You read that right. The Nürburgring 24 Hour race only had 7.5 hours of green flag running this year in racing conditions. Fog fell over the track at around 11:30 P.M. on Saturday night, causing a red flag stoppage that lasted through the end of the race, with an anticlimactic five final laps run around behind the safety car. The ‘Ring 24 Hour has often had issues with weather, but this year’s race ended up being the shortest one in the race’s 52-year history.

The M4 GT3s entered in the race were very quick in the practice sessions leading up to the race, and Max Hesse then put the #72 BMW M Team RMG M4 GT3 that he shared with Dan Harper and Charles Weerts on the pole with an 8:10.992 lap. At just 22 years old, Hesse became the youngest driver ever to be on pole for this race. The #99 ROWE Racing M4 GT3 of Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor, Robin Frijns and Augusto Farfus qualified seventh, while the #98 ROWE Racing entry of Marco Wittmann, Maxime Martin, Raffaele Marciello and Farfus (who was driving in both ROWE cars) ended up down in 21st.

Max Hesse became the youngest driver ever to get pole for the ‘Ring 24 Hour.

The weather was a crapshoot from the start, with some teams starting on slicks while others started on rain tires. BMW M Team RMG chose to start on slicks but brought the car in after the formation lap to put rain tires on, as rain started to fall while the cars were sitting on the starting grid. ROWE Racing had a split strategy with their two cars, with Wittmann starting the #99 on slicks (which was also brought in for rain tires after the formation lap), and Farfus starting the #98 on rain tires.

With rain tires on his car, Farfus sliced through the field to move up to the front from seventh within 20 minutes, as Wittmann (in #99) and Dan Harper (in #72) also gained positions after switching to rain tires. Sheldon van der Linde continued to hold the lead in the #98 after taking over from Farfus but was taken out of the race when a Porsche in a lower class clipped him as he went by, resulting in a three-car accident that also took out a BMW 1 Series. “My heart hurts after such an accident, and it wasn’t my fault,” said van der Linde. “If I were in that situation again, I would do exactly the same thing. I believe the driver in the other car didn’t see me. I was in her blind spot as I passed. I was almost past, and then she hit me on the left rear. Then I hit another car that was completely uninvolved, and that’s how it happened.”

By Saturday evening, the #72 BMW had moved into second place after Harper traded the lead with the #16 Audi and held that spot until the red flag was flown due to fog late on Saturday night. The fog never lifted, and the race was finished with five slow laps behind the safety car on Sunday. Although initially classified in second, the #72 BMW was ultimately placed in third when required minimum pitstop times were factored in. The #16 Scherer Sport PHX Audi was classified as the winner, with the #911 Manthey EMA Porsche in second. The #98 finished in seventh.
Max Hesse had mixed feelings after the race. “Of course, we are super happy that we finished and are on the podium with P3,” he said. “We would have liked to make more use of our pace, but we couldn’t race again today, although it must be said that we were a bit lucky because other cars went to the pits. If it had been a green flag, it might have been difficult for us with the fuel but we are on the podium, although of course, we would have liked to have landed two steps higher.”

BMW M Team RMG drivers Daniel Harper (left), Charles Weerts (center) and Max Hesse celebrate third place.

The ‘Ring 24 Hour features several classes of race cars, and BMWs were triumphant in several other classes. Most notably, the #188 FK Performance Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 of Maxime Oosten, Nick Wuenstenhagen, Nick Hancke and Lorenz Philipp Stegmann won the SP10 class, and the #145 Cerny Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 driven by former BMW works driver Timo Glock, Timo Scheider, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Peter Cate won the SP8T class.

The Nürburgring 24 Hour this year was round two of the four-round Intercontinental GT Challenge series, which also includes the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia, the Spa 24 Hour in Belgium and the Indy 8 Hour in the USA. Next up in that series is the Spa 24 Hour on June 27th-30th, which is the largest GT3 endurance race in the world.

—David Haueter
[Photos courtesy Gruppe C Photography]




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