Qualifying for the first race of the weekend took place on Saturday morning, with two-time Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard taking his inaugural GT Masters pole alongside teammate Kevin Estre in the #17 KÜS TEAM75 Bernhard Porsche, with a time of 1:18.947.
The van der Linde brothers, Sheldon and Kelvin, were only 4 hundredths behind for the #28 Land Motorsport Audi team, while the #20 Zakspeed Mercedes duo of Nicolai Sylvest and Kim-Luis Schramm rounded out the top three.
However, during post session scrutineering, it was found that the pole-sitting #17 Porsche had a gurney flap which was fixed on with tape, contravening the regulations. To make a bad situation even worse, the #18 sister car, driven by Adrian de Leener and Klaus Bachler, had the same problem, meaning that both Porsches initially had their qualifying times disallowed, putting the Land Motorsport Audi on pole.
The #17 crew though appealed this decision and were subsequently reinstated, but the #18 duo didn’t and so would start from the back of the grid.
The title challengers meanwhile had a disappointing session, with the #17 HTP Mercedes, driven by Maximilian Götz and Markus Pommer, starting from 13th on the grid. Rivals Robert Renauer and Mathieu Jaminet, of the Precote Herberth Motorsport-entered Porsche #99, fared even worse, with their car being being pinged for the same rule breach as the two KÜS TEAM75 Bernhard Porsches.
The first race of the weekend was comfortably won by Estre and Bernhard (pic top), as they started from pole position after their successful appeal from their exclusion from qualifying. They had a gap of 4.8 seconds to the second placed #28 Land Motorsport Audi, driven by Sheldon and Kelvin van der Linde, with Sylvest and Schramm following them home, 22.3 seconds adrift of the leading Porsche, in the #20 Zakspeed Mercedes.
However, with the prior exclusion of the #17 KÜS TEAM75 Bernhard Porsche in qualifying, the race result is provisional, pending a hearing.
The safety car was well used in the 41-lap, hour long race, with a number of appearances bunching the field up multiple times. One of these was caused by an incident between championship leader Markus Pommer, local favourite Philip Geipel in YACO Racings #50 Audi R8 LMS and Marvin Kirchhöfer in the Callaway Competition-entered #1 Corvette C7 GT3.
Geidel and Pommer had to retire immediately due to the damage sustained by both cars, while Kirchhöfer continued for another 6 laps before he too had to retire.
On Sunday, qualifying 2 saw the other KÜS TEAM75 Bernhard car take pole, with Klaus Bachler setting the fastest time of 1:18.224 – just over eight tenths faster than Bernhard in the sister car the previous day. Championship leader Götz grabbed second in a much better showing than P12 for the previous days race, 0.129 seconds off pole in the #47. The other HTP Mercedes, piloted by Indy Dontje and Maximilian Buhk took third, a third of a second adrift of Bachler’s lap.
In fourth were HTP’s title rivals, the #99 Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche, driven by Robert Renauer and Mathieu Jaminet, but they were handed a five-place grid penalty by the stewards for an accident in Saturday’s race, putting them back to ninth on the grid.
The race, however, was a decidely Audi affair, with the three spots on the podium all taken by the German marque. Pierre Kaffer and Elia Erhart, driving the #11 EFP by TECE Audi, took tactical advantage of a safety car to pit, taking the lead on lap 20 and never looking back. They did have fierce competition from the second-placed #28 Land Motorsport Audi, with Sheldon and Kelvin van der Linde pushing hard all race, ending up with a gap of just 0.317 at the line. In third, six tenths off the winners, was Stefan Mücke in the BWT Mücke Motorsport Audi, with his teammate Jeffrey Schmidt starting the car from 14th and steadily climbing the field to round off the podium.
The race was eventful, with a crash at the second corner on the first lap causing the race to be red-flagged. Collected in this incident were championship leaders Götz and Pommer in the #47 HTP Mercedes, although they did manage to continue, finishing a lowly 15th and losing their championship lead in the process.
At the restart, pole sitter Bachler asserted his lead over the #28 Land Motorsport Audi, but it wasn’t to last: the safety car was required to recover the BMW M6 GT3 of Jens Klingmann, but while everybody dashed to the pits to avoid pitting under the safety car, Kaffer stayed out and took the lead. He then brought the car in a few laps later while under safety car and handed it over to Erhart, who took it to the flag, earning a maiden win for the duo.
Fourth-placed Renauer and Jaminet took advantage of the incident involving the #47 HTP Mercedes, taking the championship lead by four points going into the final round at Hockenheim in two weeks time.
All pics courtesy and copyright to ADAC Motorsport