The opening round of the 2017 VLN season saw a spectacular race with drama right until the falling of the chequered flag, with Manthey Racing’s Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Pilet, Romain Dumas and Fred Makowiecki taking the win.
The closing stages of the race saw Laurens Vanthoor aboard the Porsche 911 GT3 R of Falken Motorsports in the lead being chased down by his factory driver colleague Patrick Pilet in the Manthey-Racing 911. At the end of the penultimate lap, Vanthoor had a mishap while lapping a car at the Hohenrain Schikane right before the return onto the GP Track. The Falken Porsche slid across the grass and into the barrier, damaging the suspension and leading to a retirement upon a return to the pits. After the race Vanthoor tweeted that he lost a lot of time in traffic, leading to him taking risks in order to make that ground back up and it went wrong.
This handed the win to Manthey-Racing and their French driver trio of Dumas, Pilet and Makowiecki. The green and yellow Porsche scored the pole position during the qualifying session, thanks to Pilet’s 8:01.661 minutes lap time. The opening stage of the race also saw Fred Makowiecki stay in the lead, while during the mid part of the race the car lost some ground to its Falken brother.
“Obviously we are quite happy with todays result, last year we struggled a little bit in the lead up to the 24 hours and to get the campaign underway with a victory is always good. Especially for Romain, who after being involved in Porsche’s LMP1 programme only turned his first laps in the new GT3 car on the Nordschleife last weekend during the miserable conditions at the test day. Lets hope we can keep the form going for the next races leading up to the 24 hours,” said Pilet after the race.
In a surprise twist the Bentley Continental GT3 of the Bentley Team Abt stayed in contention for the overall victory throughout the 4 hour distance of the 63. ADAC Westfalenfahrt. In the end Christopher Brück, Christer Jöns and Jordan Lee Pepper scored a first overall podium for a Bentley in the history of the VLN.
“Of course we took advantage of the mishap of Laurens but we were able to show that we made a step in the right direction leading up to this season and to get our Nordschleifen campaign underway with a podium is a good sign,” said Christopher Brück after the race.
The Audi Sport Team Land lineup of Christopher Mies, Connor di Phillippi and Markus Winkelhock were able to get onto the podium in part due to the Falken Porsches retirement and also due to a fuel pick up problem for their Audi colleagues of the Team WRT.
“Markus and I were already changed into our street clothes when we saw that we would finish in third, we’ll take that result even tough we made some small mistakes today like cutting our mandatory pitstop time short by a couple of seconds and being handed a subsequent stop and go penalty. Never the less we learned a lot for our 2017 campaign,” Christopher Mies admitted.
Fourth and fifth went to the Audi Sport WRT ahead of the Audi R8 LMS of Phoenix Racing. The final spots within the Top 10 went to four Mercedes-AMG GT3, with Abdulaziz al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Daniel Juncadella and Luca Stolz being the best placed finisher. The Zakspeed Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 took home a 14th place finish in the hands of Tom Coronel, Erik Johansson and Florian Strauss. Jens Klingmann, Tom Onslow-Cole and John Edwards piloted the best placed BMW M6 GT3 to a 15th place finish. The first winner of the newly created Pro-Am trophy within in the SP9 class for GT3 cars was the Porsche 911 GT3 R of Otto Klohs, Robert Renauer and Sven Müller.
Alex Lynn and Will Stevens were able to get in 18 laps counting towards their Nordschleifen permit and also scored a class victory in the SP8T class. The new BMW M4 GT4 completed 10 laps under race conditions, when the BMW engineers determined that they collected enough data for the development process they took the decision to park the car shared by Dirk Adorf and Philipp Eng in order to preserve it from accident damage.
The opening round was also highlighted by the first race under the new aero rules, resulting in a loss of downforce by either moving the rear wing forward or cutting it in its width. Also new tire rules are implemented for the 2017 season, effectively ruling out teams running development tyres as the tyre compounds are frozen by the deposition of reference tires with the DMSB and all tyres having to be commercially available.
After the race the DMSB decided to confiscate some used tyres in order to compare them to their reference ones. This lead to different solutions for the new rear wing, with some teams electing a move forward like AMG or Nissan or cutting the width like Audi. Also Black Falcon, HTP Motorsport and the Audi Team WRT were running a car each on Dunlop and Michelin tyres.
The next VLN round takes place in two weeks time.