With the race now into its final three hours, it’s a BMW 1-2, with six cars left on the lead lap now, and therefore in with a shout.
Walkenhorst’s #34 BMW M6 GT3 leads the way, Tom Blomqvist in the car at the end of the hour, by just a few seconds over the #99 ROWE BMW of Nicky Catsburg. Behind though, the #25 Sainteloc Audi, #29 Land Motorsport Audi, #4 Black Falcon Mercees, and #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes are still on the lead lap, hoping that their late-race strategy calls can put them into contention into the final hour.
As it happened
With Kelvin Van der Linde having taken his stop, the #29 Land Motorsport Audi dropped back to seventh, Jeffery Schmidt reporting to the radio feed that their car had taken its mandatory stop under green flag conditions when everyone else had been allowed to do theirs under yellow. This left the top three as Eng’s #34 BMW from Kane’s #7 Bentley and Klingmann’s #99 BMW. Luca Stolz was back in touch for Black Falcon in fourth, the best Mercedes ten seconds shy of the top three.
Eng’s lead extended to 20 seconds over Steven Kane, the Walkenhorst BMW M8 approaching its next scheduled stop. As Kane’s #7 BMW pitted, smoke appeared from the back of the car which was wheeled back into its garage, dropping it rapidly out of the top 10. Within 2 hours the M-Sport garage had seen a lot of action. The rear hub assembly was confirmed to be the cause of the issue, but frontal radiator damage was adding to the workload.
The #99 Rowe Racing BMW was back in front again, but Jens Klingsmann’s lead was a mere two seconds, the #4 Black Falcon car of Luca Stolz rapidly chasing down the M6 GT3, though both were due driver changes. These came on the next lap, Simms taking over the BMW, just beating Yelmer Buurman to the end of the pit lane and making the better getaway. Out of the car, Stolz reported that the Mercedes was particularly good on old tyres which had enabled him to push hard to the end of his stint.
To report the Pro-Am category, the #333 Rinaldi Racing entry had been upholding Ferrari honours but was handed a penalty for track limits. Fifteenth overall, the 488 was being stalked by the recovering #42 Strakka Mercedes of Chris Buncombe. The Sun Energy 1 Team HTP Mercedes AMG was third, running 19th overall, currently pedalled by Bernd Schneider and two laps adrift.
The #29 Land Motorsport Audi’s sterling efforts, which for this writer had been one of the highlights of the event, were stifled by a 10 second penalty for seemingly cutting across at the chicane and gaining advantage. This was a little controversial as the view from the rear saw Sheldon Van Der Linde in avoidance of traffic that in itself was in avoidance of the almost stationary #62 Aston Martin.
The #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport swung back into the lead before Christian Krognes brought the car back for its out of sequence stop, handing BMW honours back to Sims in the #99 Rowe M6. Would this race be decided by whoever pits last, a Joker pit stop still available to all the front runners?
Buurman’s Black Falcon Mercedes still looked dangerous in second, 12 seconds behind, but 20 seconds ahead of the best of the Audis, Christopher Haase aboard the Sainteloc car. Blomqvist’s erstwhile leading #34 BMW had rejoined in fourth, but was nearly half a lap off the lead with the #29 Audi closing in, still to take its penalty and pushing hard to mitigate the issue.
The #29 Audi dropped to sixth after its next stop ahead of a further Full Course Yellow to recover a beached Ferrari at the Pouhon exit. Tom Blomqvist was first to take advantage to load up with fuel, staying aboard the #34 BMW as the pursuing second placed Catsburg’s Rowe Racing did the same, gaining a couple of seconds as the safety status was loosened to Safety Car conditions as the Dutch driver left the pits. Blomqvist had clear air though, Catsburg bottled up behind the second placed Black Falcon Mercedes making the move past, the #4 car owing a stop and on older rubber.
2.8 seconds covered the two BMW’s, the Rowe Racing car not quite able to make an impression on the Walkenhorst Motorsport entry which just started to stretch out by a further second in reply. The leading Audi, the #25 Sainteloc R8 LMS, was still in touch with the leaders in fourth place.
Philipp Eng: “We still have a Blancpain Endurance race left to go, but it’s great to have two BMW’s at the front at this stage of the race. From a personal point of view, of course I want it to be me in front, but a win here for BMW is important.”