F Friday, 6:00 pm at the Nürburgring. The chip stalls are empty. In the pits, drivers, engineers and mechanics stretch their necks to the flat screens on the pit walls. Sport1 broadcasts live. It's as quiet as a mouse in the press center.
The race before the race, part 1
The new top 40 qualifying for the 24h race at the Nürburgring 2012 pulls everyone under its spell. 40 pilots in a duel with the old Natter Nordschleife - a men's duel, unadulterated by second-hand traders and the inattentive. No excuses, no silly quotes like: “I had traffic on my fastest lap.” A warm-up lap, then two timed sprints. The cars start every ten seconds. Enough space for everyone. If you don't want to waste minutes in the dense GT3 crowd in the race, you have to strike now. It was also the first acid test whether the balance of performance for GT3 cars would work again in 2012.
The preliminary answer was on the timesheet: The first 30 cars were in 14 seconds, with one lap time of 500 seconds. The factory-supported top favorites knocked their way into the first twelve places in 4.044 seconds - what a slaughter.
The adrenaline-pumped drivers gushed with praise. “Just great,” praised Christian Menzel. “Pure racing”, said second placed Chris Mamerow. Last year the tribe of mechanics scratched each other's eyes when trying to position their cars in the front row at the end of the pit exit so that they could only be the first to drive out onto the Nordschleife. Now everything was relaxed, apart from an absurd argument about the legal illegality of the use of tire warmers, there was nothing to criticize.
The race before the race, part 2
Racing oldie Harald Grohs has seen everything in motorsport. So nothing upsets him. Not even the discussions about the Balance of Performance (BOP), the aim of which is to balance the strengths and weaknesses of different GT3 racing cars in such a way that they all drive the same speed on the Nordschleife.
“If you get up earlier To gain an advantage, there were two options: Either youinvested more money - or you just screwed up. ”Money is still a good tool today, but cheating is almost impossible. 'Manufacturers are always looking for the advantage, but differently today: at the negotiating table and behind closed doors.'
Whether you like it or not: races are a little bit pre-decided before the race. A favorable classification is often worth more than technical advancement - but of course both are best. The course and the result of a car race can no longer be explained without touching on what happened before the race.
At the Nürburgring, the situation after the test races as part of the VLN endurance championship was as follows: BMW and Porsche had each other shared three wins. Mercedes and Audi remained pale to inconspicuous. The technical committee, which intervenes to regulate weight, performance, aerodynamics, tank volume and tank flow restrictors, thought the following: We will leave those who are in front untouched - and help the others to catch up.
That was well meant, but for the first time since the GT3 racing cars were approved and the Balance of Performance was introduced at the Nürburgring in 2009, the balance of power appeared to have slipped slightly - and to a lesser extent in terms of vehicle speed than in refueling time. More on that later.
The rulers intervened, the bulletin came seven days before the start of the event and made waves: Audi was allowed to start with an aero package, which was still approved by the FIA at the beginning of the year had been denied. The so-called banana rear wing protruded 100 millimeters over the rear edge of the ring, the front flaps above the splinter were open in the shape of a shovel. In addition, Audi was allowed to unload 25 kilos.
BMW was allowed to homologate new wheel arch ventilation, of course only for safety reasons, in order to defuse a dangerous air build-up in the wheel arches when driving over hilltops. And Mercedes was given a larger restrictor.
Now the crux of the matter: All three brands were also allowed to drive five liters more fuel for a walk to ensure that they could do nine laps on one tank of fuel. If you have to fill up more, you need a larger tank restrictor, because the regulations say that everyone stands for 144 seconds when refueling - regardless of whether they fill 100 or 125 liters.
So the technical commission was wearing the donation pants. You changed a lot, and so there was a great risk that a lot could slip. Only Porsche got nothing: two VLN victories, went stupid.
The moment of truth
So the bow was tense, on and off the track. In the hectic start phase of the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring, the arrows whiz in all directions. The fans around the Nordschleife must be completelygetting dizzy watching In the first two rounds, the top teams dig into hearty scratches, there is hissing and hissing on all fronts. Then the top bunch dives into the laps, the third starting group is mowed down as if they were slalom poles. Immediately on with the next bang: suddenly top cars with flat tires creep around the Nordschleife. Hustle and bustle breaks out, mechanics bustle, team managers consult with tire experts. You don't even know where to look first.
A lot of traffic is never wrong
Ten years ago, when a Viper and a Porsche were fighting for victory in the 24h race at the Nürburgring, the fans were able to move on to the leisurely part after three laps. Those times are over. A few years ago, 230 cars and carts flooded the Nordschleife during training, and 210 cars started the race. These times are apparently over, too.
Only 167 racing cars tackled the big Nordschleife race this year. More than 190 shouldn't have started anyway, out of consideration for the top teams, who prefer a free run to a turmoil like the rush hour in Tokyo. But you have to worry about the 24h race: No fan comes to see a 24h race of ten factory-supported GT3 cars.
The Nordschleife classic thrives on the variety of brands and the exoticism of the Diversity. Opel and VW fans have very little to laugh about today: their brands have almost completely disappeared. It was not the dinosaurs that died out at the Nürburgring, but the mosquitos in the starting field.
There is no question that top-class sport on the Nordschleife is booming, and popular sport is also undoubtedly suffering. Are we standing at a crossroads? Did the professionals drive the amateurs away because they bolted through traffic so ruthlessly? Or are the rapidly rising costs to blame?
The show is still impressive with 160 cars, even if you don't see much of it because the TV coverage was riddled with holes and the commentary was underground. A good dozen punctured tires produced spectacular YouTube snippets, like the Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, which at 250 km /h - filmed live from the front camera of an Audi R8 - the Yokohama tire goes off. It was not an isolated incident.
Apparently, some tire manufacturers had gambled with soft compounds during qualifying in order to be well ahead. The receipt came immediately, because three of the four qualifying tires also had to be used at the start. In addition, many small touches papered the Nordschleife with a carpet made of sharp-edged carbon splinters. In any case, the fans got something for their money.
When after 24 laps the Gemballa-McLaren spectacularly turned into a bag of carbon rubbish - this time on the way to the Schwedenkreuz, atCrossing the line with a straggler - the breathless, hectic race had passed its first climax.
The hours of truth
For the experts, the 24h race at the Nürburgring only really started now. Do all GT3s from Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche drive nine laps? How high is the consumption, how long are they in the box? And how fast can they drive, even if intervention cars blocked the way over long distances, accidents had to be cleared up and guard rails had to be repaired?
Without data analysis, purely by feeling, the pecking order seemed clear: BMW and especially the Dunlop-tyred Schubert-Z4s were extremely fast. However, the drive shafts on both cars had to be replaced because their angle of inclination duped the structural dimensions by a few degrees.
Audi and Mercedes positioned themselves behind BMW. Two out of the five-car fleet of the Ingolstadt-based company survived without an accident. Only one of the top three Mercedes cars crossed the finish line. After 24 hours, two Audi and one Benz were on the podium. And Porsche?
The analysis of the data
With the naked eye remains but much undiscovered. The mostly complicated truth is hidden in the endless columns of numbers. So let's bring the slide rule to the limit.
BMW should have won this race because they undoubtedly had the fastest car. The louvers on the front wheel arches granted for the 24h race at the Nürburgring cannot explain the dominance of the performance. On the contrary: the teams almost got tangled up with the wheel arch ventilation, because the cooling of the tire shoulders led to nasty understeer and increased wear and tear. The problem could not be cured until Friday through setup modifications.
Apparently the Schubert team withheld performance more than all opponents during the test races in the VLN. If the drive shafts hadn't broken down, we might never have seen the full potential of the Z4: Because the BMW of Jörg and Dirk Müller and Uwe Alzen really hit it after the relapse. This BMW hummed to all opponents between 2.3 and 4.0 seconds per lap.
The Schubert team proved to be a worthy factory representative: quick stops, faultless strategy. BMW was perfectly prepared for this: tire partner Dunlop brought six compounds to the ring for every five-degree jump in the outside temperature. And you usually seemed to have the right tires on your car during the race, which is undoubtedly an art. The sister car, which was less well occupied, also had a real chance of victory - before the drive shafts pulled back again.
Things were tight behind the outstanding BMW with the number 19: The remaining top cars fromBMW, Audi, Mercedes and Porsche were separated by only 1.739 seconds on average over the 70 fastest race laps. This also makes it unnecessary to discuss whether the approval of the new aero kit for Audi could have falsified the race. Audi was quick, but not superior.
The picture looks different at the pit stops: Here, the analysis reveals an imbalance that the technical commission broke into itself with the late decisions on tank contents and tank flow restrictors: Mercedes intervened Valuable seconds from every stop because the 125 liter tank capacity would not have been needed, but of course you benefited from the larger tank restrictor in the race.
Audi was less able to capitalize on the larger tank because the consumption of the V10 was worse. BMW had quick stops - sometimes amazingly fast ones - but in total it didn't matter because staying in the pit lane - measured from the pit entrance to the pit exit - did not produce any abnormalities. In contrast to Mercedes, BMW needed the additional five liters to be able to regularly jump over the nine-lap hurdle.
The loser in the tank skirmish was Porsche, as Olaf Manthey correctly predicted before the race: Eleven On average, seconds were lost for every stop at Mercedes and six seconds for Audi. A Porsche works driver remarked with biting mockery: “We started the race from the fourth group three minutes behind.” Unfortunately, true, because Porsche didn't have a fair chance: The car with the smallest displacement, the lowest power and the lowest consumption Most of the time in the pits when refueling.
And when you have the epidemic, then right away: One of the top manned Manthey 911s retired after an accident, the other was able to continue after Lucas Luhr's crash, but one cracked front diffuser caused epic understeer. So it was not surprising that the finale also went in the pants: seven seconds before the end you had to slip third place and 50 meters behind the finish line for the slapstick insert of the race: the already acidic Porsche engine died off, a subsequent Clio driver overlooked the abruptly slowing 911 and targeted it for volleyball - carbon salad instead of champagne break for Manthey Racing.
So the triple victory for Michelin just turned into a double victory. A lot is happening on the tire front at the Nürburgring: Hankook and Dunlop are on par with their development tires under dry conditions, even if they need more compounds than Michelin to cover all temperature ranges. Yokohama was also able to catch up with the leaders with the Haribo Corvette, for example. In damp and wet conditions, the BMW and Mercedes teams were able to put the Michelin delegations under pressure with Dunlop tires. The times whenAt the Nürburgring you were only able to win with Michelin tires.
The song of praise of the private teams
Did the classifications and the tank huddle decide the 24h race at the Nürburgring? You would have decided without a doubt, but a 24-hour race is not a long-haul flight where take-off and landing are certain. Theoretically, the first eight places would have been blocked by the works-supported teams, but the private teams came to kiss the hand due to failures and accidents. Performance and the pit stops show: second place. The small Belgian Marc VDS team surprisingly lifted the best-placed BMW Z4 to fourth place, and Klaus Abbelen's Porsche squad put - once again, one might add - the best Porsche in the 24h field with sixth place.
The GT3 class is by no means just a formula for success for the factories, but also for the private teams: Without the support of private sponsors, no Manthey 911 would have started. Without Jürgen Alzen, the subwoofer in the 24-hour field - the Ford GT - would have remained silent. And without sponsor Haribo, there would have been one less 911 at the start - and no Corvette. In the 30 fastest race laps, the muscle car from the GT3 forge at Callaway Competition was on a par with Audi and Mercedes. But an early tire damage cost two hours of repair time, and later you stood for another hour when the starter and throttle valve had to be replaced. Eleven minutes before the end of the race, the high-torque V8 engine died down after 2,850 kilometers. 'It's a shame,' said Callaway team boss Ernst Wöhr. “But it was nice at the Nürburgring anyway.” Who wants to disagree?