Rain, fog and a lengthy red flag made up for one of the shortest 24 hours of Nürburgring.
After a 4-hour sprint race on Sunday, the challenging endurance classic recorded several female class podiums: among them, a victory for the all-female 'Girls Only' team of Carrie Schreiner, Célia Martin, Pippa Mann, Christina Nielsen, as well as Jasmin Preisig's second place in SP3T.
Before the race
The 2021 edition of the 24 hours of the Nürburgring could not have started without a fitting tribute to the memory of Sabine Schmitz. The legendary German driver, who passed earlier this year, was the first woman to claim victory in the mighty endurance race at the Ring in 1996 and 1997. Her teammate in her winning years, Johannes Scheid, drove a lap of honor behind the wheel of the BMW M3 "Eifelblitz", a replica of the winning car from 1996. The other teams and drivers applauded in the pitlane, in what was a really emotional moment. The Nordschleife saluted its Queen.
The story of the race
The Rowe-BMW #1 had the better start from pole, but was soon passed by Luca Stolz in the HRT-Mercedes #4, while many cars came back to the pits for a tyre change: the track was was moist in many parts and teams had to quickly adapt their strategies. Stolz, on cut slicks, pulled away, as he clearly opted for the best tyre choice at that moment.
The first drama came early for the Porsche 911 #69: the car caught fire and remained parked trackside. Driver Robin Chrzanowski was able to leave the car and helped the marshals to extinguish the fire. The first retirement came on the first lap of the race.
As the rain increased more and more, cars slid off the track; the heavy aquaplaning in many places of the Nordschleife forced the teams to change to wet tyres. More crashes wrote the story of the race from then on: the first two hours were drama-filled and surely rain-filled. In extremely difficult conditions, the leading car that emerged was the Manthey-Porsche #911, ahead of the HRT-Mercedes #4 and the Rowe-BMW #1.
A thrilling moment for Stefan Banner saw his Porsche Cayman GT4 #87 getting loose over a bump before Hohenrain. Banner slipped at high speed off the track and crashed heavily into the wall. The driver was quickly attended to after the accident and complained of back pain.
At the end of the first five hours, the fog increased, as some areas of the track were declared Code-60 zones. And then - 7 hours into the race - the red flag was called. The fog was too thick and safety comes first.
The fog and the night
The race was interrupted with no Parc-ferme-conditions, so all teams were allowed to work on their cars to repair damages. Then the news broke out - there would be no further info until 6 in the morning. Enough time to get some sleep and get ready for a new day of racing.
The restart was initially scheduled for 7am, but the fog was surely still too dense to even imagine the green flag being waved anytime soon. The waiting game began. Finally, at 11:40 - over 14 hours after the stop - engines roared and cars were back on the Nordschleife for a new formation lap.
The story of the race - Part 2
The second part of the race started with the Rowe-BMW #1 team in the overall lead, but the BMW crew had one pit stop less on the board and the car had come back in soon.
The conditions remained thoroughly difficult and soon many cars were spotted off the track around the course. One of the toughest accidents involved one of the overall victory contenders, as Maro Engel - driver of the #4 AMG - collided with the iconic Manta and crashed hard into the barriers at Hohenrain. Both drivers were unharmed.
An intensifying battle for the victory then saw Kelvin van der Linde in his #29 Land-Audi and the Rutronik-Porsche #3 making contact and crashing out of the race. This turn of events left the best chances to the Manthey Porsche "Grello". But it was far from over: Klaus Bachler, behind the wheel of the Falken-Porsche #44 and Daniel Juncadella in the GetSpeed-Mercedes #7 marked the final stages of the race with an awesome battle for third overall.
The 24h race - albeit a disrupted one - still provided some great racing and, at 3:30pm, the chequered flag signalled the victory to Kevin Estré, Michael Christensen and Matteo Cairoli for Manthey Racing, ahead of Connor de Phillippi, Martin Tomczyk, Sheldon van der Linde, Marco Wittmann for the ROWE BMW. Maximilian Götz, Daniel Juncadella and Raffele Marciello were third for GetSpeed.
A closer look to the other classes
The Girls Only Giti Tire Motorsport by WS Racing team that lined up the all-female squad with Carrie Schreiner, Célia Martin, Christina Nielsen and Pippa Mann was able to achieve the class win in SP8, after no less than six lead changes.
Schreiner took the rainy start of the race, with Martin second in line and Mann and Nielsen's stints following. The four drivers - among the highest ranked women in the sport - ran very well throughout the competition, until the red flag interruption. Célia Martin got behind the wheel at the restart. The team had a little scare when Schreiner spun the Audi, but the young German was able to avoid the wall and continued the race to take the chequered flag in P1 in class. It was another remarkable success for the all-female team that wrote history in 2019, when they finished the race at their first participation.
"We made it! P1 in class - with a fantastic 48th [Annotation: P45!] overall! So proud to be part of this team! Thank you for the amazing job girls! We did no mistakes and good decisions at the right time - well deserved", wrote a happy Célia Martin.
"This team! Your SP8 24 hours of Nürburgring class Winners!"
"It ended up being a very shortened race, but it was a close race in our class." echoed Pippa Mann on her social media. "Massive shout-out to Célia and Carrie who both drove like bosses in the last 3 and a half hours today to close things out, and bring us home P1, AND to all of the ladies of the team who also performed like bosses all weekend long! The Eifel weather threw all sorts of curve-balls at us this weekend, but in the end we prevailed!"
Fabienne Wohlwend also made her debut for Giti Tire Motorsport by WS Racing and competed in the BMW F30 in V2T class together with her teammates Tobias Wolf, Niklas Kry and Nicolaj Kandborg. Fabienne's race, though, was a bit more unlucky compared to her colleagues in the Audi R8 LMS GT4. The #167 BMW was in the pits for a long time for repairs and, when Fabienne got back behind the wheel for the last stint, she was able to cut down the gaps, but the team finished last in class and P97 overall.
Another class win for Sophie Gachot and her #142 rent2Drive-FAMILIA-racing team, in P99 overall.
Chantal Prinz and her teammates Gustav Engljähringer, Martin and Michael Kroll (Hofor Racing) finished P1 in class as the only car, and P86 overall.
Max Kruse Racing celebrates a 1-2 in class, with the team lining up TCR specialist Jasmin Preisig, Frédéric Yerly and Gustavo Xavier finishing second in class and P39 overall.
The team had briefly led until the final hours, but then slipped back into second just before Jasmin's final stint.
"What a roller coaster, including a break in between the race" - wrote Jasmin.
"But we secured the P2 with the # 333 and our teammates in the #10 won the SP3T class!"
"In the overall classification of approximately 120 vehicles, we finished in P36 & P39 - hell yeah!"
New IWC Watches ambassador Laura Kraihamer was back at the 24 hours of the Ring - this time with Teichmann Racing and the #60 X-Bow GT4. Even though the car spent the final part of the race in the pits, they scored a seventh place in Cup-X class (P3 for GT4) and P75 overall.
Janine Shoffner and her team GetSpeed drove a strong race and were up to second overall in the beginning. They finished the race fourth in class and P14 overall.
"P14 overall and P4 in class in the end for us. The Ferrari was just too quick for us in the end. Great race was just too short!! Next year!", Janine commented after the race.
The 24 hours of Nürburgring 2022 will take place from 26th to 29th May.