Updated: Sep 10
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Motorsports
Matteo Cairoli, Sven Müller and Christian Engelhart granted Porsche a home victory at the Green Hell. In the German Eiffel, they left no doubt whatsoever as to whom deserved victory most. The second step on the podium was occupied by the crew of the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes: Felipe Fraga, Timur Boguslavskiy and Raffaele Marciello took their 2nd podium finish in this years Endurance Cup following their third place in Imola. HRT Mercedes claimed the final podium spot, as Luca Stolz, Maro Engel and Vince Abril finished third.
In the Silver Cup, there was success for Garage 59 who took the win with their #159 Aston Martin. Valentin Hasse Clot, Andrew Watson and newcomer to the team James Pull finished a mere 0.242 seconds ahead of the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Patrick Kujala, Frederik Schandorff and Alex MacDowall. Phil Keen, together with Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Elia Erhart, took honours in Pro-Am in the #19 Lamborghini.
Porsche locked out the front row, as GPX Racing's #40 crew, with Romain Dumas, Dennis Olsen and Thomas Preining, took Pole ahead of the #54 Dinamic Racing 911 with Cairoli, Engelhart and Muller. Cairoli was second fastest in Q1 and Engelhart even topped the charts in Q2, but Müller didn't manage to get a clear lap in Q3. This costed them over 0.9 of a second to Thomas Preining, who in turn drove the fastest lap of all the weekend. The #163 Emil Frey Lamborghini of Perera, Altoe en Costa was third, and shared the first row with the first of the Audi's: the #66 Attempto car of Vervisch, Schramm and Drudi. Third row was completely occupied by Ferrari's: the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, WEC-tainted with James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen, and the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari alongside with Rigon, Sirotkin and Molina.
The WRT Audi team, dominant in the first events of the season in Imola and Misano, had its first car as far down as 11th (the #32 of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Chris Mies). The #31 car, which won the first Endurance Cup race in Imola even fell out of the top-20, with Van der Linde, Bortolotti and Ineichen in p22.
Despite their intentions to improve their qualy results, Optimum Motorsports with the #69 McLaren 720s had to commence the race from a 21st position on the grid. Difficulties lay mostly in Q2, where they didn't got further than 32nd on the timing lists.
Barwell Motorsport scored its first Pole of the season in the Silver Cup (18th overall) with the #78 Lambo driven by Patrick Kujala, Alex MacDowall and Frederik Schandorff. Their individual fastest laps were only 0.037s (yes, 37 thousands of a second) faster than the #15 Tech 1 Lexus. A great performance considering the qualifying results of the Lexus earlier this season in Imola (7th overall) and Misano (Pole Position overall in race 1 and 3). The Garage 59 Aston with Hasse Clot, Watson and youngster James Pull took third position on the grid (23rd overall).
To underline the competitiveness of this this GT3 field: the first 24 cars on the grid were all within a second.
The first corner at the Nürburgring lived up to its reputation as an executioner once again. Dennis Olsen, who took the start in the #40 GPX Porsche, got a reasonably good run towards the hairpin and seemed to manage to keep Engelhart in the #54 Porsche behind. Costa in the #163 Lambo though, took an incredible risk in the first corner of the six hour race, trying to force his way through on the inside of Olsen. Not even half alongside the Porsche, it ended in tears as the Lamborghini rammed the Porsche midship and pushed him into the gravel. Olsen eventually managed to get the car out of the gravel, but resumed the race a lap down from the leader.
In the chaos, James Calado, coming from 5th, seemed to miss his breaking point as well. This prevented the #66 Audi of Kim-Luis Schramm to take the turn as Calado went straight on. Molina in #72 SMP Ferrari was on the outside and was able to turn in but in doing so, he and Calado sandwiched the Audi. Calado was the most unfortunate: he had to retire his car. Schramm managed to continue but went through the grass two turns later, Molina dropped to p16. Schramm was forced to make a pitstop at the end of the lap, dropping him to p43.
After lap 1 the race was led by Albert Costa in the #163 Lambo followed by Christian Engelhart in the #54 Dinamic Porsche. And where there are losers, there are of course winners as well. Charles Weerts in the #32 WRT Audi jumped from p11 to p3 in the chaos at the first corner. Felipe Fraga in #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes followed in his tracks and moved up from p13 to p4. But the biggest leap was taken by Frederik Schandorff in the #78 Barwell Lambo. He catapulted himself from p18 to p5 after lap 1! Maxi Buhk in the #100 GetSpeed Mercedes was in 6th (from 15th), Vince Abril in the #4 HRT Mercedes 7th, Matt Campbell in the second GPX Porsche 8th, Marcus Winkelhock in the first Sainteloc Audi in 9th and Pierre-Alexandre Jean completed the top-10 in the #107 CMR Bentley.
A lap behind the Safety Car later and the #163 Lambo was in the pits to be pushed backwards into the box. The car had too suffered too much damage from the contact with the GPX Porsche. So now, Engelhart was in the lead ahead of Charles Weerts and Felipe Fraga.
Meanwhile, Rob Collard, in the other Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini, led the Pro-Am cup.
Tastemakers of the first half hour of the race were Timo Bernhard in the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche and Schramm in the #66 Attempto Audi. Bernhard made a couple of great passes moving him up to 15th. The move on the WRT Audi of Rolf Ineichen deserves special attention, as the Porsche veteran forced the Audi to defend, passing him along the outside a corner later. Three laps later, he performed an exact opposite move on Ollie Wilkinson in the Optimum McLaren, going round the outside in corner 1 and passing Wilkinson on the inside of corner 2.
Kim-Luis Schramm was also cutting his way through the field after his first lap drama. He was already up to 26th position after half an hour with 44 cars still in competition. Charles Weerts and Felipe Fraga fought an intense battle for p2. After numerous tries the Brazilian managed to overtake the Audi round the outside in turn 1. He was now on a mission to reel in the #54 Porsche of Engelhart, who by now was some 11 seconds ahead.
In the run up towards the first stops, things really started to heat up in the group right behind the top 3. The battle for 4th position was still led by Frederik Schandorff, the Silver Cup leader, in the #78 Barwell Lambo, followed by the AMGs of Buhk and Abril, the Audi of Marcus Winkelhock, the #12 GPX Porsche with Matt Campbell and Jordan Pepper in the #9 K-Pax Bentley. Dennis Lind in the #63 Orange FFF Lamborghini and Miguel Molina in the SMP Ferrari weren't far behind.
Minutes before the stops, Buhk, Campbell and Abril managed to get past Schandorff in the first sector. This was the sign for the other Pro-cars to open their attacks as well and in the minutes that followed Schandorff dropped from p4, to p7 and later even p10.
After the first series of pitstops, in which a couple of cars switched drivers and a couple didn't, the #54 Dinamic Porsche was still leading, now with Sven Müller behind the wheel. Timur Boguslavskiy in #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes, who took over from Felipe Fraga was in second, some sixteen seconds behind. Charles Weerts stayed in the #32 WRT Audi and was 7 seconds further back. Behind him were Abril (#4 HRT Mercedes), Campbell (#12 GPX Porsche), Pepper (#3 K-Pax Bentley), Buhk (#100 GetSpeed Mercedes), Winkelhock (#55 Sainteloc Audi) and Pierre-Alexandre Jean in the #107 CMR Bentley. Gaps between the cars where all between a couple of tenths and a second or three.
Schandorff in the #78 Barwell Lambo still led the Silver Cup, but he now had Aurélien Panis in the Tech 1 Lexus literally under his rear wing. Barwell also still led the Pro-Am cup with the #77 car, in which Sandy Mitchell now took over from Rob Collard. They had about a seven second gap to the #991 Herberth Motorsport Porsche with Robert Renauer driving.
In the next half hour, most of the attention went to the battle for the lead in the Silver Cup. Panis made several attempts to get by Schandorff, but the Dane, making his debut in the series with Barwell this season, managed to withstand them all. Mitchell, in the other Barwell Lambo, was now under the same amount of pressure from Robert Renauer, who had caught up to the gearbox of the #77.
In the meantime, Müller in front had built his lead to 17 seconds to the #88 Mercedes of Boguslavskiy. Weerts in the WRT Audi was 10 seconds further back, but Campbell in the #12 GPX Porsche, who overtook the #4 HRT Mercedes of Vince Abril had caught up to the Belgian and was only 4 tenths behind him. Abril and Pepper were another two seconds further back, just like Buhk and Winkelhock behind them.
At the same time Molina got past Mapelli in turn one, Matt Campell took 3rd position from Charles Weerts. He was now on his way towards Boguslavskiy who was some 12 seconds ahead. Within two laps, he was already three seconds away from Weerts.
A weird moment following a spin of Karim Ojjeh costed Schandorff the lead in the Silver Cup. A Full Course Yellow was announced, and went in, only to be withdrawn a second later. In the confusion that followed, Simona de Silvestro in the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche was most awake, as she got past both Panis and Schandorff. Worse for Schandorff was that Panis also managed to get past him.
Right before the second round of pitstops, a FCY was sparked by the spin of Mathias Lauda in the JP Motorsport Mercedes in the NGK chicane. This caused an organised chaos in pit lane as almost all cars came in simultaneously.
Racing resumed when the safety car left the track with 3 hours and 50 minutes to go. The whole field was back together. Matteo Cairoli, now in the #54 Dinamic Porsche, led from Fraga in the AKKA ASP Mercedes. Patrick Pilet, who was now in the #12 GPX Porsche, was 3rd followed by Buncombe in the #9 Bentley, Boccolacci, who took over from Marcus Winkelhock in the #25 Sainteloc Audi and Chris Mies. who took over from Charles Weerts in the #32 WRT Audi. Leaders in the Silver Cup were really close together with no cars in between: Thomas Neubauer in the #15 Lexus led from the Barwell Lamborghini with now Alex MacDowall behind the wheel and Valentin Hasse Clot in the #159 Garage 59 Aston. The Pro-Am cup was still led by the other Barwell Lambo with now Rob Bell in the car.
Cairoli managed to quickly create a gap towards Fraga, Pilet and Buncombe behind him. By the time they cleared the backmarkers in between them, Cairoli was already a second or 7 ahead. Between Fraga and Pilet was about a second while Buncombe and Mies where a couple of seconds further back. A great battle broke out between the latter two who went door-to-door a couple of times, before it was decided in favor of the Audi two laps later.
A contact between the #56 Dinamic Porsche with Mikkel Pedersen at the wheel and the leader in the Pro-Am cup Rob Collard in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini led to another FCY as the Porsche was stuck in the gravel at the chicane. It was a bit early for a third stop, but almost all teams took the opportunity to stop under caution. This was where the #15 Lexus ran into trouble as it spend a couple of minutes in pitlane as the mechanics tried to solve a technical issue.
After this round of pitstops, things in the top 10 got a bit shuffled. First of all, we had a new leader since AKKA ASP decided not to bring in Boguslavskiy's #88 car and stayed out. Engelhart, back in the #54 Porsche was now second, Pilet in the #12 Porsche was third. The Audi's of Boccolacci and Mies were 4th and 5th, followed by Luca Stolz in the #4 Mercedes and Buncombe, who dropped back a bit during his stop in the #9 Bentley. 8th was Dennis Lind in the Orange FFF Lambo with Grenier in the Emil Frey Lambo behind.
Valentin Hasse Clot now led the race in the Silver Cup for Garage 59, with Frederik Schandorff in the Barwell car right behind. The slight engine issue with the car seemed cleared. The #89 Mercedes of Benjamin Hites was two cars further back. Thomas Drouet was leading Pro-Am in the #87 Mercedes, followed by Bohn in the #991 Herberth Porsche and Hamaguchi in the #19 Orange FFF Lambo. Leo Machitski, who took over from Rob Collard in the #77 Barwell Lambo was still 4th in class.
Christian Engelhart didn't spend much time behind Boguslavskiy at the restart as he passed the young Russian the first opportunity he got: in turn 1. 15 minutes later, he had created a gap towards the group with Boguslavskiy, Boccolacci, Pilet, Mies and Luca Stolz of 10 seconds. Buncombe and Lind followed some three seconds further back. Sirotkin in 9th had a gap in front of about 8 seconds.
With little over 2,5 hours to go, the order from p2 until p8 abruptly shuffled. First, Boccolacci managed to squeeze his white and yellow Audi past the Mercedes of Boguslavskiy at the chicane. Although he ploughed heavily through the gravel, he managed to stay in front of the #88 Mercedes. As the Mercedes didn't have the best possible exit out of the chicane, this gave Pilet and Mies the opportunity to attack him as well. Both tried, both failed, as Boguslavskiy meant to sell his life dearly. At the next corner, the hairpin after start-finish, Pilet, Mies and now also Stolz tried again. Mies and Pilet went door handle-to-door handle all the way through the Mercedes Arena, trading paint every chance they got. In their efforts to defend and attack positions from each other, Pilet and Mies opened the door for Luca Stolz to snatch 4th. On the straight after the Mercedes Arena Mies forced Pilet a bit on the gras, but the Frenchman managed to hold on to 5th for now. All this battling had given Alex Buncombe and Dennis Lind the opportunity to catch up to the rear of Mies by now.
Just when we thought things had calmed down a bit again, message came from race control that Boccolacci had to give a position back to Boguslavskiy. Harsh for Boccolacci as he was already a second or three away from the Mercedes. And where could he best do this, to not let Stolz, and maybe even Pilet, get by as well? Eventually he let Boguslavskiy by round the outside in the last corner, in an attempt to get a good exit onto the main straight. He succeeded only partially as not only he got himself a good exit, but gave Stolz the opportunity to get under his rear wing as well. And so they went, three wide into the first corner. In the second corner, a long left hander, Boccolacci threw his car on the inside of Boguslavskiy a bit too optimistic, leading to a contact which got him into a spin. Stolz' evasive maneuvers cost him two positions as Pilet and Mies got by again, but his effort to avoid a collision was successful. Pilet and Mies also profited from the impact on Boguslavskiy as they managed to force their cars through on the next straight. They were now 2nd and 3rd, Boguslavskiy 4th, Stolz 5th, Buncombe 6th and Lind 7th. Boccolacci dropped to 10th.
In the next phase, some couples formed as Pilet and Mies managed to pull away a bit from Boguslavskiy and Stolz. They in turn, created a small gap towards Buncombe and Lind. Sirotkin was catching up to Lind as well, with the gap now at about two seconds.
With just over 2 hours to go, suddenly the #12 GPX Porsche of Pilet was in the barriers. It seemed like the car snapped away from underneath him, sending him off into the tires. He picked up severe body work damage, putting him out of contention for a good result.
Right after the 4 hour mark, there was a disturbing moment leading up to a new FCY. Ricardo Feller, who'd just taken over the wheel in the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini, was waving left to right on the track. It first seemed he then tried to reset the car on the main straight, only to go off track again before the first corner, than cut through the inside of the hairpin, and finally park his car on the outside of turn 2. Later, the team made known that the car seemed ok, but Feller reported he suddenly lost his orientation and felt dizzy, forcing him to get out of the car. He was sent to the Medical center, but his situation is not yet known.
When the race got underway again with less than 2 hours to go, the #54 Dinamic Porsche was still in the lead, Sven Müller was now back in the car. The #32 WRT Audi was in second, with now Dries Vanthoor who took over from Christopher Mies. Raffaele Marciello, in the #88 was third followed by the #63 Orange FFF Lamborghini of Marco Mapelli, Maro Engel in the #4 HRT Mercedes, Christopher Haase in the #25 Sainteloc Audi and Andy Soucek in the #9 K-Pax Bentley. Davide Rigon (#72 Ferrari), Timo Bernhard, back in the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche and Fabian Schiller in the #100 Mercedes completed the top-10.
James Pull, in his first race for Garage 59, led the Silver Cup in the #159 Aston, followed by Patrick Kujala in the Barwell Lamborghini. Robert Renauer led the Pro-Am cup in the Herberth Motorsport Porsche with Phil Keen in the #19 Orange FFF Lambo right behind him.
In the next half hour, the status quo was somewhat maintained. In the top-10, only Schiller lost a position to Mirko Bortolotti in the #31 WRT Audi. Sven Müller had managed to create a two second gap towards Vanthoor, Marciello followed 7 seconds further back, with Mapelli, Engel, Haase and Soucek on his tail. Bernhard, Rigon en Bortolotti were a second or three down the road.
Then suddenly came the message from race control that Dries Vanthoor's car, the #32 Audi, got served a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release no less than two hours earlier. Serving the penalty dropped the car from second to 13th. By the time we got to next round of stops, Vanthoor had already worked himself back up to 11th.
Most noteworthy moment in the run up to that last series of pit stops was Haase passing Engel for p4. A small error from Engel in the hairpin sparked the fuse and half a lap later Haase sealed the deal.
With little over an hour to go, Haase was also the first to make his final stop. Davide Rigon in the SMP Ferrari and Dries Vanthoor in the #32 WRT Audi took their last stop almost 15 minutes later, but after all cars had came in, Matteo Cairoli was back in the lead in the #54 Porsche. Marciello and Engel followed in the #88 and #4 Mercedes', Caldarelli in the #63 Lamborghini was 4th, Soucek 5th in the Bentley followed by an Audi trio consisting of Bortolotti, Vanthoor and Haase. Davide Rigon and Simona de Silvestro completed the top-10. James Pull in the #159 Aston still led the Silver Cup from Patrick Kujala #78 Lamborghini, while Daniel Allemann, now in the #991 Porsche still led the Pro-Am cup ahead of Phil Keen in the #19 Lamborghini.
In the last phase of the race, all eyes were on the battle for p4. Vanthoor seemed to come out strongest first, passing Bortolotti, Soucek and than Caldarelli. Next, it was Soucek's turn to try and get passed the Lamborghini. With some 25 minutes to go, he got his chance when Caldarelli had a suboptimal exit from the chicane heading towards the last corner. In an effort to defend his position on the inside and still get a good exit onto the main straight, the Lamborghini slowed down to such a degree, Soucek could not avoid hitting him. Many parts, especially from the Bentley, were flying but Soucek managed to get passed. In the ruckus that followed, Bortolotti also managed to get by Caldarelli. Next, both Haase and Rigon (in ever switching order) tried to get past as well.
Rigon seemed to become the first that succeeded with 20 minutes to go, but Caldarelli again held on for dear life yet again and fended off the Ferrari. This gave Haase an opportunity yet again to get alongside Rigon, and yet again, they sent parts flying. This time however, not without a victim. Rigon suffered a right rear puncture dropping him well out of the top-10.
15 minutes from the finish, while passing a backmarker, Bortolotti finally managed to get by Soucek in what was left of his Bentley. He was now on a chase towards Dries Vanthoor, who in the meantime had caught up to the rear of Maro Engel. With only 8 minutes to go, attention shortly shifted to the #63 Lamborghini of Caldarelli suffering a puncture, making him fall out of the top-10. But by this time it was hard to split attention between the battle for 3rd and the battle for the lead between James Pull and Patrick Kujala. Both were separated only by mere tenths of a second.
Even though battles were fierce in the end, no position changes were to be noted. Except one. In the final lap, when Cairoli had already taken the chequered flag in the #54 Dinamic Porsche, Boguslavskiy had already taken second, Vanthoor suddenly lost speed in the final meters of the race. Might have been a technical issue, might have been a fuel shortage, but it cost him 4th as Bortolotti got by only meters from the line. Andy Soucek crossed the line sixth in the remains of his Bentley, ahead of Haase in the Sainteloc Audi. Fabian Schiller in the GetSpeed Mercedes took 8th, ahead of De Silvestro in the ROWE Porsche. Alexandre Imperatori sneaked the #21 KCMG Porsche into the top-10 in the final laps.
Optimum Motorsport had a bit of an anonymous race but they got a solid result with p11 at the finish. They steadily worked their way up from their 21st grid position and had a mostly trouble free run. This should give a considerable amount of trust towards the 24 hours of Spa.
James Pull had an amazing first race in the Garage 59 Aston, as he dragged the victory over the line while being under constant pressure from Patrick Kujala for the last hour of the race. Patrick Assenheimer took the last podium spot in the MadPanda Mercedes. In Pro-Am, there was more success for Britain as Phil Keen scored a victory in the #19 Orange FFF Lamborghini.
And so we can conclude, luckily, that the Audi's can be beaten. Their dominant form in Imola and Misano is certainly not a coincidence, but it also isn't a certainty. At the Nürburging, the Porsches looked like they were the cars to beat, also witnessing the strong race pace of the ROWE Racing and KCMG Porsche's. Mercedes and Bentley looked strong as well. This promises a lot for the next Endurance Cup outing, which is the Total 24 hours of Spa. Ahead of that race, we can still look forward to two Sprint Cup events, first in Magny Cours, France 11-13th of September, and two weeks later in the Dutch dunes of Zandvoort.
For full race results click here.
For the championship standings click here.
Re-watch the full race: