The 24hr uses a slightly different track layout, so this weekend was an opportunity for cars to prepare for the big race; in addition this is a chance to book a place in the top 30 qualifying.
A near 90 car grid began forming shortly after 11am & the field would be led away by Robin Frijns in the WRT Audi #8 followed by a top performing Lars Kern in Manthey #12,the Glickenhaus and Jörg Müller behind the wheel of the aging BMW Z4 #100.
A quick start from Yelmer Buurman saw the #5 Mercedes up to 3rd, shuffling the Glickenhaus down the field slightly.
A problem on the formation lap for the #133 Porsche Cayman would mean the leaders having to fight lapped traffic from the very first lap & it was Richard Lietz and Maxime Martin who took the advantage, with Jörg Müller losing out in a big way – splipping out of the top 20.
The Falken cars switched places on lap 2, BMW #33 getting past Porsche #44 but the Land Audi snuck past both of them through Flugplatz.
An intervention vehicle was on track at Hohe Acht, but only briefly and not enough to cause major issues.
A close moment for Augusto Farfaus, getting the BMW wheels in the gravel & nearly losing the back end; good recovery but Martin Tomczyk was able to get past for 8th in the Rowe Racing machine before Catsburg bought the sister car in to pit early – something that the team have been doing in the first two VLN rounds as well.
The first slow zone would be introduced half an hour into the race due to an incident on the entry to Wippermann involving the #249 BMW cup car & one of the Frikadelli Porsches – quickly prompting a flurry of activity in the pits.
The #249 continued after the incident with the Frikadelli car, but only got as far as Brünnchen before coming to a stop again.
A scary incident over at Flugplatz came next as the BMW M235 Alessandro Cremascoli got far too airborne & hit the barriers hard to bring out another slow zone.
Dumbreck (#33), Tresson (#101) & Richard (#14) were the only SP9 drivers who stayed out for a 5th lap – it seemed that strategy was being played early for this race.
After the first hour of running, Robin Frijns had maintained his lead in the WRT Audi from Thomas Jäger in the Bilstein sponsored Mercedes & Lars Kern who was driving out of his skin to be the lead Manthey car.
A terrific scrap was going on between Dominik Baumann, Marcel Fässler & Maro Engel for the lower positions in the top 10 – pieces of carbon fibre thrown up as there was contact into the second corner, no major harm done; although Engel was very much the victor being able to get through to 7th and start attacking the Glickenhaus.
Jäger in the 2nd place Mercedes was clearly the fastest driver in the second hour, but Robin Frijns continued to keep his Audi in the lead for another 20 minutes before having to surrender.
On lap 8, we saw the Rowe BMW #98 come into the garage for retirement – no reason given by the team but the general suspicion is that this was just a tactical decision (allowing the team to focus on the other car).
Traffic was causing a major headache into Bergwerk, but one driver not complaining would have been Jeff Westphal who was able to get some clear air behind him – Maro Engel losing several seconds.
One of the production class Caymans came to a grinding halt on the approach to the grand prix circuit; but clear of the racing line so no need for a slow zone – it did however give Lars Kern the chance to get past into 2nd, just over three seconds behind the leading #5 Mercedes.
The Renault RS01 had been having a solid opening run, but with 2 hours complete we saw the #35 at a stand at Ex-Mühle bringing out a slow zone.
As the stops all played out, it was the Glickenhaus which was the real winner – #705 worked up to 2nd and fighting for the lead with Thomas Mutsch behind the wheel.
Further back, the battle for 3rd was a 5 way scrap – Thomas Jäger (Mercedes); Phillipp Frommenwiler (Manthey); Marco Sorenson (Aston Martin), Fred Makowiecki (Manthey) & Nicky Catsburg (Rowe BMW).
#252 BMW went off at the end of the grand prix loop as the next round of stops began – Mutsch bringing the #705 in first to hand over to Franck Mailleux who snuck in a quick out lap which allowed the Glickenhaus to take the lead.
The #830 Hyundai previously leading the TCR class was very slow out in the forest – looked like a puncture as the car got back on track quickly enough after a pit stop.
With 2 ½ hours still to run, the top 5 were all within 25 seconds
1. #705 Franck Mailleux Glickenhaus SCG
2. #47 Christian Hohendal HTP Mercedes
3. #8 Rene Rast WRT Audi
4. #5 Jan Seyffarth Black Falcon Mercedes
5. #4 Adam Christodoulou Black Falcon Mercedes
They Falkan Porsche #44 has taken a real beating out on track and as it came in for a scheduled pit stop, the mechanics were quick to grab the race tape & attempt to patch it back together.
A great in & out lap for the #47 Mercedes saw them get past the Glickenhaus and into the lead – but Mailleux stayed behind the wheel and wasn’t ready to give up, meanwhile Robin Frijns was getting back behind the wheel of the WRT Audi & Nicki Thiim was installed in the Aston Martin, so everything was getting set up nicely for the final two hours.
Most of the race this afternoon was surprisingly clean, night and day difference to VLN2 last weekend; but with 90 minutes left on the clock, the V4 class BMW #153 brought out a slow zone at Schwalbenschwanz, Markus Palttala’s BMW #102 was seen with a missing tyre and terminally damaged suspension, Audi GT4 #36 was in the pits with major damage being repaired & the #164 Astra was retired due to an overheating radiator.
The #100 BMW Z4 just wasn’t able to live up to the promise shown in qualifying and really had an anonymous race – finishing up in the gravel at Aremberg with an hour to go.
#54 Porsche slowly back into the pits with a puncture; driver did a great job getting the car back without any body damage. Meanwhile the lap times had gone out to over 9 minutes due to a major slow zone from Pflanzgarten.
Jan Seyffarth was absolutely flying in the #5 Black Falcon; the team also using pit strategy leaving us unsure how things would play out.
Simonsen got past the #8 WRT Audi to lead the race, but only for two corners as he then dived into the pits for the last stop which would give Aston Martin 2nd place for a moment.
Moving into the final phase of the race & we were greeted by the sorry sight of the Falken Porsche touring back to the pits – Sven Müller driving carefully but back into the garage he went.
It was looking good for the #912 Manthey Porsche, making a late stop but they got pinged for a stop & hold penalty for 15-20 seconds; meaning the Rowe BMW also stopping within the final half hour would be able to jump the whole field except for the #5 Mercedes – a 5 second lead with 25 minutes remaining.
Slow zone at Pflanzgarten removed and the whole circuit was green for the final run.
The fight for 3rd was side to side as they started the penultimate lap, eventually Baumann got the HTP Mercedes past Robin Frijns in the WRT Audi with the Glickenhaus chasing fast.
The leaders were nose to tail as they started the final lap – Baumann still ahead but only just as we would get 6 minutes overtime to give us a final lap that could have gone either way.
It was at Döttinger Höhe where the final decision was made, a lapped BMW cup car being in the worst possible position for Catsburg (nobody’s fault) ensured that Yelmer Buurman would take the win in the #5 Black Falcon Mercedes.
The top 6, after 6 hours and 6 minutes would be covered by 25 seconds
1. #5 Yelmer Buurman Black Falcon Mercedes
2. #99 Nicky Catsburg Rowe Racing BMW M6
3. #47 Dominik Baumann HTP Mercedes
4. #705 Jeff Westphal Glickenhaus SCG / Glickenhaus
5. #007 Nicki Thiim Aston Martin Vantage GT3
6. #8 Robin Frijns WRT Audi
The 2018 Nurburgring 24 hours green flag will wave at 15:30 on Saturday 12th May