【NLS(Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) Round1 ／ Nürburgring】
Walkenhorst Motorsport Starts New NLS Season From Pole Position, Team Vows Comeback After Season Opener With Unwelcome Events
NLS Round 1
|Date||18 March 2023|
Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie (NLS), the German endurance race series at one of the most challenging race tracks in the world, kicked off its 2023 season with a nine-race calendar. Partnering with Yokohama Tire, Walkenhorst Motorsport entered the season opener with two BMW M4 GT3s.
The team’s lineup of drivers was as follows; The pair of Jacob Giermaziak and Andy Soucek drove the no.34 car, and Thomas Neubauer and Jake Dennis shared the no.35 car. And both cars competed in the SP9 Pro class.
Giermaziak, a 32-year-old from Poland, drove for the Walkenhorst team in the 2021 Nürburgring 24-hour race. His partner, Soucek, is a 37-year-old Spaniard. He was one of the team’s leading drivers in 2022, being a key contributor to their podium finishes.
Neubauer is a promising youngster from France. The 23-year-old had multiple championship victories under his belt last year. And Dennis, a 27-year-old Briton, has had a long motorsport career since he started karting at the age of eight.
In the past few years, the early part of the NSL season was prone to be disturbed by severe cold waves. For instance, last year’s second round, originally scheduled in mid-April, had to be postponed to a November date, and the 2021 season’s opening round was also canceled because of the snow.
So, people feared similar consequences when they saw the track was covered with snow on Wednesday in this season opener’s weekend. Fortunately, however, the snow melted, thanks to rising temperatures the day after, and the event was run on the original schedule on March 18th, Saturday.
The qualifying session got underway at 8:30 on Saturday morning. While some wet patches were still on the track when the session started, they gradually dried as the session progressed. The favorite for the pole position were three types of SP9 Pro class cars: BMW M4 GT3, Audi R8 GT3 EVO II, and Mercedes AMG GT3. And the winner of the fight was Walkenhorst’s no.34 car.
Giermaziak drove brilliantly on his final qualifying attempt and set 8’36″719. His lap time was overwhelming for his rivals and good enough to put his name on the top of the timing screen. He was the only driver who went around the circuit under 8′ 37″ and 1.143 seconds faster than the second fastest driver. So, it was the indisputable overall and SP9 Pro class pole position.
Thus, Walenhorst Motorsport had the honor of starting the season’s first race from the top of the field. After the session, the clouds began to break up, so they could see the patches of blue sky.
The 4-hour race began at noon with a rolling start. Soucek, in the no.34 car, led the field until they went through the first corner, but he lost a few positions immediately after that and dropped down to fifth when he completed the first lap. The Spaniard seemed to be struggling but was trying to recover the lost positions.
The no.35 car started the race with Dennis behind the wheel. But, at the end of Lap 3, he had to return to the pit due to an alternator drive belt failure. The team could fix the problem, but they lost almost two laps for the repair work in the garage.
The no.34 car made the first scheduled pit stop after completing five laps, and Soucek continued to drive for the second stint. Although his pace wasn’t ideal, he was trying hard, as a podium finish seemed to be within their reach. However, Soucek visited the pit for their second stop on Lap 13 when he was running in fourth, and the car was handed to Giermaziak, who was the fastest of all in the qualifying.
The Pole moved up to as high as second for a time, but he slid back to fifth when all cars completed their third pit stop and went into the final stint. But unfortunately, the no.34 car was involved in contact with another vehicle on the final lap, which resulted in a wheel failure so that he couldn’t see the checkered flag. But the package has a good turn of speed for sure, as it was proved in the qualifying, and expectations are high for a much better result in the second round two weeks later.
Masaaki Miyoshi [The Yokohama Rubber Co.,LTD. Motorsports Tire Development Dept. No.1 Tire Development Division]
“The cars, BMW M4 GT3s, remain unchanged since last year, but we had some testing during the off-season mainly to improve the performance under low-temperature conditions in light of the lessons learned through the previous season. In this season opener, the no.34 car earned the pole position, and we couldn’t thank the team and the driver more about it. Under such difficult conditions, changing rapidly from wet to dry, we were surprised that he exceeded the fastest qualifying time then. That was because we didn’t expect it, especially considering that there were speed limit areas due to an accident on the track. We have been improving our information sharing with the team since last year. As a result, we could pick the correct tire specification, which led to this pole position.
“It was so unfortunate that the no.34 car was involved in an accident in the race. They struggled a bit in the very early stage, but everybody in the team’s new structure and the driver lineup have a positive impression of our tires. So we must provide correct options which will suit the conditions in the future.
“We are going to thoroughly review what we learned in this first round. At Nürburgring, the conditions for tires are very tough and widely varying. Therefore, we would certainly need to improve our tires to be able to handle wide range of conditions, looking ahead to the coming 24-hour race.”