A handful of drivers from the Autobacs Super GT Series were not present in the second and final pre-season test at Fuji Speedway. Instead, they were racing around the fabled Nürburgring for the opening round of the VLN Endurance Racing Championship.
German drivers Jörg and Sven Müller raced for BMW and Porsche respectively in the premier SP9 category for FIA GT3 cars, while further down the grid, defending GT300 champion Takamitsu Matsui partnered with Naoya Gamou to drive the Toyota Gazoo Racing Lexus RC in the SP3T class for turbocharged production cars from 1750cc to 2000cc of engine capacity.
It was a great weekend for the current Super GT drivers, in a four-hour race that was won outright by two French Super GT alumni, Romain Dumas and Frédéric Makowiecki, who joined countryman Patrick Pilet in the winning Porsche 911 GT3-R for Manthey Racing.
A total of 192 cars took the start of the four-hour enduro, with Porsches leading the way at the front. Victory seemed assured for Falken Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3-R, driven by Laurens Vanthoor, Martin Ragginger, and former Excellence Porsche Team KTR driver Jörg Bergmeister.
But on the 27th and penultimate lap, Vanthoor crashed from the lead while negotiating slower traffic. That handed the victory to the pole-winning #911 Manthey Racing car of Pilet, Dumas, and Makowiecki, the first all-French trio to win a VLN event.
It was another fine victory for the well-traveled, reigning World Endurance Drivers’ Champion Dumas, who raced for Toyota Team SARD back in the 2001 All-Japan GT Championship. His co-driver Makowiecki raced for Weider Honda Racing/Dome from 2013 to 2014, winning the 2013 International Suzuka 1000km with Naoki Yamamoto.
Manthey Racing also won the new SP9 Pro-Am Trophy sub-class, with their #12 Porsche driven by Otto Klohs, Robert Renauer, and Sven Müller, who drives for D’Station Racing this season. They finished 17th overall.
Jörg Müller of BMW Team Studie partnered Canadians Kumo Wittner and Bruno Spengler in the #20 BMW M6 GT3 for Schuberth Motorsport. They finished 23rd overall, the last car to complete all 28 laps.
For Toyota Gazoo Racing, this opening VLN round would serve as preparation for the Nürburgring 24 Hours in May. Matsui, from VivaC Team Tsuchiya, and Gamou, from K2 R&D LEON Racing, were entrusted to put their turbocharged Lexus RC through its paces.
They did just that, winning the SP3T category by nearly ten whole minutes, and finishing 47th in the overall running order out of 139 finishers.
Christian Mamerow (12th – Bentley Team Abt), Tom Coronel (14th – Zakspeed Nissan), and Alexandre Imperatori (16th – Falken Motorsports BMW) complete the running order for Super GT alumni in the field.