The BMW teams competing in the Nürburgring 24 Hour race were considered favorites heading into the event after winning the first three rounds of the Nürburgring Endurance Championship races that preceded the 24-hour race this season. They didn’t show that same speed in the qualifying sessions leading up to the race, but ended up with a second-place podium finish as many of the other BMW entries were retired or fell behind due to accidents and attrition.
In three combined qualifying sessions that set the grid for a final top-qualifying session, the fastest M4 GT3 was the #98 ROWE Racing car. It put in a time of 8:15.834, which was only good enough for sixteenth position and was 3.4 seconds off the fastest time of the #19 Frikadelli Racing Ferrari 296 GT3. In top qualifying, Augusto Farfus was the fastest BMW in the #99 ROWE Racing M4 GT3, but was still 2.9 seconds off the pole time of the #4 Mercedes-AMG GT3. The only other M4 GT3s in the top twenty were Dan Harper in the #72 BMW Junior Team car in seventeenth and the #100 Walkenhorst Motorsport car driven by Sammi Matti Trogen in nineteenth.
Before the race started on Saturday, the rule makers made a balance of performance adjustment to the M4 GT3s that included a 10-kg weight reduction and an increase in turbo boost in the lower part of the rev range. The M4 GT3 typically performs better over a race distance than it does in qualifying, and the performance adjustment also helped to make the BMWs more competitive in the race. By the sixth hour, the BMW entries from ROWE Racing and BMW M Team RMG (who were running the BMW Junior Team car) had moved up in the order and were gaining on the leaders.
Halfway through the race, the #98 ROWE Racing BMW and the #72 BMW Junior Team car had moved into second and third behind the leading Ferrari. Things started to unravel for some of the BMW entries once the second half of the race started. One of the biggest challenges of racing on the ‘Ring is dealing with slower traffic, and ROWE Racing was forced to retire the #99 M4 GT3 thirteen hours into the race after the car suffered damage to the front right when Connor De Phillippi made contact with a slower Porsche. Not long after that, the #72 BMW Junior Team car suffered damage after having a tire puncture. BMW M Team RMG tried to fix the car and get it back out but were also forced to retire.
As other BMWs were having issues, the #98 ROWE Racing car was putting pressure on the leading #30 Frikadelli Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 and traded the lead as pit stops cycled through. With six hours left, the BMW was running in second behind the Ferrari. The two cars would stay that way through the remainder of the race, with the #30 Ferrari taking the victory and the #98 ROWE Racing BMW M4 GT3 of Maxime Martin, Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Marco Wittmann finishing in second. The victory for Ferrari was pretty unusual for this race, which has been dominated by German brands BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes over five decades of existence.
The second-place finish for the #98 ROWE Racing M4 GT3 was impressive considering the team had started from way back in 31st on the grid. “Simply getting through this race without any major issues or incidents is a very good performance,” said Sheldon van der Linde after the race. “We saw a lot of crashes, particularly during the night. We wanted to survive that phase without any issues–and we managed that. We were just lacking a little bit of pace that would have allowed us to push for victory. However, we still produced a flawless race.” The #100 Walkenhorst Motorsport M4 GT3 was the only other GT3-spec BMW to finish the race, as they placed sixteenth overall and fifth in the Pro-Am class. The other Walkenhorst M4 GT3 entries were forced to retire after crashes.
Other BMWs were able to finish the race and win their classes. In the SP10 class for GT4-spec cars, the FK Performance Motorsport M4 GT4 driven by Christian Konnerth, Maxime Oosten, Lorenz Stegmann, and Miklas Born took the victory and the team also finished in third with their second car. In the BMW M240i Racing class (which was all M240i Racing entries), first place went to Adrenalin Motorsport Team Motec. An M4 GT4 also won the SP 8T class, with GITI Tire Motorsport by WS Racing getting the win in an F82-generation car, while Adrenalin Motorsport also won the VT 2 class with the BMW 330i.
[Photos courtesy BMW, ROWE Racing]