Sean Edwards, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Bernd Schneider are getting rather good at taking home the endurance racing silverware. Schneider in particular is on a roll, first securing his maiden endurance victory in Dubai with Edwards and Bleekemolen during January’s 24 Hours race before securing his first victory at the Nurburgring 24 Hours after several fruitless attempts. Mercedes-Benz was also breathing a well-deserved sigh of relief, taking its first event win – much as Audi did last year – and thus improving on its third-placed finish in 2012.[Not a valid template]
The weekend did not start off well though for the #9 Team Black Falcon entry. Confusion during the first qualifying session saw the SLS seemingly ignore waved yellow flags on-track, an error that cost the team its fastest lap and demoted them five places to sixth on the grid. A silly error, one repeated by Jörg and Dirk Müller, Uwe Alzen and Augusto Farfus in #19 BMW Team Schubert Z4 GT3, which dropped to 15th on the grid as a result.
From the green flag, the pace was set by the polesitting #4 Phoenix Racing Audi of Michael Ammermüller, Frank Stippler, and the Stuck brothers (Ferdinand and Johannes), albeit with the #1 G-Drive Racing by Phoenix R8 LMS of Mike Rockenfeller – caffeined up after his first DTM victory of the season at Brand’s Hatch, UK, just one day earlier – Marcel Fässler and last year’s Nurburgring winners Frank Stippler and Marcus Winkelhock right behind. Front row starters Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, Allan Simonsen and five-time event winner Pedro Lamy kept a watchful eye on proceedings in third in the #7 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3.
The Aston Martin in particular was putting on a strong showing in front of the baying crowds, even keeping at bay three of the five manufacturers that filled the top six in the early going of proceedings. The sister #10 Team Black Falcon SLS of Andrii Lebed, Andreas Simonsen, Dennis Rostek and Harald Proczyc meanwhile, unable to detach the Aston from third, was busy holding off the #50 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Marco Holzer, Nick Tandy, Jörg Bergmeister and Richard Lietz and the #25 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 of Maxime Martin, Andrea Piccini, Yelmer Buurman and Richard Goransson.
Come the fifth hour, the #10 Merc had already limped onto pitroad with broken left rear suspension, while the #7 Aston had taken advantage of electrical problems that had brought the #1 Audi temporarily to a halt to grab the lead. On a different pit strategy, the #9 Team Black Falcon SLS lay 14th, biding its time. Nobody could have expected what came next.
Rain. Apocalyptic levels of rain. Heavy fog during qualifying had reduced visibility significantly, and though drivers and cars could still tiptoe around the 20km circuit, all hope was lost now as grip disappeared almost immediately. Wave after wave of GT sportscar carbon fibre was being snapped off on the grass, the kerbs and against the barriers as competitors pirouetted and aquaplaned uncontrollably. Race officials had no choice but to call a halt to proceedings until daybreak.