32nd ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours – Race Report 1
Mother Nature’s Warning

Images by Jan Hettler and Johannes Gauglica.

Saturday started out like the days before, with bright sunshine early on before the clouds moved in. Not worried about the prospect of driving round the Nordschleife in the rain was Marino Franchitti. With nine laps under his belt so far, his impression of the track is favourable: "It's like Scotland! It is just like the roads we have in Scotland, but there is no one coming along in the opposite direction. To race here is quite an experience. It is different than anything I have ever seen, I mean - eight cars in one garage, people fighting over the fuel pumps on pitlane... - you've just got to go out there and take in the experience." Would he have preferred to be at Le Mans? "Actually, I would have liked to do both..." - A sentiment several other drivers share.

dailysportscar.com"My brother has driven here many times, never in a DTM car but in road car doing test work; and he is on the phone all the time this weekend. He definitely wants to do this race with me one day."

Marino states his objective for the race as "just get to the finish", but in view of the quality line-up in this car, it is not unlikely they will do more than that. Their car is an ex-Petersen 996 GT3-RS: is it a disadvantage not to have an RSR at their disposal? "Well, it's got the RSR bodykit, the RSR uprights, - so in fact, it's an RSr".

You are in 46th spot on the grid, what went wrong? "Err, actually we are in 14th." Not having raced with any of his team mates (Franz Konrad, Marc Basseng, and Patrick Simon) before, Marino is happy with the way their cooperation is developing. "They are good, quick drivers, all of them, and nice guys as well. The team is great, too; my problem is that only three people on the team speak English, but we are doing alright." Says a driver who is obviously enjoying his time at the 'Ring.

Today's support race was a round of the German Production Car Championship, with ETCC style 2l tourers; and Claudia Hürtgen went into the 24 Hours with a win under her belt, and some extra motivation. Her car, the Scheid BMW M3 V8 Special, would start the race from the eighth row. As the field lined up for the 24 Hours grid, the conditions deteriorated from "Eifel weather" to "Fuji weather", and heavy showers came down all around the track. Wet weather tyres were hurriedly brought out. The rain eased up after a few short minutes; it was Mother Nature's fair warning to the competitors: expect the worst.

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The parade lap around the Nordschleife was mostly dry, with black clowds dominating the sky.

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"Whoever starts this race on anything other than full wets is mad", said former race winner, Johannes Scheid. Alzen started the race on slicks, so did the Opels, so did Hahne. The Audis and BMWs were on cut slicks. Twenty minutes to 3 p.m., the forecast was "no rain for at least an hour"; this hour lasted precisely twenty minutes. As the first group of starters approached the line at 1500 hours, it was once again raining all around the track.

Lap 1 is rarely ever significant in a 24 hour race; but it was impressive to watch the ten fastest cars negotiate the first turns in a tight pack, nose to tail, two wide, three wide. It soon became clear that Alzen was holding them up, struggling for traction on his slick tyres; but he made his Porsche extra wide. The first to elbow his way past Strycek's #5 Opel, then passing the Vitaphone car was Lucas Luhr in the Manthey Porsche; he then drew away from the rest of the pack. The first cars to finally get by the black and turquoise Porsche with brute force, they found some 150 meters of road between them and the leader. It was Ekström who led the pursuers; but cut slicks were not good enough for these conditions. Grossmann in the Viper and Adorf in the Raeder V8STAR gave chase; and Adorf then took over second place as Luhr crossed the line in the lead, headlights blazing through the spray.

In conditions such as these, the Eifel forest resembles a jungle, damp, steaming, impenetrable. Hell is green. The bright rainbow colours of the Raeder V8STAR, the radiant white NSX, the menacing Alzen 996 with its bank of piercing Xenon fog lights - all these colours stand out clearly against the rich, dark green of the woods and the shimmering, grafitti-strewn tarmac. But this tarmac soon stopped shimmering.

Alzen went straight into the pits for a set of rain tyres, the Hahne NSX right behind him. They would have to make another stop a lap later, as within minutes, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and suddenly those who had gambled and stayed on slicks saw their gamble come good. Luhr alone remained out, on wets, till the end of lap 3; so the beginning of lap 4 saw an Audi move into the lead for the first time. Behind Ekström, Jörg Müller in slick-shod #42, and Boris Said in fourth-placed #43 had a dry track ahead of them. Luhr managed to limit the damage, and establish himself in third place. Ekström who found himself stuck with a set of crumbling tyres, and lap 5 saw Müller in the Schnitzer M3 GTR in the lead.

Roland Asch still saw no need for dry weather tyres, the Skyline made up lots of ground in the initial deluge, and was in fourth place toward the end of the first hour, the only car still out on intermediate tyres.

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At this point, Uwe Alzen was unhappy. This translated into sector times up to 30 seconds faster than anyone else. And he took more chances than anyone else. At 4:15, Alzen had a coming-together with one of the Australian Mitsubishi Mirages, and went broadside into the armco; the effect of this was bodywork damage on the right side, and a blown right rear tyre. The initial Vitaphone fireworks were over. As Alzen dragged his ailing car back to the pits, the Clerk of the Course put an announcement over the PA that heavy rain was expected within the next 15 minutes. The expected happened unexpectedly soon as almost immediately, cars left the road and made heavy contact with retaining structures all around the track. The rain was back, belting down harder than ever. Pit lane was clogged with cars as about a third of the whole field simultaneously came in for monsoon tyres. The one to benefit from the situation was BMW #42, now leading over the Manthey Porsche and the #1 Opel by some two and a half minutes. Tiemann in the Opel was caught out by the road conditions on the Grand Prix track: the Astra Coupé pirhouetted off the track, and the rainsoaked grass did nothing to slow it down any. It was nearly the end for last year's winning team but somehow Tiemann avoided the looming tyre wall.

The Morgan Plus 8 crew bravely faced these awful conditions in their open car, without a ragtop or even a windshield to offer shelter from the rain. At the second hour mark, their ordeal was over, at least for now, as the Morgan came to a halt with technical trouble. The BMW M3 of British late entry, Phil Bennett, was also reported as out of the race for technical reasons. The same fate befell the Swedish Saab with Thed Björk. The Viper took to the gravel in full view of the Mercedes Arena grandstand, but returned to the track with the help of heavy equipment. Only the first eleven cars were now still on the same lap.

Into the third hour, and again the rain stopped; but this time everyone hung on to their rain tyres. Still the #42 of Müller / Müller / Stuck / Lamy sailed serenely through the rough weather, its advantage now up to over three minutes. Things were looking good for BMW, and others also had every reason to be content with first two hours of racing. The Land Porsche of Konrad / Basseng / Simon / Franchitti held its own in a fine sixth place overall, eight positions up from the start; and the Honda NSX steadily climbed up the leaderboard, after three hurried tyre changes in a row had lost it chunks of valuable time. As low as 56th at one time, the experienced Armin Hahne drove the NSX into the twenties, with no sign of slowing down, even after a spin into the gravel.

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Two of the protagonists of the spectacular initial laps found themselves some way down the order, the #7 Audi just outside the top 10, and the Alzen Porsche in a disastrous 102nd place. And the #5 Opel would soon lose a couple of places as it was ordered into the pits for a stop & go penalty. Its sister car came under pressure from the Manthey Porsche; this challenge lasted for two laps until it abruptly ended in a harmless spin for the Manthey car, as it hit one of the isolated showers that still came down over various areas around the track while elsewhere the road was all but dry. Still, there was not much between the two cars when they arrived for their scheduled pit stops; and quick pit work secured the 996 second place. When it left the pits is once again ran on rain tyres because, yes, again the rain got heavier. This is not the only pattern that has emerged: BMW #42 is more and more looking like the main contender for victory in the 32nd Nürburgring 24 Hours.
Johannes Gauglica

At 4 Hours
1 42 BMW M3 GTR Dirk MÜLLER / Jörg MÜLLER / Hans-Joachim STUCK / Pedro
LAMY 26 4:22:55.073
2 1 OPEL Astra V8 Coupé Manuel REUTER / Timo SCHEIDER / Volker STRYCEK /
Marcel TIEMANN 25 4:18:27.524
3 46 PORSCHE 911 GT3 MR Lucas LUHR / Arno KLASEN / Timo BERNHARD / Olaf
MANTHEY 25 4:18:40.022
4 43 BMW M3 GTR Pedro LAMY / Boris SAID / Duncan HUISMAN / Hans-Joachim
STUCK 25 4:19:07.467
5 5 OPEL Astra V8 Coupé Peter DUMBRECK / Marcel FÄSSLER / Christian
MENZEL / Volker STRYCEK 25 4:24:08.007
6 7 AUDI Abt-Audi TT R Christian ABT / Mattias EKSTRÖM / Fredrik EKBLOM /
Patrick HUISMAN 24 4:15:41.700
7 38 PORSCHE GT3 RS Marc BASSENG / Franz KONRAD / Patrick SIMON / Marino
FRANCHITTI 24 4:17:04.056
8 86 V8-STAR Jaguar Hermann TILKE / Ulrich GALLADÉ / Dirk ADORF 24
4:18:43.844
9 31 PORSCHE 911 GT3 RSR Marc GINDORF / Peter SCHARMACH / Dennis ROSTEK /
Oliver MATHAI 24 4:19:17.753
10 44 NISSAN Skyline GT R Roland ASCH / Dirk SCHOYSMAN / Takayuki
KINOSHITA / Tetsuya TANAKA 24 4:19:51.576
11 8 AUDI Abt-Audi TT R Patrick HUISMAN / Frank STIPPLER / Karl
WENDLINGER / Christian ABT 24 4:20:38.551
12 10 BMW M3 GTRS Johannes SCHEID / Mario MERTEN / Oliver KAINZ / Claudia
HÜRTGEN 24 4:23:56.730
13 99 V8-STAR Jaguar Donny CREVELS / Sascha BERT / Altfrid HEGER 24
4:24:23.513
14 85 PORSCHE 996 GT3 Thomas JÄGER / Frank SCHMICKLER / Jonathan PRICE
23 4:09:01.933
15 45 PORSCHE GT3 MR Wilhelm D KERN / Bert LAMBRECHT / Andreas
BOVENSIEPEN / Georg BERLANDY 23 4:12:58.668
16 34 PORSCHE 996 GT3 Cup Jörg OTTO / Georg WEISS / Artur ERKES / Thomas
ZINNOW 23 4:15:03.979
17 40 PORSCHE 996 GT3 Stefan BEIL / Norbert FISCHER / Patrick SPADACINI /
Paul HULVERSCHEID 23 4:17:39.424
18 79 PORSCHE GT3 Karl-Christian LÜCK / Hubert HAUPT / Klaus RADER /
Marcel WINTERSOHL 23 4:17:51.247
19 32 PORSCHE 996 GT3 RS Matthias WEILAND / BUGS BUNNY / Oliver MAYER 23
4:19:57.232
20 3 HONDA NSX Armin HAHNE / Robert LECHNER / Markus OESTREICH / Robin
LIDDELL 23 4:20:06.071

 

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