【NLS(Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) Round5 ／ Nürburgring】
Early Leader No.34 Car Retires Due To Mechanical Problem, Walkenhorst Vows Comeback After Double Retirement
NLS Round 5
|Date||8 July 2023|
With the fifth round held on July 8th, Saturday, the 2023 NLS (Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) hit the halfway point of its competition season. Unlike the series’ standard 4-hour race format, this was a 6-hour race, and the following two meetings, Round 6 and 7, are also to be run as double 6-hour races on the same weekend. So Round 5 was the first of the three longer races of the series.
Walkenhorst Motorsport scored its second win of the season in the previous fourth round and retained the same driver lineup for their two BMW M4 GT3s, competing in the SP9 Pro class. Therefore, the last round’s winning pair, Christian Krognes and Jakub Giermaziak, drove the no.34 car as they aspired for their third victory. And the trio of Thomas Neubauer, Niklas Krütten, and Dylan Pereira shared the no.35 car again.
The 90-minute qualifying session started at 8:30 a.m. local time. For this session, Krognes was behind the wheel of the no.34 car, and Neubauer drove the no.35 car.
At Nürburgring, the fluctuating weather around the area often causes a significant disturbance in a race meeting. But there was no concern at all about rain this weekend, as was the case in the previous event. During the past three weeks since the fourth round, the color of green leaves in the forest of Eifel has beautifully deepened, which signaled the arrival of full-blown summer.
And Walkenhorst’s drivers performed brilliantly on this 24.358 km-long circuit. Krognes’ best lap time, 7’56″327, was good enough to secure the second grid overall behind the top qualifier, the no.5 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo III, by only 2.117 seconds. The no.35 car set 7’59″217 and was ranked fourth in the SP9 Pro class.
After the qualifying session, entertaining events for fans, including the 40-minute Pit Walk and the 20-minute Grid Walk, were held. While the interaction with many fans during those events brought smiles to the drivers’ faces, they quickly began to focus on their job after that, as the time to start the race was approaching.
The race got underway at noon. The weather was fine, but the air/track temperatures were at 27/35 degrees centigrade (according to Yokohama Tire’s gauges), which was somewhat lower than expected.
Giermaziak, in the no.34 car, approached the first corner from the outside. However, he dropped from second to fifth as the cars around him, especially two Porsches, which came abreast of the Giermaziak’s BMW from behind, blocked his way.
The seesaw battle between them continued for a whole lap, and Giermaziak completed the opening lap in third in the class and fifth overall, as two SP9 Pro-Am class cars were ahead of him.
There was no position change among the leaders from Lap 2 onward, and Giermaziak drove consistently to remain in third place about 1.5 seconds behind the car in second. However, the gap between him and the race leader increased to 8.033 seconds when he ended Lap 3 from 3.225 seconds at the end of the opening lap because Giermaziak stuck with the two SP9 Pro-Am class cars, which ran at a slightly slower pace than his.
To overcome the situation, the team decided to make the first pit stops earlier than initially planned. So the no.35 car came into the pit first at the end of Lap 4 for refueling and changing tires and resumed racing without a driver change. Then the no.34 car did exactly the same on the next lap.
Thus, two Walkenhorst cars could race at their own pace after the early first stops. When about 45 minutes passed from the start, the race leader, the no.5 Audi, was forced to slow down because of some damage on its right-hand rear tire. So the no.3 Porsche took over the lead in the SP9 Pro class, and the no.11 Mercedes AMG GT3, the no.24 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, and Walkenhorst’s BMWs, the nos. 34 and 35, followed.
But, as mentioned above, unlike other competitors, the Walkenhorst cars had already done their first pit stops. As the cars ahead of them all visited their pits at the end of Lap 7, the no.34 car became the class leader without overtaking any of its rivals on the track. While the race still had five hours to go, the expectations for the car’s back-to-back win began building.
When Giermaziak completed Lap 10, he had a 17.207-second cushion against the no.3 Porsche, which was running in second. Meanwhile, the no.35 car made its second stop at the end of Lap 11 to change to Pereira. Then, on the next lap, the no.34 car also came into the pit for the second time and returned to the track with Krognes behind the wheel.
Soon after the no.34 car rejoined the race, the first two hours passed. Then the car’s engine suddenly lost most of its power, and a problem in the steering system coincided. Krognes managed to bring the car back to the pit, but the team asked him to go straight into the garage, and had to retire the car.
The no.35 car continued with a podium finish in sight. However, the car also made an unscheduled pit stop with an hour and a half left to the checkered flag. It turned out that the car had engine coolant leakage, and the team was forced to retire the second car, too. Thus, both of Walkenhorst’s cars didn’t finish the race, which was highly disappointing, but the team vowed to make a comeback in the next round, the 12-hour race weekend.