The #4 Audi Sport Team Phoenix Audi R8 LMS scored an unlikely victory in the 2019 running of the Nürburgring 24 Hours this afternoon, Pierre Kaffer, Frank Stippler, Fred Vervisch and Dries Vanthoor combining to score Audi its fifth win in the German race and the team it’s fourth.
It was Kaffer, Vervicsch and Vanthoors maiden wins in the German endurance classic, and Stippler’s second, his first coming back in 2012.
For 21 hours of this race, Audi’s fleet of R8 LMS GT3s didn’t look capable of winning. The pace wasn’t there and with time winding down on Sunday, the #911 Manthey Racing Porsche held a comfortable lead of over a minute.
But this was a race that seemingly nobody wanted to win. Almost every car that looked capable of fighting for the top spot either suffered an issue, had an off or received a penalty. Most of the SP9 cars finished this one carrying damage, and layers of dirt. The changeable weather that the ‘Ring is known for didn’t play a part, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at the state of some of the machinery that crossed the line and indeed the list of dramas throughout.
The real loser here was Manthey Racing, as neither of its all-pro Porsche 911 GT3 Rs were able to claim the win despite having both pace and mechanical reliability. The #1 car held a strong lead in the opening hour before a puncture dropped it down the order in Hour 2; it never recovered.
The #911 sister car then went on to build a strong lead, which it held onto for 14 hours from Saturday night until Sunday morning. But it wasn’t meant to be for the N24 stalwart, its car handed a five-minute 32-second stop-hold penalty by the stewards for speeding in a slow-zone. And the offence wasn’t by a fine margin, the car was clocked at 172km/h in a 120 km/h zone.
This dropped the car to second and set up a game of cat and mouse between the winners in the #4 and the #911 crew. Dries Vanthoor steadied the ship in the final hour, keeping it clean fending off a hard-charging, highly-motivated Kevin Estre, who set the fastest lap of the race in pursuit with just over 30 minutes remaining.
But it wasn’t Earl Bamber, Michael Christensen, Laurens Vanthoor or Estre’s year. After a near-faultless performance, they will head home hugely disappointed.
Sunday morning mayhem
The winning margin for the Audi was officially a lap after the Manthey Porsche crossed the line shortly after the checkered flag came out while the #4 went on to complete one final tour; it was around 38 seconds until Estre backed off.
This race was close in the end and it must be noted that incidents through the night and throughout Sunday morning were a huge factor in handing the #4 Audi the lead.
The #48 Mann-Filter HTP Motorsport Mercedes could have won here, but Maxi Gotz had a big off while battling to hold onto the second spot at Hohe Acht with the #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche. And the 911 in question was another car that would have been ready to take the win late in the race had the car not suffered a right-rear puncture shortly after snatching the runner-up spot.
Audi Sport Team Land too had a chance, as the team spent much of Sunday morning watching as its #29 Audi was involved in a titanic scrap with the #4 Audi and later the #6 Black Falcon Mercedes. Bad luck struck though, both the #29 and #6 hit trouble. Nico Bastian had an off in the AMG and Kelvin van der Linde became another driver to see his hopes of winning fade with a puncture.
Earlier in the race, there were plenty of other incidents worth reflecting on.
One of the big surprises of the race was the durability and speed of the sole #705 Glickenhaus SCG003C, which was in and around the top five for much of the first half of what’s expected to be its final N24.
The car would finish eighth, after climbing as high as second during the early hours of Sunday morning when Thomas Mutsch had an incident in traffic that forced the car in for a 15-minute-long repair. It was a real shame to see the car plummet down the order after arguably its best performance yet at the Nürburgring. A top 10 finish though, is still something Jim Glickenhaus will celebrate.
The #2 Black Falcon Mercedes also hit trouble while running second, as the night hours began on Saturday, Adam Christodoulou clouting the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Supra at Turn 1 after the Toyota out-braked itself, forcing him to bring the car in. The impact was heavy though, and the damage to the chassis forced the team to retire the car.
Then there was BMW, the German brand’s hopes fading within the first six hours of racing. It was a truly disastrous race for its customer teams, with issues and incidents preventing an M6 GT3 from even sniffing a podium.
Both ROWE Racing M6s were gone within four hours, the #99 suffering suspension damage before the #98 stopped on track with mechanical troubles. Team manager Hans-Peter Naundorf claimed that it was the team’s “worst ever 24-hour race.”
Schnitzer’s run then ended soon after when Timo Scheider had a big off passing the #170 Hyundai TCR in the fifth hour, the touring car collecting the BMW. The incident ripped the front-end of the car off, making it a retirement on the spot.
Walkenhorst’s day wasn’t much better, the #101 withdrawn after a suspected suspension issue that forced the car into the pits proved to be far worse than predicted. The sister car had its race ended after an accident out on the Nordschleife during the night hours.
The #33 Falken Motorsports BMW also failed to feature, after losing a heap of time early when radio miscommunications caused Martin Ragginger to miss the pit entry in the opening hours. It did though, finish high up in order, crossing the line seventh, thanks to much of the SP9 field suffering issues as the race continued.
The team’s Porsche had a tough outing too, the car forced into the garage after a puncture tore the ABS sensor cable and Klaus Bachler had a spin into the barriers in the closing hours. It went onto finish 21st.
All these incidents made for an unlikely top 10.
The final podium spot was taken by the #3 Black Falcon Mercedes of Maxi Buhk, Hubert Haupt, Thomas Jager and Luca Stolz, which had a remarkably quiet run.
Fourth was the #14 Car Collection Audi which crossed the line held almost entirely together by gaffa-tape, ahead of the #12 Manthey Porsche which also climbed the order late in the race due to the misfortune of others.
Mercedes AMG and Aston Martin impress in the other classes
The other classes in the 150+ car field mustn’t be forgotten here, as there were some standout performances in amongst the 100 or so finishers.
The best of the non SP9 and SPX (Glickenhaus) entries was the #58 Porsche GT3 Cup car, which came home an impressive 15th overall after 148 laps.
In the SP10 class featuring GT4 cars, it was the #70 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT4 that earned a dominant victory of multiple laps over the #71 Hofor Racing BMW M4 GT4.
AMR Performance Centre’s #37 Vantage GT4 of Darren Turner, Chris Goodwin, Chris Harris, Peter Cate and Alex Brundle took the win in the hotly contested SP 8T class, despite a gearbox issue at the start which cost the car 25 minutes. The #51 Speedline Racing BMW M4 GT4 finished second and the #90 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Supra completed the top three.
And the #172 Team Castrol Honda Racing Civic won TCR, after incidents throughout caused the lead to change multiple times, the Hyundai Motorsport Team unable to keep its Velosters out of trouble after such a promising start to the race.
The fan favourite Kissling Motorsport Opel Manta also took the flag on Sunday (unclassified) much to the delight of the fans trackside, after hours and hours of repair work following a heavy incident in the early part of the race.