BMW teams were back to the Nürburgring this weekend for a pair of three-hour qualifying races to determine the grid for the 24-hour race that’s coming up at the track in two weeks. As in the previous NLS (Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) race two weeks ago, the M4 GT3 proved to be very quick around the Ring, and looks to be a formidable competitor for the 24-hour race. Most of the M4 GT3s on the entry proved to be very competitive, but the BMW Junior Team put in standout performances in both races.
On Friday evening, veteran works driver Augusto Farfus qualified on the pole for the three-hour race on Saturday and set a new practice lap record of 8:08.421 on the 24-hour circuit in the #99 Rowe Racing M4 GT3. The 24-hour circuit uses part of the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit as well as the Nordschleife that winds for miles through the German countryside. BMW Junior driver Max Hesse qualified right behind Farfus in the #72 M4 GT3, was followed in third by Christian Krognes in the #101 M4 GT3 of Walkenhorst Motorsport.
In Race One on Saturday, the #99 Rowe Racing BMW and the #72 BMW Junior Team car picked up where they left off at the end of the NLS race two weeks ago, where they finished one-two. The drivers in the two cars battled from the start of the race, with Junior driver Dan Harper getting by Nick Yelloly in the #99 car about halfway through the race. Harper then built up a lead and the team held on to it through the remainder of the race, with Harper, Max Hesse, and Neil Verhagen getting the victory ahead of the #99 BMW of Yelloly, Farfus, and Phillipp Eng.
In the qualifying session for the second race on Sunday, Christian Krognes took the pole in the #101 Walkenhorst car, followed by Harper in the #72. It looked for a while like several M4 GT3s would finish in the top ten and potentially sweep the podium, but bad luck and mistakes played a major role in Sunday’s race. The pole-sitting #101 Walkenhorst car was involved in an accident and had to retire, and both Rowe Racing cars had issues, with an ABS sensor failing in the #99 car and the #98 having a collision with another car in pit lane.
The #72 BMW Junior Team M4 GT3 stayed up front and crossed the finish line in first place, but the team was handed a 40-second time penalty for speeding in a caution zone during the race. That gap sent them to second place and handed the victory to the #3 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Max Hesse, who was in the car at the end, put in some blistering laps in the closing stages to keep the car in second place with the penalty. “Our record for the weekend is a very positive one. We are very happy. I think we are on the right track in terms of our preparations for the 24-hour race. We obviously still have some work ahead of us, but we are happy so far. The car is working well, the team did a mega job and the pit stops have been super. I think we are really well prepared,” said Hesse after the race.
The pair of qualifying races at the Ring showed that there will be several M4 GT3 teams that can potentially fight for the win in 24-hour race coming up in two weeks, but there will be several works-backed Porsche, Mercedes- and Audi teams that will also be very competitive. It should be a great race. —David Haueter
[Photos courtesy BMW, Rowe Racing]