This past weekend, several current and former Super GT drivers were in action in Germany for the six-hour qualifying race for the Nürburgring 24 Hour Race on May 27-28.
A primer for the big race in May, the Qualifying Race saw 99 cars entered, who will all be in action next month for the great race around the clock in the Eifel Mountains – this included four squads representing both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Thailand, who won the SP3T and SP3 classes respectively in the qualifying race.
In the overall battle for top honours, Super GT alumnus Jörg Bergmeister drove to a podium finish for the Falken Motorsports Porsche team, in a race won by Audi following late drama in the final half-hour.
With one hour remaining in the six-hour qualifying race, the striking Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG) 003C of Traum Motorsport, which took overall pole position, was well on its way to winning before Felipe Fernandez Laser went off into the gravel with a brake failure, just a handful of laps from the finish.
That opened the door for the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS of former DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller, Nicolaj Møller Madsen, and Dennis Busch to take the win, leading home an Audi 1-2 over the Audi Sport Team WRT entry of Nico Müller and Frederic Vervisch.
The Falken Porsche of former KTR driver Bergmeister, Laurens Vanthoor, and Dirk Werner finished in third, to recover from a disastrous end to the VLN season opener in March.
Also in the mix in SP9 was BMW Team Studie driver – and two-time Nürburgring 24H winner – Jörg Müller, who returned to the ‘Ring for Schubert Motorsport, driving their #19 BMW M6 GT3 to a seventh-place finish overall, one of three BMWs to crack the overall top ten.
Müller was joined by co-drivers Jens Klingmann, Tom Onslow-Cole, and John Edwards.
Out of the Porsche camp, 2017 VLN1 winners Manthey Racing finished 11th overall with the #911 Porsche GT3-R driven by former Toyota Team SARD driver Romain Dumas, Patrick Pilet, and Richard Lietz.
And D’station Racing’s new GT300 ace, Sven Müller, finished 15th in the #59 Manthey Porsche, co-driven with Steve Smith, Reinhold Renger, and Harl Proczyk.
SP3T, for turbocharged cars with 1750-2000cc of engine capacity, featured a strong 9-car entry, headlined by the Toyota Gazoo Racing Lexus LC of Takuto Iguchi, Naoya Gamou, and reigning GT300 champion Takamitsu Matsui.
Now working on the same side after their heated battle for 2nd in GT300 at Okayama, Gamou and Matsui, along with Subaru R&D Sport driver Iguchi, put in an incredible showing to win the SP3T class by two laps, and place 23rd overall out of 68 finishers.
It’s the TGR Lexus LC’s second class victory of 2017, having already won SP3T in the VLN1 event in March.
“The car performed really well from the start,” said Iguchi, who raced the car for the first time this past weekend, “and I am sure that we will be able to achieve an effective balance between fuel economy and lap times in the 24 Hours race.”
“There were some new problems, however, such as a slight understeer tendency that exerts excessive load on the front tires, and a lack of power when accelerating out of corners. Otherwise the performance was really good—maybe even too good in some ways! You can never be sure what will happen in The 24 Hours of Nürburgring.”
The trio will compete together in the next Super Taikyu Endurance Series round, this weekend at Sportsland SUGO, for TOM’s Spirit in their Toyota 86.
Defending Nürburgring 24H SP3T winners Subaru Technica International (STI) retired their WRX STI after 28 laps with a mechanical issue.
Their lineup for the 24H will be anchored by Subaru R&D Sport ace Hideki Yamauchi, former GT500 race winner Carlo van Dam, and German drivers Marcel Laase and Tim Schrick.
In SP3 (naturally aspirated cars with 1750-2000cc of engine capacity), it was Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Thailand’s #124 Corolla Altis, anchored by Panther Team Thailand aces Nattavude Charoensukhawatana (3rd from left) and Nattapong Horthongkum (2nd from left), who took their all-Thai squad to the class victory, completing 33 laps and finishing 59th overall.
Nattavude and Nattapong were joined by co-drivers Suttipong Smittachartch (4th from left) and Manat Kulapalanont (far left). Former GT300 class race winner, Takayuki Kinoshita, was entered in the #123 Corolla Altis that failed to finish the race.
Second in class was the TGR #120 Toyota 86, driven by reigning GT300 drivers’ champion Takeshi Tsuchiya, and the most experienced woman driver in Super GT history, Kumi Sato, alongside Hisashi Yabuki – who finished 43 seconds back of the Thai Corolla Altis.
Elsewhere in the field, former GT500 and GT300 race winner Dominik Schwager finished 16th overall in a Renault Sport R.S.01, taking class victory in SP-X.
All these teams, and more, will make the trek to the Green Hell for the big race next month, in an event that will garner a lot of interest from Japan due to the factory involvement from Toyota and Subaru.