A fascinating and often bizarre Nürburgring 24 Hours saw Black Falcon Mercedes take the win. Bernd Schneider, Sean Edwards, Nicki Thiim and Jeroen Bleekemolen saw off a strong challenge from BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS to seal victory.
Beginning at 5pm on Sunday the race was dry, and the early pace was set by Audi. Having set pole position, the #4 Phoenix R8 LMS Ultra pushed a little early on, something not usually seen from Audi teams. Also in the mix was the #007 Aston Martin, the works car showing good pace in dry conditions.
When the rain came, though, the race’s complexion changed. It arrived suddenly, worsened and eventually caused a serious situation. The Marc VDS BMWs revelled in the rain and #25, driven by Maxime Martin, looked to have taken the lead when a red flag was shown. With aquaplaning a dangerous and unavoidable problem, the organisers called for the race to be halted at 22:44 local time. The second pace lap would not begin until eight in the morning.
Despite showing as the leader when the red flag was shown, after a number of laps more than thirty seconds faster than anyone else, Martin was scored fifth as the order was taken on countback. The Aston Martin was reinstated in the lead.
However, at the restart, his lead would last barely onto the Nordschleife. Martin, driving one of the most remarkable races in Nürburgring 24 history, cruised from fifth to second at the first turn and passed Lamy comfortably coming onto the main loop. His opening lap was more than 17 seconds faster than the field.
The race settled with Martin’s #25 first, the #1 Audi second and the #26 Marc VDS car third. Soon, though, Mercedes began to show their pace and first ROWE, then Black Falcon, appeared at the front. Bernd Schneider, in the Black Falcon car, was on a charge. The veteran German, who had never before finished this race, had a couple of very close calls as he began to make huge chunks of time.
He put a gap on so quickly that the other cars around were simply unable to keep up and by the time the final stints came and the near-incomparable Martin was reinstated in the #25 car, the race was done. ROWE at this stage held second and third with their #22 and #23 cars, but looked increasingly vulnerable to attack from the BMW.
At the start of the final stint, with Edwards well out in front by over three minutes, Martin went on a memorable charge. In one lap, he closed the 21 second gap, and was passed both #23 and #22 shortly onto the Nordschleife, despite the #23 ROWE car, with Lance David Arnold moving behind to protect the #22. It later emerged that #23 did not have enough fuel to finish.
Despite it being the shortest ’24 Hours’ of Nürburgring in history, it was still one of the toughest races any of those involved will ever compete in. For the winners this was particularly true, as just Sean Edwards (the first Englishman ever to win the race) and Bernd Schneider drove the car exclusively after the restart. Neither Bleekemolen, who left to see the birth of his twins, nor Thiim drove on the second day.
Certainly, it is a race with highlights worth searching for – some amazing action particularly from Martin and Schneider.
What a race.
Words: Jake Yorath
Photos: Dan Bathie
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