【NLS(Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) Round8 ／ Nürburgring】
Walkenhorst Takes Win No.5 In Round 8, No.34 Car Dominates Rain-affected Race’s Final Hour
NLS Round 8
|Date||23 September 2023|
|Weather||Cloudy / Rain|
|Surface||Dry / Wet|
Including this eighth round, only two meetings are left in the 2023 NLS (Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie), which raised its curtain in mid-March. Walkenhorst Motorsport, in collaboration with Yokohama Tire, has been a regular competitor in this series at one of the most challenging race tracks in the world. The team demonstrated its strength by winning the sixth and seventh rounds, the double 6-hour races, a fortnight ago and kept the momentum going in this round.
Round eight, 55 ADAC Barbarossapreis, was held on Saturday, September 23rd. After three 6-hour races, the final two rounds in the 2023 calendar are 4-hour races, but the fact that they are two hours shorter doesn’t always mean they are less punishing. The eighth round at “Green Hell” turned out to be a tough race, which heavily strained all competitors because of the weather conditions.
When the qualifying session began at 8:30, the air temperature stayed relatively low, around 14 degrees centigrade, and most people at the paddock wore long-sleeved jackets. The sky was overcast, but the forecast said the chance of rain would be 10 percent, so it was reasonable to predict a dry race.
Walkenhorst Motorsport sent two BMW M4 GT3s to this event. The no.34 car, which won both of two 6-hour races two weeks ago, was shared by Christian Krognes and Jakub Giermaziak as usual. And Dylan Pereira and Sami-Matti Trogen drove the no.35 car this time. As soon as the signal turned green, all cars in the SP9 class, including two from Walkenhorst, went out to the track. The team entrusted the no.34 car to the hands of Giermaziak and the no.35 car to Trogen for the qualifying.
After a few pit stops to complete the check-up and adjust the cars’ setup, Giermaziak handed the no.34 car to Krognes in the closing stage. During the second half of this 90-minute session, a blue sky was seen through wisps of cloud, and the no.35 car set the third fastest time in the session, with the no.34 car ending it in fifth.
The race started at 12:30, a half-hour later than initially scheduled. While it was still cloudy, some blue parts of the sky were seen between the clouds, and the tarmac was dry. The starting drivers of Walkenhorst cars were Pereira for the no.35 car and Giermaziak for the no.34 car. The whole field left the grids for the formation lap, with the former on the right-hand side of the second row and the latter on the same side of the third row.
After a slow lap of the 24.358km race track, the marshal car headed to the pit lane, and the exhaust note of the race cars roared to signal the race’s start. The no.35 car went wide at Turn 1, resulting in losing a few positions, and the no.34 overtook it at the next corner. When they completed the opening lap, the no.34 car was in fifth place, followed by the no.35 in sixth.
On Lap 2, Giermaziak dived into the inside of the no.24 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and got ahead of it. Then, Pereira followed suit with the teammate’s move and gained a position. They were about seven seconds behind the leader at the end of the opening lap, but the gap started to shrink as they got a clear space in front of them after passing the no.24 car. So they could pick up their pace and catch up with the top three cars when they had almost completed the second lap.
However, the no.17 Aston Martin Vantage GT3’s pace dropped slightly relative to the two cars ahead, the no.5 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II and the no.30 Ferrari 296 GT3. As a result, the top two could pull away from the no.17 Aston Martin and the two Walkenhorst’s BMWs. At the end of Lap 4, the no.30 Ferrari steered to the pit box, but the no.5 Audi already had a more than ten-second gap with the cars behind at the time. After completing the race’s fifth lap, the no.34 car made its first pit stop, and Giermaziak stayed in the driver’s seat for their second stint.
The no.17 Aston Martin and the no.5 Audi visited their pit on the next lap, and the no.35 did the same at the end of Lap 7, as the last one to do so among the SP9 class cars. Thus, the battle in the class entered its second phase. When they got into Lap 9, no.30 Ferrari was leading but under heavy pressure from the no.34 just behind. With the first hour of the race passing, Giermaziak was fighting hard against the race leader, the no.30 Ferrari, and Pereira followed the no.5 Audi in third closely, only by 0.496 seconds at the end of Lap 11, watching for an opportunity to swap their positions.
The Luxembourger finally came up to third by overtaking the no.5 car on Lap 12. Regarding the battle for the lead, the no.30 Ferrari returned to the pit on that lap, and Giermaziak made their second stop on the next lap to change to Krognes. Soon after that, the 4-hour race reached its halfway point. The no.35 car’s second pit stop came at the end of Lap 16 when Pereira handed it to Trogen, meaning all leading cars entered their third stint. At this point, the no.34 car moved up to first, followed by the no.30 Ferrari, 2.657 seconds behind the leader, and the no.5 Audi was in third.
The fight between the leaders looked to become fiercer, but “Green Hell” seemed to have an idea that it was about time to give an even more dramatic twist, as it started to rain when two hours and 20 minutes had passed from the race’s start. The affected area was limited to a small part of the forest of Eifel at first, but the rain grew heavier soon and started to wet a few parts of this 24 km-long circuit. The drivers now needed to use their windscreen wipers in full-speed mode in those areas. As the wet parts of the tarmac quickly spread out, some of the drivers almost lost their car’s control, and many drivers had difficulties just to stay on the track.
Reacting to this change in condition, Trogen, behind the wheel of the no.35 car, returned to the pit box to get a set of wet tires after only two laps from the car’s second stop. Meanwhile, Krognes in the no.34 car stayed out with the dry tires even under such intense conditions. The Norwegian drove skillfully and didn’t make any big mistakes. While he had to give way to the no.30 Ferrari on Lap 18, he didn’t allow it to pull away and kept his hope of regaining the lead alive.
The decisive moment turned up at the end of Lap 20. The no.30 Ferrari made their third and last pit stop, but it took longer than usual as the team had to work on the car’s brake system during the stop. By contrast, the no.34 car’s third pit stop on the next lap went smoothly, and Krognes found himself having a significant gap with the no.30 and the cars behind them.
With one hour to go, the rain stopped, and the track surface started to dry. And even a few shafts of sunlight were seen as the weather conditions gradually improved. By this time, there was no threat to the no.34 car’s crew since they had a more than two-minute margin, and when it received the checkered flag, it looked as if the ray of sunlight was congratulating the winner. It was their third consecutive and fifth win of the 2023 season.
Despite making an extra pit stop, the no.35 car finished the race in fifth, completing the same number of laps as the winning teammates. The final gap between the no.34 and the car in the second was about two minutes and 25 seconds, which was another proof of Yokohama Tire’s excellence in performance.