24 (BWT) and HTP Mercedes #47.
Insult was added to injury for the Ferrari #22, having been caught out by strategy, having to tour slowly with a puncture and going a lap down with just 20 minutes to go.
#911 started the last lap with 1:30 to go, so the race was about 7 minutes longer than advertised, but the news came from out in the forest, the Audis switched – BWT’s machine made it onto the podium; but that wasn’t the final tale as they came around to take the chequered flag, the Falken Porsche lost 20 seconds and was passed for 2nd.
The last lap saw drama for several cars running low on fuel and the troubling sight of Michael Schrey collapsing after trying to push his BMW Cup 5 car across the line; we hope all is well.
The overall winners, and the winners of the SP9 class were Manthey Porsche #911 with Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Earl Bamber behind the wheel.
A Porsche-Audi-Porsche-Audi result might sound entirely predictable, but it wasn’t until half distance that Manthey started really displaying their dominance, and even then the remaining top positions were up for grabs throughout a solid 4 hours racing.
We now have just two weeks before VLN2 – the 43rd running of the DMV 4 hours.