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Nürburgring 24 Hours: Practice Report & Paddock Notes, Phoenix Racing Sit Pretty Early

Bright sunshine over the Nürburgring for the first practice session of the weekend gave the teams and drivers a good chance to get themselves acclimatised to the full Nordschleife ahead of the qualifying later in the day. And after the two hour session it would be Phoenix Racing that would draw the first blood of the weekend with a 1-2 at the top of the timing screens, the #4 R8 leading the #3.

Nurburgring24_free1-01The #3 of Marc Basseng, Marcel Fässler, Frank Stippler and Laurens Vanthoor was sitting pretty up front with a time of 8:25.223. But in the final few minutes it would be the sister #4 R8 of Christopher Hasse, Christian Mamerow, René Rast and Marcus Winkelhock that would steal the glory on its final lap with a 8:24.237 to finish the session top.

“So far so good for us, p1 and p2, not too bad obviously,” Rast said with a grin. “But you never know, some of them might be sandbagging. We are not, we are trying to push for setup.

“I’m impressed with their [RJN Nissan’s] pace so far, looks like we have more competition.”

He had reason to be impressed, as it was very good start to the weekend for the #80 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R. Rebellion Racing’s Nick Heidfeld, Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordonez and Florian Strauss are behind the wheel and towards the end of the session, the GT-R shot up the screens to second overall. A 8:25.223 by Buncombe was enough for a top three spot, as they finished up third overall.

“It went pretty well, I had a fairly clear lap when I set our fastest which wasn’t really expected but was nice. The GT-R felt good like it did in the VLN, and I ended up p30. We are also in the top 30 shootout tomorrow which is important, that’s where it’s going to all get important. It would be nice to grab a top five spot if we can, but ultimately we just want to get to the end,” Buncombe said.

This weekend is Heidfeld’s first time driving for RJN at the the 24, but Buncombe doesn’t feel that will hold him back:

“It’s our first time with Nick, he’s just stepped out of the Rebellion at Le Mans, so he’s having to make some adjustments getting his head around driving a GT3 car again, but I am sure it won’t take long. He loves driving the car and he’s a great asset to the team.”

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Last year’s runners up, BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS had a productive session too, with the #26 Z4 coming home fourth and the #25 seventh. Aston Martin Racing with factory stalwarts Stefan Mücke and Darren Turner along with Pedro Lamy 8:29.855 ended up fifth.

Further down the field, sitting in 12th, was the #502 Audi Race Experience Audi R8, which features the notable debut of Felix Baumgartner at the 24 Hours. The Austrian extreme sports star – who back in 2012 base jumped to Earth from a helium baloon in the stratosphere – unsurprisingly fits right in with the N24 regulars. And being teamed up with three super-quick veterans, Marco Werner, Franck Biela and Pierre Kaffer for the weekend will certainly help.

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“It’s been really interesting, completely different to anything I have been a part of,” admitted Baumgartner. “There’s so many cars! The fans are completely crazy too, when you are driving around the track it just looks different. The car is really good at the moment and the team is pumped up, I am really looking forward to the race.”

Baumgartner is a true rookie to the sport. Aside from this season he has only had two appearances, one in a Scirocco Cup race last year and a one-off Polo Cup race back in 2005. But he is sure that his time spent participating in extreme sports and the prep he has down prior to the event will help him a little as he gets used to to learning the craft of endurance racing:

“I have done a lot of simulator work, but until you actually drive at the track you can’t really learn it properly. I went to Le Mans, just to get a feel for endurance racing, seeing lots of cars, the night, the people. Just seeing the tyre changing was valuable, seeing it as an outsider before doing it for real. I’ve learnt a ton from my teammates too. They have been giving me a lot of good tips – the key is trying to retain it all, suck it up.

“I haven’t got 30 years to get experience and learn this, I have to make sure I can do what they recommend on the race track. It’s really not easy, I didn’t think there would be so much going on; cars in your mirrors, cars in front to pass. But I can handle it mentally, dealing with pressure is something I have become an expert at doing extreme sports for a living.”

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The session was mostly clean aside from a few key incidents most of which, surprisingly, occurred on the GP loop.

It wasn’t a good start to the event for Black Falcon Motorsort. The #1 Black Falcon Mercedes of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Andreas Simonsen, Christian Menzel and Lance David Armstrong went head on into the barriers at the first hairpin while Simonsen was driving. Meanwhile their #14 entry also had issues:

“I haven’t driven a single metre,” Yelmar Buurman told DSC. “We had an issue on the first lap, where we lost a lot of oil leak. But we have just found out that it is nothing really serious. Hopefully we have a trouble-free weekend from now, which would be nice. I am really looking forward to jumping in the car for the first time here in the qualifying, I am out first so I should get some laps in.

“I haven’t really driven the SLS to be honest, I did VLN 3 and 4. In VLN 3 I did about two laps in qualifying, one lap in practice and a race stint so that was ok. But in VLN 4 I only did two laps in total because of the red flags at the end,” he explained.

“It’s still a pretty new car to me, but it’s an easy car to drive so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Buurman also assured us that the damage sustained to the #1 SLS wasn’t too bad: “It’s going to be ok, the team are working hard to repair it,” he said.

The #89 Russian Aston Martin also had a big off in the same place as the #1, hitting the barriers on the inside of turn 1 before careering off into the gravel, heavily damaging the front end.

In terms of the entry list, Dörr Motorsport have made some changes to their driver line-up. Alvaro Parente and Sascha Bert have swapped McLarens. Parente will now be in the #69 MP4-12C GT3 and Bert will be in the #66.

Stephen Kilbey