31st ADAC Nurburgring 24 Hours – Friday Report
Let The Action Commence

Enough of corsos, fun, and frolic, today it is time to get down to business, with the two practice sessions for the 24 Hours on the agenda, as well as the 500k race for oldtimers, youngtimers, and what not.

From the start of the two hour daytime practice session in the morning, the Alzen 996 turbo asserted itself at the head of the field. This is further proof that the car is as fast as it is spectacular. R. Giger meets F.A. Porsche: with a dramatic GT1 style air scoop on the roof, and one of the biggest rear wings ever seen on a 996, this car looks like something out of "Alien". For most of this session, it swapped fastest times with the works BMWs, with the Zakspeed Viper in the mix as well. The former have not yet proved their reliability over longer distances, while the latter will be slowed down by its shorter pit stop interval. The Alzen Porsche missed the nine minute mark by only a few hundredths, while the BMWs eased up a little toward the end of their practice runs. Stuck / Said / Nielsen were content with 10th overall for #43, the Müllers and Claudia Hürtgen launched the #42 M3 GTR up to fourth on their penultimate lap. Marc Duez is seemingly assigned to do double duty as "relief driver" for both cars; the regulations allow this here.

The Abt Audis kept themselves out of the immediate battle for pole, and never broke into the top three; they found themselves in sixth and seventh overall on the morning timetable, with the Wendlinger / Nissen / Werner #8 TT-R five seconds ahead of the Abt / Biela / Ekström #7. Three teams that moved up the order in the dying minutes of the session were the turbocharged #12 Manthey Porsche, and the two works Opel Astras. #5, for Reuter / Scheider / Tiemann, was at the top of the heap for a short while, and in the end made the "virtual podium"; a 9:09 was good enough for third. Peter Dumbreck's #6 car, which he shares with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Christian Menzel (Volker Strycek is nominated for both cars as well), stuck to the other end of the top 10, no fireworks from them this time out. Is this an indication that Opel is looking at a "turtoise & hare" strategy? Then again, it may not mean a thing; but isn't it fun to speculate?

The Manthey 996 made a late bid for provisional pole, and now completes the Porsche one-two at the head of the 210 car field, some five seconds shy of the Alzen brothers' fastest time.

The Falken Skyline is a solid 11th, while 14th place (they were up to seventh at one point) is an encouraging sign of life for the ever-popular Honda NSX of Austrian entrepreneur Klaus Altschach. This 1994 vintage Le Mans chassis had to be withdrawn from last year's 24 Hours after practice because the wheels would not stay on the car. Now they are back (the team, presumably not the wheels), with minimal sponsorship, but a solid driver line-up. Armin Hahne is already an NSX regular, Artur Deutgen was crowned "2002 driver of the year" by the Nordschleife fans, Timo Kluck is a Porsche test driver. And apparently they are right on the pace – a 9:43, topping Class A5 by a good margin. Maybe the car will stay in one piece this time.

The next six in that class are in the 10:09 to 10:21 bracket, with the Lockie / Euser / Cowgill BMW currently the sixth of these six, Cor Euser rushing off to race at Assen. Lockie expects to set a 10:09 in the cool of the evening – depending on the condition of the track.

Among the few retirements after this first practice session is unfortunately the Commonwealth Special - the Australian V8 Ford Falcon entered by Mike Newton Racing for Mike Newton himself along with Chris Maries, Thomas Erdos, and Adam Wiseberg. Contact with a solid obstacle (Chris Maries) left the car bent so badly that they asked for help over the PA system. „Would volunteers with sufficient expertise proceed to pit no. 14 please?“ All these efforts were to no avail, however, as one mechanic confirmed to the many sympathetic bystanders. "Looks good, ja?" - "No. Game over." Ripped out of its mountings in the impact, the engine block is cracked in two places. "This is already our second engine, and there isn't another one of these in Germany. Not with 600hp." One can only hope that they will be back next year. The plea was for hydraulic equipment to get the shell back into shape.

The Zakspeed team is trying to salvage what it can in terms of media attention out of their quick-change fuel tank system which, as you may recall, has been "verboten" by the ADAC just in time for the race. They presented their "ingenious innovation" (this a quote from the Zakspeed press release) to the appreciative public in the paddock. And it's clever, al right. The Viper's complete rear bodywork swings open; the empty fuel tank is lifted out of the chassis by two handles; and another, pre-filled fuel tank is put into its place. Too dangerous, says the ADAC, and the folks at Zakspeed "respect this decision". The little demonstration they put on in the paddock certainly left the spectators impressed; up swings the rear end, out goes one tank, in goes another, all done and dusted in 20 seconds flat. "With a full replacement tank, it takes us two seconds longer."

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And then it rained: torrential rain, thunder and lightning, all dramatic Nurburg weather. The fans have plenty of time to dry out, the track too, before more qualifying at 19.00 this evening.
Cy Bersdorf

 

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