The 45th ADAC Nürburgring 24 Hours produced a gripping and memorable finish in the final half hour of the race on Sunday afternoon. As picture-perfect weather suddenly turned to heavy rain, a last-minute gamble to go to wet tyres proved to be the move to help Audi Sport Team Land take the overall victory in the most prestigious production-based endurance race on Earth.
Markus Winkelhock won his third N24H, the second for Christopher Mies, and the first for American Connor de Philippi and South African Kelvin van der Linde, aboard the #29 Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, which scored Audi’s fourth overall victory in the race’s history.
In this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, there were also nearly twenty current and former drivers from the Autobacs Super GT Series taking part, and their results were headlined by a second-place finish in the SP3T class for the #170 Toyota Gazoo Racing Lexus RC coupe, piloted by reigning Suzuka 1000km winner Takuto Iguchi, reigning GT300 Drivers’ Champion Takuto Iguchi, and K2 LEON R&D Racing ace Naoya Gamou, with Hisashi Yabuki joining them.
The TGR Lexus RC completed 145 mostly trouble-free laps around the fabled 25-kilometer “Green Hell”. Save for one bit of contact and subsequent repairs, they were able to avenge their retirement in 2016 by finishing second in the SP3T class, for 1750-2000cc turbocharged production specials.
And Iguchi, Matsui, and Gamou – who have all had their battles with each other in Super GT – worked seamlessly with gentleman driver Yabuki to deliver a great result.
“I’m glad that we fulfilled our goal of finishing the race,” said Iguchi, who set the car’s fastest lap in the race, “but I’m also frustrated because winning was within sight. I feel like the Nürburgring said to us, ‘Come on back next year to win.’
“In fact, as I recalled the test, where we had a series of problems during the race, I realized that our RC has reached the point where it can compete with the Audi TT RS and Subaru WRX STI. We’re able to race aggressively thanks to the all the hard work of our engineers and mechanics.”
They finished four minutes behind the SP3T winners, LMS Motorsport, and the #89 Audi TT RS2 driven by Stefan Weininger, Ulrich Andree, Daniela Schmid, and Christian Schmitz – each and every one of whom should be no less than overjoyed and proud to have bested a full-factory team with three of the best sports car drivers in the world on board.
Heading into this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, the #90 Subaru WRX STI had won SP3T the last two years, and current Subaru R&D Sport star Hideki Yamauchi, former GT500 race winner Carlo van Dam, and German co-pilots Marcel Lasee and Tim Schrick were determined to make it a three-peat in 2017.
Their story would end just three hours from the goal, when the WRX STI’s engine caught flames after completing 126 laps. Van Dam was thankfully able to step out of the burning car unhurt and unassisted, but the race was over for Subaru.
Back up to SP9, the premier class of the Nürburgring 24 Hours, BMW Team Studie Super GT driver, and two-time N24H winner Jörg Müller had a busy day driving both the #19 and #20 Schubert Motorsport BMW M6 GT3s at points during the race.
It was the #20 Schubert BMW, which Müller shared with Jesse Krohn, Bruno Spengler, and Kuno Wittmer, that finished in eleventh place overall – with the #19 of Müller, Jens Klingmann, John Edwards, and Tom Onslow-Cole in twelfth place overall.
For Super GT rookie sensation Sven Müller, however, his promising N24H debut from eighth on the grid was halted after recurring gearbox issues forced his #59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R to retire, having completed just 103 laps and 18 hours of the race.
Not the way that Müller, the reigning Porsche Carrera Cup Germany and Porsche Supercup champion, and now driving for D’station Racing in the GT300 class, wanted things to end – nor for his co-drivers Steve Smith, Randy Walls, and Harold Proczyk.
Back down to SP3 momentarily, and Toyota Gazoo Racing Team Thailand put both of their Toyota Corolla Altis sedans into the top ten in the class, led by the #123 Corolla Altis in eighth place, which was co-driven by Panther Team Thailand GT300 pilots Nattavude Charoensukhawatana and Nattapong Horthongkum – along with Panther Team Thailand’s team director, Suttipong Smittachartch.
The sister car, the #124, co-driven by former Super Taikyu champion and GT300 race winner Takayuki Kinoshita, finished a lap behind in ninth.
And a special shoutout to Super Taikyu champions Junichi Umemoto and Kouichi Okumura, who joined up in the #128 Renault Clio Cup car to take 2nd place in the SP3 class!
Both the TGR Thailand Corolla Altis finished ahead of the #41 NOVEL Racing Lexus IS-F CCS-R, piloted by former GT300 Drivers’ Champion Kota Sasaki, and his German co-drivers Uwe Kleen, Marcel Völker, and Michael Tischner. They were a distant fifth in the SP8 class after a tough race saw them complete over fifty fewer laps than the class-winning, factory-run Aston Martin GT8.
There were also a number of former Super GT drivers in this year’s field. Augusto Farfus, BMW Team Studie’s frequent third driver for the Suzuka 1000km, was the best of such drivers in 4th place overall for BMW Team Schnitzer.
But the best-ranked full-time Super GT alumni were former Fuji 500km winner Peter Dumbreck, and former GT300 class race winner Alexandre Imperatori, who joined co-drivers Stef Dusseldorp and Marco Seefried in piloting Falken Motorsports’ #33 BMW M6 GT3 to an eighth-place overall finish.
Fellow Super GT alumnus Romain Dumas, Frédéric Makowiecki (#911 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R), Jörg Bergmeister (#44 Falken Porsche 911 GT3-R), Christian Mamerow (#38 Bentley Team Abt Continental GT3), and Dominik Schwager (#35 Renault R.S. 01) sadly did not finish the race.