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Nürburgring 24 Hours: Free Practice Report & Paddock Notes

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BMWs and Audis were in the pound seats after this afternoon’s sole free practice session for the weekend’s Nurburgring 24 Hours, with a Team Schubert Z4 just edging a WRT R8 for honours in this first bit of track action from the event. Conditions were relatively warm and dry, although some oil on the track hampered drivers’ ability to set truly representative times.

After Bernd Schneider put down an initial 8:39 marker in the #2 Black Falcon Mercedes after 10 minutes or so, it was all about BMWs at the top of the timing screen from then on. Markus Palttala did an 8:33.0 shortly afterwards in the #25 Marc VDS BMW, before improving to an 8:32.6 on his third lap 25 minutes later.

The Finn was straight away bested by Jorg Muller in the sister #26 Marc VDS car, who did an 8:29.544. Half an hour later, Baumann put the #20 Team Schubert BMW in front, setting an 8:29.079 that wouldn’t be bettered for the remainder of the session. The young German is sharing the car with Claudia Huertgen, Jens Klingmann and DTM star Martyn Tomczyk this weekend.

Second-fastest was the #29 WRT Audi of Nicki Thiim, Christer Joens, Pierre Kaffer and Laurens Vanthoor, ahead of the #26 Marc VDS BMW, the #2 Black Falcon Mercedes and the #44 Team Falken Porsche.

Some quotes from the garages during the session…

Richard Westbrook (Marc VDS BMW): “It’s a good car for the track, it’s got lots of downforce and it’s comfortable for long stints, so it’s looking good. Obviously there’s a bit of focus on qualifying, it’s really important to get into the Top 30 and get the blue light. With the Code 60 and no safety car here, you can lose a lot of time in one stint, plus it’s always nice to be at the sharp end.”

Alexander Sims (Schubert BMW): “Early days, but it’s a looking good. I think the speed-limit sections are fine – it does restrict you obviously at Flugplatz, but in the other places it’s all much of muchness really. After the last couple of years, BMW does want to win this pretty badly, that’s for sure.”

Steven Kane (M-Sport Bentley): “We led at the last VLN round last year, but HTP did the VLN rounds this year as they clashed with our Blancpain races. It’s definitely a good car – the only thing counting against us is our lack of experience of this race – it’s going to be very different at night and there are a lot of variables. I just did my rookie test yesterday actually – it was a good refresher about everything and the Code 60 system is obviously very different to the safety cars we’re used to.”

Michela Cerruti (Walkenhorst BMW): “I did two VLN rounds last year, but this is still a pretty new challenge for me. I’m really enjoying it, I prefer it to single-seaters to be honest. The BMW has always been good in fast, flowing corners so it’s definitely the car to have here. It’s nice to already have booked our spot in the Top 30 thanks to our qualifying race result, too!”

Rob Huff (Team Premio Mercedes and Lada in the WTCC races): “I did both this and the WTCC round at Spa last year, so this is actually going to be a bit easier with them in the same place! I just like to do my favourites every year, Bathurst, this event and some others. Hopefully the touring cars will remain the focus but if not I think I’ve got a decent reputation in GTs now.”

Christopher Mies (WRT Audi): “The new car is more driveable and easier for us – there’s better airflow through the cockpit and all the buttons are on the steering wheel, none on the dash. We proved with the VLN2 win that the car is quick and reliable. Yes it has more aero than the old R8 GT3 – hopefully not too much though; I followed the Marc VDS BMW for a bit and I couldn’t catch it on the straights.”

Mike Rockenfeller (Phoenix Audi): “There was a bit of oil on the track and I’m still getting used to the slow zones. It’s not a good thing for a race driver, of course, but it is what it is, it’s the same for everyone. I haven’t driven the new car much yet, but it feels good and is definitely a step up – as it should be.”

Darren Turner (Bilstein Aston Martin): “Having two cars entered helps massively with our learning curve in practice and qualifying. Not to mention taking a bit of pressure off as we’re no longer one car representing the manufacturer in the class! As regards three drivers, it’s what we normally do in 24-hour races. People say this one is more intense and so you need four, but to be honest after one stint here you’re just getting warmed up! A double is two hours 20 minutes – less than at Le Mans – so it works for us. We’re definitely looking at getting VLN experience for more of the works drivers later this year, so we can step up to four per car next year.”

Free Practice Times >>

Next up is the four-hour night qualifying session, running from 7:25-11:25pm local time.

Stephen Errity
Image: Dan Bathie