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Whitsun In “The Green Hell”

Paul Truswell reviews the race results of a 24 hour race that was interrupted by heavy rain, but still provided plenty of entertainment.

The Nürburgring 24 hours had all the makings of a great race, but for me was somehow spoiled by the need to suspend the race through most of the night hours. Not that I for a moment take issue with the decision of race director Walter Hornung, who really had no other option. With the rain pouring down and low cloud enveloping the circuit and making visibility a real problem; and no respite in the forecast, most drivers agreed that it was the correct thing to do.

Dawn broke to continuing rain, and despite the expectations of many, it became clear that the organisers were intent on restarting the race. The grid formed up in the positions as they stood at the completion of lap 34, and sure enough, at 8am, the pace car set off to lead the cars around for a formation lap, which would count as the 35th lap of the race. The period of interruption (all 9h 40m of it) would be regarded as a ‘safety car intervention’, we were told, and after completing its lap, the safety car pulled off, the green flag was waved and we were racing again.

The good thing was that, unlike in 2007, when the race had to be stopped because of fog, we would not have a two-part, ‘aggregate’ race: what you saw on the track would be the positions in the race. The only correction would be the four minutes and six minutes time credit given to the cars that started in start groups two and three respectively.

There was some debate, as there always is in such cases, about the positions for the restart. This was not helped by some confusing displays appearing on the timing screens, while various matters were sorted out. The red flag was displayed at 22:44, at which time the 007 Aston Martin that had been leading the race was on its out lap following a routine pit stop. It wasn’t the only one. The no. 18 Manthey Porsche, the no. 26 Team Marc VDS BMW and the no. 1 Phoenix Audi were also on their first lap out of the pits. Had the race not been stopped, the lead would have been taken by Olaf Manthey’s GT3 Porsche, the no. 50 car, which was a lap longer into its stint and, along with its sister car, was looking very strong indeed.

The regulations require that the result of a race that is red-flagged is taken at the last racing lap not affected by the red flag though, so an interim result was issued at 34 laps (the lap on which the Aston made its pit stop). At that point, fifteen cars were on the lead lap:

Nürburgring 24 hours – Interim Result at Red Flag
Pos. Car No Car Time for 34 laps No. of pit stops
1 7 Aston Martin 007 5h 33m 00.505s 5
2 18 Manthey Porsche GTE 5h 33m 12.903s 4
3 26 Team Marc VDS BMW Z4 5h 34m 23.256s 5
4 1 Stuck Phoenix Audi 5h 34m 24.983s 4
5 25 Team Marc VDS BMW Z4 5h 34m 28.993s 5
6 50 Manthey Porsche GT3 5h 35m 03.776s 4
7 29 Team WRT Battlefield Audi 5h 35m 31.369s 4
8 44 Falken Motorsports Porsche 5h 35m 53.311s 4
9 23 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 5h 36m 42.100s 6
10 22 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 5h 37m 34.931s 5
11 3 G-Drive Phoenix Audi 5h 37m 52.609s 4
12 4 Stuck Phoenix Audi 5h 37m 54.177s 4
13 9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 5h 38m 27.496s 5
14 21 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 5h 41m 42.127s 6
15 20 Team Schubert BMW Z4 5h 43m 32.314s 5

With not one of the top six wearing the three-pointed star, you would probably have got good odds on a wager that three of the top four cars at the 24 hour mark would be from Mercedes-Benz. But, after more than nine hours in the garages, and as appalling conditions gave way to merely atrocious, the track eventually dried out altogether to allow racing at lap record pace, and so the SLS AMG GT3 cars established themselves at the front.

Personally, I am not a fan of aggregate races, even though timing screens these days make them much easier to follow. (I was at Brands Hatch for the 1,000kms in 1982, when Teo Fabi in the Lancia had to finish ahead of Jacky Ickx in his Porsche by more than 6.3s in order to win the race. For the average spectator in the grandstand, knowing whether 6.3s represented the distance to Clearways or to Stirling’s was not easy.)

So I was pleased that the organisers opted for the quasi-safety car period, even if it gave the teams the opportunity to work all night to prepare their cars for the restart. But I just could not resist looking at what might have been, had the decision been taken to make it a two-part race, based on the aggregate of the first 34 laps and the remaining 53.

Nürburgring 24 hours – Aggregate Result of hypothetical ‘two-part race’
Pos. Car No Car Time for part 1 Time for part 2 Aggregate time
1 25 Team Marc VDS BMW Z4 5h 34m 28.993s 8h 39m 15.242s 14h 13m 44.235s
2 9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 5h 38m 27.496s 8h 36m 16.107s 14h 14m 43.603s
3 1 G-Drive Phoenix Audi R8 LMS 5h 34m 24.983s 8h 41m 26.592s 14h 15m 51.575s
4 23 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 5h 36m 42.100s 8h 41m 00.149s 14h 17m 42.249s
5 22 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 5h 37m 34.931s 8h 40m 59.680s 14h 18m 34.611s
6 18 Manthey Porsche GTE 5h 33m 12.903s 8h 45m 55.588s 14h 19m 08.491s

A different winner, and three different makes on the podium. Of course, it is entirely possible that Sean Edwards and Bernd Schneider, if they would have had to, could have caught up that one minute deficit, but it is not by any means clear.

At 88 laps, it was the shortest (in distance terms) 24 hour race ever held at the Nürburgring. Within those 88 laps, though we had eight different cars in the lead, and fourteen changes of lead.

Nürburgring 24 hours – Lap Leaders
Car No Car From Lap To Lap Laps led
4 Stuck Phoenix Audi 1 13 13
7 Aston Martin 007 14 14 1
4 Stuck Phoenix Audi 15 17 3
7 Aston Martin 007 18 23 6
1 G-Drive Phoenix Audi 24 25 2
18 Manthey Porsche GTE 26 26 1
7 Aston Martin 007 27 Red Flag 8
7 Aston Martin 007 Green Flag 35 1
25 Team Marc VDS BMW 36 43 8
44 Falken Motorsports Porsche 44 44 1
23 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 45 50 6
25 Team Marc VDS BMW 51 52 2
1 G-Drive Phoenix Audi 53 53 1
9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 54 56 3
23 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 57 62 6
9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 63 88 26

 

Nürburgring 24 hours – Leader Summary
No Car No Car Laps led
1 4 Stuck Phoenix Audi 16
2 7 Aston Martin 007 16
3 1 G-Drive Phoenix Audi 3
4 18 Manthey Porsche GTE 1
5 25 Team Marc VDS BMW 10
6 44 Falken Motorsports Porsche 1
7 23 Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS 12
8 9 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 29

Finally, although I have not been able (yet) to acquire information about time spent in the pits, I do have the laps upon which the leaders came into the pits, and hence can look at the number of laps that cars were able to complete between stops. Although the changeable weather meant that stops were not always purely for fuel, none of the top ten cars had any unscheduled repair work to carry out, as far as I could see. The following table shows the number of laps completed in each stint for the three top Mercedes (no. 9 from the Black Falcon team, and nos. 22 and 23 from Rowe Racing), the Team Marc VDS BMW (no. 25), the Phoenix Audi (no. 1) and the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 (007).

Nürburgring 24 hours – Analysis of stints: number of laps completed
Stint No. 9 25 22 23 1 7
1 8 8 5 6 9 8
2 8 8 9 4 9 8
3 9 8 7 6 8 8
4 1 2 5 8 9 2
5 5 6 8 2 RED 9
6 RED RED RED 7 9 RED
7 9 9 10 RED 10 10
8 6 9 6 9 3 8
9 7 6 3 7 9 3
10 8 8 8 4 9 9
11 8 8 9 8 5 9
13 8 6 8 9 6
14 8
15 1

There are a number of interesting conclusions that can be drawn from this table. Firstly, the Phoenix Audi seems to be the only car that regularly managed 9 laps in the dry – this is comparable with last year’s race, when nearly all of the leading runners from Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes did 9 laps per stint. Secondly, and contrary to my opinion at the time, the Aston Martin was no less fuel efficient than any of the other leading GT3 runners. Thirdly, in the early morning, after the interruption, when track conditions were very wet, Mercedes, Audi and Aston Martin were all able to eke out 10 laps – an indication of how careful the drivers were having to be. Fourthly, the Rowe Racing cars seemed to have their strategy compromised by some external factor – pitting early on at the start of the race, and bringing the no. 22 car in on its penultimate lap, when logic suggests it should have managed to make it to the end of the race without a further stop.

Overall, and despite what some of the numbers shown here might indicate, the Black Falcon team deserved their win, and so especially did Bernd Schneider and Sean Edwards. I wonder what would have happened though, if we would have had a race through the night? Far less than the 137 finishers of the 173 that started, that’s for sure!