The 2017 Nürburgring 24 Hours is finally upon us. With another sterling entry, packed with factory-backed efforts, world-class drivers and a slew of oddball and intriguing entries, it’s set to be another memorable 24 at the ‘Ring.
All in all the entry totals 161 this year, with the SP9 class for GT3 cars combining for 34 of them. Within SP9, which as usual is hotly contested between the big GT3 factories, features teams representing Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Bentley, Audi and Ferrari.
The win will almost certainly come from that pack, though the SPX entered Glickenhaus SCG 003Cs and Renault R.S.01 should be able to mix it in with the SP9 runners on pace at least.
So, with just a few days until the big race, here’s a look at what to expect from the notable entries in the race, starting with the SP9 division, brand-by-brand:
Let’s start with the favourite. Last year, Mercedes finished in a dominant 1-2-3-4 on the road with Black Falcon bettering the lead HTP car on the final lap of the race to score the brand’s (and the Black Falcon team’s) first win since 2013, which in turn was its first overall.
This year, Mercedes will be represented by seven AMG GT3s from Black Falcon, Team HTP and Haribo Racing once again, giving the car every chance of achieving a podium and or its second win. In the run up to the N24, the AMG GT3s have had quiet outings in the VLN and N24 Qualifying Race, but that doesn’t necessarily speak true to the form for race-week as we all know, especially as the organisers can make BoP changes all the way up to the start of the race if they feel one make looks dominant.
The AMG GT3 is a very strong car, and over the course of the 2016 running of the race, looked bullet-proof as the other brands faltered out on the gruelling Nordschleife, which is why Mercedes is the brand to beat.
Last year’s winner Black Falcon will field three cars, two of which have AMG backing. The winning trio of Maro Engel, Adam Christodoulou, and Manuel Metzger return in the #1 AMG GT3, with Yelmer Burmann taking the fourth seat in the car in place of Bernd Schneider.
The #3 meanwhile, features Dirk Müller, Thomas Jager, double-duty Engel (who last year broke the lap record in Qualifying en route to Pole) and Jan Seyffarth, making for a very competitive second effort. The third car from the Sean-Paul Breslin-run team will see Abdelaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Hapt and Luca Stolz take on the race.
HTP Motorsport will also bring with it a trio of AMG GT3s, two blessed by the factory. The #47 from the German outfit will see Sebastian Asch, reigning Blancpain GT champion Dominik Baumann, Christian Hohenadel and Ford WEC driver Stefan Mücke team up, while Baumann (double duty) will partner with his fellow Blancpain title holder Max Buhk, 2015 winner Edward Sandstorm and Mercedes DTM racer Eduardo Mortara.
The final car in the team’s effort its Mann-Filter backed and features a handy combination of Kenneth Heyer, reigning race winner Bernd Schneider, Indy Dontje and ADAC GT regular Patrick Assenheimer.
Hariboo Racing’s effort is scaled back this year (the team ran a pair of AMGs last year with the same lineups to give it two chances of victory, before finishing third) to just a single car. It’s by no means a weak link in the AMG squad, with Uwe Alzen, Lance David Arnold, Max Götz and Renger van der Zande gunning for silverware.
It must be noted too, that not only is Mercedes hedging its bets by placing factory drivers over its three teams, but also two tyre companies over its seven cars, with a mixture of Dunlop and Michelin rubber across HTP and Black Falcon, with Haribo racing on Michelins.
While Mercedes has form to go on, BMW has numbers, with a staggering 10 M6 GT3s entered in the race in SP9. It’s clear that BMW wants to win badly this year, the Bavarian company is now without a win since 2010 with the M3 GT2.
Since last year’s disappointment when its M6 GT3s were in the running for the win, and even led early on before falling by the wayside, the M6 GT3 went on to win the Spa 24 Hours, proving its ability. In results terms it’s not been a very fruitful start to the year for BMW however, with its best VLN finish 10th in VLN 2.
For the race, BMW has a near-infallible selection of teams though, who are more than capable of gunning for the brand’s 20th N24 overall win, with Schnitzer, ROWE, Walkenhorst, Schubert and now Falken racing with its M6 GT3.
This is Schnitzer’s first crack at the race in years after its spell in DTM. The team, which with Manthey is tied at five for the most overall N24 wins, brings the headline pair of Beemers, one of them – the #43 – sporting a retro livery.
In the #42, Marco Wittman, Tom Blomqvist, Martin Tomczyk and Augusto Farfus will drive together, marking for a good mix of IMSA and DTM drivers. In the #43 meanwhile, Farfus will pull double duty, racing with Timo Schneider and N24 rookies Alex Lynn and Antonion Felix Da Costa.
Schubert is once again bringing a pair of BMWs to the race. The experienced German team, which has come close to victory numerous times in the 24, will race with Jens Klingmann, Jörg Müller, John Edwards and another rookie in Tom Onslow-Cole. The #20 will be steered by Jesse Krohn, Müller, Bruno Spengler and Kuno Wittmer.
ROWE Racing is another two-car factory-backed BMW effort in the field. Hans Peter Naundorf’s team – which is still searching for its first N24 win – will run with Markus Palttala, Nick Catsburg, Alex Sims and Richard Westbrook in the #98 and Philipp Eng, Sims, Maxime Martin and Marc Basseng in the #99.
The final multi-car BMW team is the family-run Walkenhorst team, again racing with two M6 GT3s and a Z4 GT3. The one to look out for is the #100, which will be in a Dunlop art livery, with Norscheleife GT3 lap record holder Christian Krognes, Michele Di Martino, Matias Henkola and Nico Menzel.
And finally, the tenth M6 comes from Falken Motorsports, which is once again running with two cars in the race – the last time was back in 2011. Like its Porsche (discussed below) it’s driver squad is top quality.
Peter Dumbreck and Alex Imperatori have moved over from racing in the team’s Porsche, and will be paired with Stef Dusseldorf and Marco Seefried, who was part of the HTP lineup which came second last year.
In terms of tyres, three brands will race with BMW this year, with Schubert, ROWE and Schnitzer racing with Michelin, Walkenhorst as usual on Dunlop and Falken running with… well, Falken.
While Audi’s motorsport programme as a whole looks very different to this time last year, its GT3 arm is as strong as ever, with six R8 LMS GT3s on the entry, from capable teams and drivers all eager to score the brand its fourth victory at the N24.
The R8 is car which in endurance races has little to prove in terms of reliability, though it hasn’t taken a big endurance win since it won the N24 on its debut back in 2015. Last year in particular, the car didn’t have the pace to challenge for the win, and the best lineups either retired or hit problems making for a tough 24 hours for the Inglostadt-based marque.
This year though, Audi could well be odds on, with Phoenix winning the N24 Qualification race (albeit after a late drama for the Glickenhaus which led). Nevertheless, it’s a promising result to head into N24 race week with.
The lineups for the five R8s on list are nothing short of stellar. In the pair of factory-supported WRT Audis, ex-LMP1 racer Marcel Fassler, will share with the rapid trio Robin Frjins, Nico Müller and René Rast in the #9, while Müller, and Rast will pull double duty and race the #10 also, with Frédéric Vervisch and 2012 N24-winner Frank Stippler.
Over at Audi Sport Team Land, 2016 ADAC GT winners Christopher Mies and Connor De Phillippi will drive both cars, with Pierre Kaffer and Christopher Haase in the #28 and Kelvin van der Linde and Markus Winkelhock in the #29. Both lineups should be a force for the Land team, which has emerged as a leading GT team after an incredible 2016 season which saw it turn heads at the N24, win the ADAC GT Masters and multiple VLN races.
The fifth factory-backed Audi comes from Phoenix Racing, which needs little introduction having won the race outright before. It’s not a factory effort for Phoenix this year, that contract has moved over to Land, but it’s still set to compete at a high level. Dennis Busch will drive with Nicolaj Moller Madsen, and Audi stalwarts Mike Rockenfeller and Frank Stippler, the popular Twin Busch Audi effort not taking part this year.
Car Collection Motorsport, which is no stranger to the N24 and focuses on competing in the 24H Series nowadays, will enter a sixth R8 LMS.
Audi is another brand which will race with multiple tyre companies. While there is no official confirmation yet which teams will run which which, DSC understands that Land Motorsport will race with Michelin while Phoenix has long been confirmed as a Dunlop runner this year.
The car coming into this year’s race with the most success is the Porsche 911 GT3 R, with Manthey Racing winning VLN 1 and VLN 2, before Falken Motorsports finished second in the Qualification Race. While that won’t necessarily translate into the race, it’s certainly a promising sign after an off year across the board for Porsche in the GT3 ranks.
The VLN/Nürburging experts at Manthey Racing will race with three of the six Porsches on the list, one of which features arguably the strongest lineup in the race. Its #911 crew consists of reining World Endurance Champion and Le Mans winner Romain Dumas and fellow Porsche factory drivers Fred Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz.
In the #12 meanwhile, Otto Klohs will drive with 2017 Dubai 24 Hours winner Robert Renauer and Porsche Junior drivers Matteo Cairoli and Mathieu Jamienet. Cairoli in particular is one to watch, he’s proven to be rapid in the WEC this year with Proton. It’s a quartet which could well spring a surprise!
Local favourite Frikadelli Motorsport is also racing with Porsche, as usual, and two cars capable of finishing highly with a steady run to the finish. Klaus Abbelen, Sabine Schmitz and Andreas Ziegler in the #30 and Norbert Siedler and Porsche works driver Michael Christensen in the #32.
The other big name entry for Porsche is once again Falken Motorsports, which continues its search for that all-elusive Nordschleife victory. So far this year the team has looked as quick as ever, and primed to win. In fact, it would have won VLN 1 had Laurens Vanthoor not had a race-ending off in the run to the flag. The team is racing with a BMW as well this year in addition to its Porsche (as mentioned above), in its first two-car effort since 2011, which is the team’s big headline. Having Dirk Wener, Martin Ragginger, Vanthoor and Jorg Bergmeister driving its mainstay Porsche though, is still a pretty big deal in its own right.
All things considered, this could be the best year for Bentley at the N24 to date, with the Abt team running the Continentals this year finding real success in the VLN, with second and fourth place finishes in VLN 1 and 2 respectively so far.
This is partly down to the strong driver lineup, the car coming of age, as well as the choice to go with Yokohama as its tyre supplier this year.
For the N24, M-Sport is running a third Abt Bentley, giving the brand a three-pronged attack for the first time in the race.
In the factory drivers Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Maxime Soulet will share the #36, while Christopher Brück, Nico Verdonck and Christian Menzel will drive the #37. The #38 meanwhile, will see the trio of Christer Jöns, N24 veteran Christian Mamerow and ADAC GT race winner Jordan Pepper share driving duties, after impressing mightily in VLN 1 with their podium finish.
Is this the year that Bentley truly mixes it in and comes away with a positive result against the big German brands? It would be an opportune time to strike after the bitter disappointment of Bentley’s last crack at a 24-hour race back at Spa last year.
After years away, a Ferrari is back in the running for the overall Nürburgring 24 Hours win. In the past Ferrari has had a presence wth Hankook Team Farnbacher racing with 430s and 458 GT2s back in 2011 and 2012, and Rinaldi more recently with a 458 GT3. This time it’s Blancpain stalwart Rinaldi Racing again bringing a Ferrari to the party, this time a 488 GT3 for its N24 debut under the banner of Wochenspiegel Team Monshau, the local newspaper not backing Manthey anymore.
Driving the team’s 488 is the quartet of Georg Weiss, Oliver Kainz, Daniel Keilwitz and Jochen Krumbach, all of which, will be aiming to turn the team’s season around after two DNFs in the first two VLN races.
While unlikely to take the overall honours, it’s fair to say that this entry will be a fan favourite for what is is a welcome return to the big race for Italy’s finest competing in a race which it has yet to win as a brand.
Like Ferrari, there’s just a single Huracan GT3 entered into the running. At the time of writing, Konrad Motorsport’s lineup consists of just Marco Mapelli and Hendrik Still.
While Konrad Motorsport will send out a well prepared car, the Huracan GT3 as a whole still has a lot to prove, with no major endurance wins as of yet, and multiple reliability issues in the past year. Notably, Konrad failed to finish last year’s race, retiring in the final two hours.
The speed could well put Konrad into the Top 30 Qualifying for the race, and keep it competitive in the early stages, but it remains to be seen if it can manage a reliable run to the finish.
The SPX field varies in quality and intrigue each year, but it’s fair to say that the class of 2017 is worth keeping tabs on.
The main interest here is the pair of Phoenix Racing Audi R8 GT4s featuring an eye-catching set of drivers. The Four Rings’ GT4 challenger will be making its global debut at the race, and in SPX instead of the SP10 GT4 division because it’s yet to be homologated.
The Renault R.S.01 will also debut in the race in SPX, with GTronix360 Team continuing its ambitious Nürburgring programme with the Renault – which runs to the GT3 regulations, but cannot be homologated as a GT3 car due to there being no road-going version. It’s a powerful car though, which has competed alongside GT3s successfully in the 24H Series and Gulf 12 Hours recently. Dominik Schwager is the headline driver here, in what is set to be a car which should be well worth following.
Glickenhaus customer team Traum Motorsport will race a pair of the fan-favourite Nürburgring special SCG003Cs, continuing the Glickenhaus presence at the race. The SCG003C is another car capable of racing with the frontrunners, should it stay reliable and its drivers be at their best.
While there’s no SP9 entry for Aston for the first time in several years with AMR focused fully on GTE in the WEC, its customer programmes in the ELMS, and with the potential of a new model looming, there are two entries of interest – both in SP8.
Aston Martin Lagonda will race an Aston Martin GT8 with added factory driver spice from Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim, and an Vantage V12. It’ll be a bit more of an analogue experience for Thiim and Turner, but the car should be capable of rising up the order – even as far as the Top 20 – when the SP9 runners hit trouble.
Notably, in the same class, Dörr Motorsport will be racing a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo on Giti tyres and MSC Adenau TIC Racing will enter Ford Mustang GTs.
SP8T will feature a Sorg Rennsport BMW M4 GT4, the new car, which made its debut back in January at the Dubai 24 Hours will be piloted by Dirk Adolf, BMW Junior Ricky Collard, Jörg Weidinger and Jethro Bovingdon.
Of the various oddball entries, the Manta is of course going to be present, racing in SP3 which features two Opel Calibras and a pair of Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Thailand Carollas; one of which will race with a fully-Thai driver lineup!
Hyundai’s N division is also racing, with an I30 for WRT GT3 driver Stuart Leonard and Pieter Schothorst in SP3T alongside the Opel Astra OPC Cup cars. The AT class will run with a Chrysler Dodge Viper and Ford Focus RS again.
The TCR field totals seven entrants for its second year as part of the class system – three of which are new Audi RS3s – and Cup 5 for BMW M235is has a grand total of 13 teams.