【NLS(Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) Round9 ／ Nürburgring】
Walkenhorst Takes Two Trophies By Winning 5 Out Of 9 Rounds, No.34 Car Ended Season Finale In Fourth After Fighting For Win
NLS Round 9
|Date||7 October 2023|
|Weather||Cloudy / Fine|
The 2023 NLS (Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie) has been running smoothly since its curtain raiser in mid-March and reached the season’s ninth and final round, held on October 7th. This meeting attracted more competitors than the other rounds in the SP9 Pro class, the series’ top category, and the class had eleven cars, including two BMW M4 GT3s from Walkenhorst Motorsport.
Walkenhorst’s no.34 car was driven by the pair of Christian Krognes and Jakub Giermaziak. Krognes has been on duty since the second round this year, and Giermaziak has been the car’s regular driver throughout the season. Dylan Pereira shared the no.35 car with Sami-Matti Trogen. Pereira has been driving the car since the fourth round, whereas this was Trogen’s second appearance in a row this year after joining the team in the previous race.
The 90-minute qualifying session got underway at 8:30 in the morning. When the course opened for the session, the sky was slightly overcast, and the track surfaces were dry. The forecast said there would be no concern for rain until the end of the 4-hour race. However, having had a similar prediction, the previous round turned into a tough race because of the unexpected rain, so the weather is always tricky at Nürburgring.
The qualifying session was run on the dry tarmac until the end, and Giermaziak, in the no.34 car, set 7’55″567 as his best lap time. Unfortunately, his time was beaten by the eventual pole sitter by only 1.623 seconds, so the no.34 car took the second grid on the front row. Pereira’s best time in the session was 7’56″470, which placed the no.35 car on the fifth grid. In the final qualifying result, just 3.703 seconds covered the top six SP9 class cars, which was impressive considering that the length of a lap at Nürburgring is 24.358km, and many expected close battles in the race.
All the procedures went on time, and the final race of the 2023 season started at noon. The marshall car headed to the pit lane after a formation lap, and all competing cars accelerated at full throttle when they returned to the pit straight. At the first corner, which was the focus of public attention, Giermaziak lost a position, but Pereira faced a bigger misfortune. The no.35 car was hit from behind and spun at Turn 1, and then he had to wait for the whole field to go by before rejoining the race, which cost him more than 40 seconds.
There were more minor contacts in the crowded field, and Giermaziak gave way to the no.21 Porsche 911 GT3R and stepped back to fifth when he entered Nordschleife from the Grand Prix Course. Meanwhile, Pereira started to push hard to recover lost ground from dead last in the class.
On Lap 3, Giermaziak moved up to fourth, as the no.24 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, then in second, dropped down. And he followed the no.21 Porsche closely, watching for a chance to overtake it. The no.5 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II started from the pole position and built a nearly 13-second gap with the car in second at the end of Lap 5. But, behind the Audi, four cars, including the no.34 car, fought hard for second.
Then, those in the leading cars had to drive more carefully for a while because they hit the backmarkers, and some parts of the track were quite dusty. The no.34 car came into the pit after completing Lap 5, which was a bit earlier than its direct rivals. Giermaziak stayed in the cockpit for the car’s second stint and rejoined the race after routine work at the stop. In the no.35 car, Pereira visited the pit box on the next lap and returned to the track without a driver change.
Giermaziak picked up his pace from the beginning of their second stint and was already running in second when the race’s first hour had passed, and all cars in the SP9 class completed their first stop by Lap 8. At that point, he was 6.377 seconds behind the race leader, the no.3 Porsche 911 GT3R, but the gap quickly shrunk to 1.230 seconds on the next lap and to 0.713 seconds at the end of Lap 10.
On Lap 11, Giermaziak tried to overtake the no.3 Porsche at Sabine Schmitz Curve and successfully made it despite having light contact with the defending Porsche. Fortunately, he was not penalized for this incident, so the no.34 car kept the lead until their second stop on Lap 14 when the car was handed to Krognes.
Having had a mishap immediately after the start, Pereira improved the no.35 car’s position to sixth during his two stints. He returned to the pit box on the same lap with another Walkenhorst car and changed to Trogen, who was also keen to move further through the field.
The 4-hour race had passed its halfway point, and when all SP9 class cars had done their second stop by Lap 16, Krognes regained the lead position. Many expected that he would pull away from the rest of the field, but things, in fact, fell short of expectations. One of the tires on the no.34 car started to lose air pressure very slowly due to an issue on the wheel rim. Since such an air pressure drop could lead to a severe accident, the team decided to make the car’s third stop one lap earlier than planned.
Krognes came back to the pit at the end of Lap 20, two hours and 50 minutes after the race started. The third and final round of the leading SP9 class cars’ pit stop began from the next lap, and he still stayed in second, behind the no.5 Audi. However, the no.34 car’s early third pit stop meant its fuel would run out before crossing the finish line.
Of course, the team knew it at the time of the third stop, but their priority concern was safety about the tire pressure. As a result, they were forced to make the unwanted fourth pit stop just for a splash-and-go at the end of Lap 28 with less than ten minutes to go. And when Krognes returned to the track, he found himself running in fourth.
Thus, they missed a podium finish in the season’s finale. However, relying on Yokohama Tire’s products, Walkenhorst Motorsport scored five wins out of nine races in the 2023 NLS to take this year’s NLS Speed-Trophäe and NIMEX Team-Trophäe. It was their first championship in three years after winning the title in 2020 with BMW M6 GT3s.
Masaaki Miyoshi [The Yokohama Rubber Co.,LTD. Motorsports Tire Development Dept. No.1 Tire Development Division]
“I am relieved to see the 2023 NLS season is over. We are glad to win the series championship, but at the same time, it was disappointing that we couldn’t get a satisfactory result in the 24-hour race. Looking back on this past season, we made significant progress in understanding our tires by sharing the challenges with the team in the off-season testing, and this progress made it possible for us to choose the right tires under different conditions. The best example of this was our win in the second round when we faced challenging mixed conditions because of rain. The victory was also important for us, as the second round was the first race with the ADVAN-liveried car.
“In the endurance races at Nürburgring, two features are essential for the tires: the adaptation to an extensive temperature range and the immunity to many external factors. Unlike the other tire competition races, the tires face a real test of adaptability to condition changes while maintaining a high level of performance. In addition, a problem relating to the tires could significantly impact the race result because, as you know, Nürburgring’s track length is more than 20km. So, we believe our products’ consistency in performance and quality control led to the series championship title.
“We would like to thank the team and the drivers for these great results and cooperation in tire development work from the pre-season testing to date. We are so thankful for a great opportunity to keep discussing with the drivers about the way to bring out the tire’s performance throughout the season. Our goal for the next year is a good result in the 24-hour race. We will commit to build stronger relationship with the team and the drivers to achieve the goal.”