【NLS(Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) Round6 ／ Nürburgring】
Walkenhorst’s No.34 Car Wins Despite Qualifying Crash, Great Recovery From Last Grid To Third Victory Of Season
NLS Round 6
|Date||9 September 2023|
The 2023 NLS (Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) reached a crucial weekend after an almost 2-month-long break since the fifth round, the halfway point of the season, in July. The sixth and seventh rounds were two 6-hour races held on the same weekend, one race each on Saturday and Sunday.
Last year, this event adopted a particular kind of 12-hour race format, divided into two parts with a parc ferme time between them. But it was altered into the two independent 6-hour races this year, held on Saturday and Sunday. As there were two qualifying sessions, which decided the starting positions for each race, it became an even busier weekend for the teams.
In collaboration with Yokohama Tire, Walkenhorst Motorsport has been a regular NLS competitor and sent three BMW M4 GT3s in the SP9, the series’ top class, for this meeting. Christian Krognes and Jakub Giermaziak shared the no.34 car to compete in the SP9 Pro class. The trio of Thomas Neubauer, Niklas Krütten, and Dylan Pereira drove the no.35 car in the same category. The no.36 car fought for the SP9 Pro-Am class crown, with Jörg Breuer, Carrie Schreiner, Charles Weerts, and Christian Bollrath behind the wheel.
The timetable for the sixth round on Saturday, September 9th, was as follows: a 100-minute qualifying session from 8:00, the race started at 15:30, and the finish at 21:30. Therefore, the closing stage of the race would be run in the night. The sky was clear on Saturday morning, and the forecast said that comfortably fine weather would continue throughout the weekend. So, there was no concern about the so-called Nür-weather, which means very unpredictable meteorological conditions.
The qualifying session began on time, and the three cars run by Walkenhorst went out on the dry track very early, within about five minutes from the green signal, in the bright morning light. The drivers were Giermaziak in the no.34 car, Pereira in the no.35, and Weerts in the no.36. But Giermaziak made a mistake in Sector 3 on his out-lap, going off the track and badly damaging his car. Because of this, the no.34 car couldn’t set a qualifying time. The team made a concerted effort as they decided to try to repair the vehicle before the starting procedures of the race began.
The cars started to take their grids at 14:30, some five hours after the end of the qualifying session. After intensive repair work, the no.34 car was ready for the race and sat on the last grid of Group 1, which includes the SP9 class. The no.35 car secured the fifth grid overall, and the no.36 car was on the 16th grid for the start of the 6-hour race. The weather was fine and stable from the morning hours, so many teams put some sunshades on their car’s windscreen to keep the cockpit temperature as low as possible in the heat of the day until the time came for the race to begin.
The race got underway on schedule after a formation lap. The no.35 car overtook a Porsche in the Cup 2 class at Turn 2 on the opening lap and moved up to second by passing a Mercedes AMG in the SP9 Pro-Am class before the field went out to the old northern part of the track. The car gained another position on the Döttinger-Höhe straight on the same lap when it got ahead of an Aston Martin Vantage, using skillful slipstreaming. However, the no.35 car was forced to return to the pit due to a minor technical issue.
Meanwhile, the no.34 car, with Giermaziak at the wheel, showed a remarkable recovery from the bottom of the group’s field. He was in seventh overall at the end of Lap3 and improved his position to sixth two laps later. When about an hour had passed from the start, he made their first pit stop when he completed Lap 6. Giermaziak stayed in the car during the stop and went out for his second stint after speedy work by the team.
With most leading cars headed to their pit boxes on the next lap, the no.34 car came up to third at the end of Lap 9. And he overtook the no.3 Porsche 911 GT3R in the same SP9 Pro class on Lap 10, so he was now running in second, 31.054 seconds behind the race leader, the no.5 Audi R8.
Giermaziak didn’t stop there and continued cutting the gap with the no.5 car. When he reduced it to a little more than 15 seconds, the Audi visited the pit for the second time, which meant the no.34 car became the leader from the back end of the field in less than two hours. After completing Lap 14, he made the second pit stop to change to Krognes, and the Norwegian also drove like a fury at an overwhelming pace against his rivals.
At 18:40, when the race’s halfway point had passed, the no.34 car headed to the pit lane at the end of Lap 21 for their third stop to change to Giermaziak. And his stint this time was a little shorter than their competitions, as the Pole returned to the pit after four laps and handed the car to Krognes again before the race entered its fifth hour.
With the sun setting, the darkness began to shroud the forest of Eifel. The no.34 car was still leading overall with one and a half hours to go and had a 24.5-second gap with the no.3 Porsche. The air and track temperatures dropped after nightfall, which caused a few frightening moments for other competitors on the track. But Yokohama Tire’s products undoubtedly helped the no.34 car under such conditions, and the car just carried on increasing the gap with the others.
Krognes extended the lead from 28.621 seconds at the end of Lap 30 to 44.235 seconds three laps later. At their fifth and last pit stop, he stayed in the car and went out for the final stint. His pace was still improving in the dark, and he set the fastest lap, 8’29″154, on Lap 35. The no.35 car also marked its fastest on the same lap, and there was clear evidence that the Yokohama Tire users were consistently fast even under the conditions that the night-time run presented. And it was a sharp contrast from the other tire companies’ users, who set their best lap times in the race’s early hours.
Soon after Krognes set the fastest lap, the fireworks were set off in the sky over the race track. And it looked as if the big flower of light guided the no.34 car to the glorious checkered flag. It was the team’s third victory in the season, and the gap with the second-place finisher grew to 1’26″623 at the end of the race. So it was a dramatic recovery drive by Krognes and Giermaziak from the bottom of the field to the center of the podium, beating their rivals’ Porsches by sheer speed.
The no.35 car, hit by a technical problem in the early stage, also finished the race in seventh overall and sixth in the SP9 Pro class, one lap behind the winner. Unfortunately, the no.36 car had to retire soon after it got into the fifth hour of the race.