Aston Martin Racing scored a famous overall win in NLS8 yesterday, not only the first for the marque, but also the first for any British car in the decades-long history of the Nordschleife Championship.
Reigning FIA WEC GT Drivers World Champion Nicki Thiim and 2020 Le Mans 24 Hour GTE Pro race winner Maxime Martin came home 13.887 seconds ahead of Vincent Kolb and Frank Stippler in their Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 with the BMW Junior Team BMW M6 GT3 of Max Hesse, Dan Harper and Neil Verhagen third.
The win was the current model of Vantage GT3’s first appearance in the SP9 class, after a 2018 one-off appearance in the SPX car that saw the team score fourth place overall.
Having qualified eighth, Martin made quick progress at the start, gaining two places on the first lap, and then another later in the opening stint when a rival retired.
An inspired strategy by the AMR team saw them run three longer stints than their rivals bringing the car into victory contention.
When Thiim handed the car back to Martin for his second stint, the Belgian found himself right behind a clutch of rivals, passing two of them in a single breath-taking manouevre, moving up to third. He passed the second-placed Audi just as the then leading BMW made its final stop and gave the Vantage back to Thiim in the lead. The Dane, spurred on by the prospect of his first overall win on the Nordschleife, then brought the Vantage home safely 13 seconds ahead of its nearest rival.
“It’s an awesome achievement for everyone to come here, with a ‘new’ car for the first time on the Nordschleife and win,” said Martin. “It shows the high level of preparation and how well we have developed the car. It’s great for Aston Martin to win here amongst all the German manufacturers. It’s not something that many brands have done! I felt confident in the car and had some nice fights to take the lead, and from there Nicki had to control and that is never easy here – so he did an amazing job as well. We didn’t have the fastest car, but we worked well as a team.”
Thiim added: “Veni, Vidi, Vici almost. We were stable all the way through. So much has happened to this car in three years, it’s completely different to the one that raced here then. We brought the best guys in the business with us to really try and understand the data so that next year we can create a strong package. It was a pleasure to race with Max for the first time, he made it easy for me to take my first NLS win. I’m proud and honoured to have been the one to have crossed the line first for Aston Martin at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.”
Aston Martin Racing President David King said: “This performance has clearly demonstrated the potential of the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 at the Nürburgring. To come to the heartland of the mighty German manufacturers and win with a car that had so little testing data under its belt at the start of qualifying is an extraordinary achievement, and there is plenty more to come as we were some way off the fastest race lap. Our goal when we came here was two-fold, to gather data to assist in the development of the car and to show potential partners and customers why Vantage deserves an NLS programme. I think we’ve done that emphatically. We’ve been wanting to win a race on this track for a very long time, so to claim a victory in this manner is deeply satisfying.”
Kolb soaks Up The pressure to save second place for Phoenix
Thiim had passed the start/finish line with just 7 seconds left on the race clock, comfortably in control in the lead, but that additional lap would mean huge pressure on second-placed Vincent Kolb who was under increasing pressure from the BMW of Max Hesse behind:
“I had a lot of fun in the final phase of the race. That was a very fair fight with Max over seven laps. Sailing flawlessly through traffic is not always that easy. When Frank got out and I got in, he said to me, drive for your life. I tried to do just that. When Nicki crossed the finish line seven seconds before the end of the time, I just thought, oh dear another 25 kilometers, you have to tie your trouser legs,” he said later.
With this, the youngster earned special praise from his experienced team-mate Frank Stippler: “The team had long evenings after the last race because the chassis had to go to Audi. The new parts didn’t arrive until the beginning of the week. The Audi ran without any problems immediately after it was completely rebuilt. Vincent did a sensational job. Last time we lost out while defending a position. Today he took a big step forward.”
Hesse, who lost second by only 148 thousandths of a second, did not worry for long. Yet another podium place for the three young BMW drivers was still worth honouring, especially since there was a significant incident during the race: “Today we lacked a little speed on the straight. There was also the long Code 60 phase at Döttinger Höhe. There was no way I could get past him in traffic. After that, overtaking on the Nordschleife is almost impossible. He did very well. Dan had contact in the middle of the race and as a result we suffered damage on the front left and had significant understeer in the car. We made the best of it. We collected good points for the championship, the fight is on.”
In the NLS Speed Trophy, Phoenix Racing (144 points) is currently leading with just four points ahead of the BMW Junior Team. Third is Manthey Racing (92).
Fog and poor visibility in some areas of the track initially led to a delayed start of qualifying, which was then shortened to 45 minutes. With a time of 7:53.542, Julien Andlauer for Frikadelli Racing secured pole position in the Porsche 911 GT3 R but then was dealt a stop-and-go penalty for a jump start.
He and Klaus Abbelen were initially scored in eighth place overall, and winners in SP9 Pro-AM but a post-race time penalty relating to drive time dropped them to ninth and gifted the class win to Achim Thyssen and Nico Menzel inherited the victory in the SP9 Pro-Am in a Porsche from Huber-Motorsport.
Fourth place overall went to Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport with drivers Nico Müller, Patrick Kolb and Patric Niederhauser in the new Audi R8 LMS GT3. Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus finished fifth in the second race of the SPX entered BMW M4 GT3 as the development programme of the new BMW continues.
Championship Fight Goes To The Wire
In the final season of the NLS where the current overall Championship is determined through points awarded determined by the numbers of cars in their relative classes, a fight to the wire finale for the championship awaits on 9 October at the PAGID Racing 45th DMV Münsterlandpokal.
Danny Brink and Philipp Leisen (66.59 points) from Adrenalin Motorsport Team Alzner Automotive, who share with Christopher Rink in their V4 BMW, are still leading the championship after race eight.
Daniel Blickle, Tim Scheerbarth and Max Kronberg (66.04 points) from W&S Motorsport are just 0.55 points behind.
At NLS8, the trio initially won Cup 3 (Cayman GT4 Trophy by Manthey-Racing), but then fell back to second place due to a time replacement penalty for overtaking under the yellow flag.
The VT2 class was won again by Christopher Rink, Philipp Stahlschmidt and Daniel Zils (57.59 points) in the Adrenaline car.
Ahad of the season finale the Championship situation is as follows: Even if W&S Motorsport wins, Blickle, Scheerbarth and Kronberg have to hope that the VT2-BMW will not score fully for Adrenalin – assuming similar class strengths. If they win, Rink, Stahlschmidt and Zils are champions. If the two favoured teams fail, Brink and Leisen can still jump into the breach as defending champions.
Pics by “Frozenspeed”