24 hours against the odds.
The Green Hell challenged top motorsport drivers once more: During the weekend of May 20 and 21, 135 vehicles and teams gathered on the Nürburgring for the ADAC TotalEnergies 24h Nürburgring 2023. From 4 p.m. CEST onwards, 20 vehicle classes battled for 24 hours in the Eifel region for the best spots in the grid. Also part of the race: 44 Porsche vehicles and teams.
The weather was warm and dry as the vehicles of various types sorted themselves behind the Safety Car. Right up there in the front rows: Falken Motorsports in the third starting row with their turqoise-blue Porsche 911 GT3 R, piloted by Joel Eriksson, Tim Heinemeier, Nico Menzel and Martin Ragginger. In the sixth row was the Lionspeed by Car Collection Motorsport Team with their red and white GT3 R and the drivers Patrick Kolb, Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet and Patrick Pilet. Right behind them: Rutronik-Racing with their yellow and blue GT3 R and the driving team consisting of Dennis Olsen, Matteo Cairoli and Julien Andlauer. Team Manthey EMA would be starting from the tenth row with their popular Porsche 911 GT3 R "Grello" and their drivers Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre, Frédéric Makowiecki and Thomas Preining. Another two rows behind them was the Dinamic GT SRL team and their drivers consisting of Laurens Vanthoor, Christian Engelhart and the two former Porsche Juniors Laurin Heinrich and Ayhancan Güven in a car with a distinct black and gold design. Finally, behind them in the thirteenth row: the Huber Motorsport Team, fielding their white and blue Porsche 911 GT3 R with the drivers Dennis Fetzer, Come Ledogar and Romain Dumas.
As the Safety Car passed into pitlane and the lights above the starting line of the Nürburgring switched to green, the battle for places began. Nico Menzel in the Porsche with the number 44 belonging to Falken was caught inmidst of the battle at the top, but managed to hold his ground and therefore ended up on fifth place at first. The Grello Porsche GT3 R with the starting number 911 fought its way up in the next two hours, starting out on 20th and working its way forward onto the 14th spot – and from there, all the way onto eighth spot. This is where the team faced their first issues: One of the Grello's tires was damaged by parts on the track and not even Estre's seasoned experience could counter that. He slipped out of the curve into the barrier and his vehicle suffered rear damage. Immediately, he headed into the pit for repairs, losing contact with the class lead and having to catch up two rounds. A difficult, but not impossible challenge, when the circumstances are right.
The Lionspeed by Car Collection vehicle had to leave the track before the Manthey EMA Porsche: After Matt Campbell had slipped onto the grass run-out and crashed into the tire stacks, losing parts on the track afterwards. At first, the team had hoped to be able to return after some repairs, but after a total of two hours in the race, the Lionspeed by Car Collection team forfeited their participation.
Now we have to keep our fingers crossed that we don’t experience other incidents and that the remaining cars finish the rest of the race unscathed.
Here is to better chances.
Throughout the remainder of the race, the #44 belonging to Falken Motorsports gained momentum and even reached third spot. Though the team had to content themselves with the eighth spot after two pit stops, they had already proven they could fight their way onto the podium – and that was their goal for the further course of the race.
At the same time, the Rutronik-Racing Team was consistently on the way forward. Due to regular battles being carried out throughout all classes, their will to win was almost inconspicious. After their start from the seventh row in the grid, first Dennis Olsen and then Matteo Cairoli raced onto the 17th spot. When night fell and the vehicles passed by cameras and onlookers as flashes of light, the Rutronik-Racing #96 continuously drove on – conscious of the fact that the endurance classic demands all the more from vehicles and drivers on the over 25 kilometer-long track. As the sun began to warm up the track once more and the blue and yellow Porsche 911 GT3 R became recognizable, Rutronik-Racing had reached fifth spot.
But the night had also placed high demands: Despite the repairs done to the Grello Porsche belonging to Manthey EMA, the team forfeited from the race. The safety risk was too high for the team and thus they decided not to finish the race at 1.30 a.m. in the morning.
Sometime around midnight, the Falken Motorsport team was also faced with a setback. Tim Heinemann skidded off track and into the tires, a short repair phase followed. Though this made the vehicle drop in the ranks, in the morning the team was back on eighth place.
The sister car with the number 33 was also a casualty of the night. It came into contact with another vehicle and hit the barriers sideways in an almost uncontrolled manner. This GT3 R was also subjected to some repairs, returned to the track and removed from the race due to safety concerns of the team.
The incidents involving Porsche vehicles had been mild so far, but the Green Hell was dubbed so for a reason. Around three in the morning, the vehicle belonging to Dinamic GT was involved in a crash with a Dacia. Driver Laurin Heinrich was passing by the other classes at a high speed and was closing in on the Dacia from behind – the slowest vehicle throughout the entire race. Heinrich came around the turn, where the Dacia was currently driving and did not have the chance to evade or brake. The Porsche with the number 54 crashed almost frontally into the rear of the other vehicle, whirled around on the track, while the Dacia shot off onto the run-out area to the left and hit the track barriers. Both drivers were mostly uninjured.
With that, only three of a total of seven Porsche vehicles in the SP9 class of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring were left on the track: All three Porsche 911 GT3 R, belonging to Rutronik-Racing (#96), Falken Motorsports (#44) and Huber Motorsport (#25).
Consistency is key.
In the final hours of the race, Huber Motorsport also had to suffer a setback and exit the race. With that, all Porsche fans placed their hopes into the hands of the two remaining SP9 category teams and the teams in the other categories. The previous hurdles experienced by the Falken Motorsports Team had pushed the Porsche 911 GT3 R #44 behind the field, but the team was unwilling to give up and finished the race on tenth spot.
A lot was happening on the track and risk management wasn’t always easy: If you took the risk, you could make up a massive amount of time - or you could destroy the car. We were at our limit and within the top 10, which is a realistic position for us.
Calmness throughout the entire race proved to be the right way to go for Falken Motorsport: The team went through the night without any incidents and preferred to pursue a cautious strategy, omitting daring attacks on the remaining field. The cooling asphalt, poorer visibility and the mental efforts to race during the night of an endurance race should not be underestimated, and Falken Motorsport had considered exactly these points in their strategy. As the race was clowing, their choice proved to be the right one: Falken Motorsport finished the race on fifth place and was one of the vehicles that set up a new distance record on the legendary track in the Eifel region.
A satisfying result, despite the challenges for Porsche in general.