The No. 29 Audi Sport Team Land Audi R8 LMS took a dramatic victory in the Nürburgring 24 Hours as a timely switch to wet tires paid dividends in the closing minutes.
Kelvin van der Linde, Connor De Phillippi, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Mies had led for most of the race until an electrical problem in Hour 22 dropped the car to third and seemingly out of contention for victory.
However, the arrival of rain with 25 minutes to go gave the Land crew a chance for a reprieve.
The team initially decided to copy the race-leading No. 9 WRT Audi and second-placed No. 98 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 crews by fitting slick tires at their final stops, but dropped the car off the air jacks without the fuel-filler cap screwed in and lost several seconds re-attaching it.
The delay proved a blessing in disguise, however, as Land spontaneously elected to fit wet tires, a decision which paid dividends as the rain intensified around the circuit.
Van der Linde caught and passed Nick Catsburg’s struggling BMW to take second on the penultimate lap, then took the lead as Rene Rast peeled into the pits for wets.
Catsburg also passed Rast on the final lap at Adenauer Forst to take second, as Land rescued a remarkable comeback victory.
“I actually went initially a bit too early on the rain tires, I had to save them in the beginning while the track was still dry, so that was obviously a key feature,” said Van der Linde.
“Then obviously during the traffic I had to really watch out because they could have made a mistake on the slick tire, but in the end it worked out.
“I knew [Catsburg] was on slicks and once I passed him, I knew I was in the fight for the win. I knew he was not far behind the other Audi and the team just said on the radio ‘keep pushing, keep pushing’, so that’s what I did.”
It was Audi’s fourth Nürburgring win and the first for the Land outfit, which retired from the race last year ironically after contact with Winkelhock, who joins Klaus Ludwig, Hans-Joachim Stuck and Herbert Hechler as a three-time event winner.
De Phillippi becomes only the second American driver after Boris Said in 2005 to win the event, while Van der Linde is the first South African winner.
Augusto Farfus Jr. survived the slippery conditions to finish fourth in the No. 42 Schnitzer BMW, with Maro Engel fifth in the No. 1 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon.
Michael Christensen was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the downpour as he sliced through to finish sixth in the No. 31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R after Maxi Buhk crashed the No. 50 HTP Mercedes in the wet conditions at Metzgesfeld.
The Wochenspiegel Team Monschau Ferrari 488 GT3 claimed the race’s fastest lap and made it five different manufacturers in the top seven overall, with the No. 44 Falken Motorsports BMW recovering to eighth after a puncture with four hours to go.
The No. 702 Traum Motorsport SCG 003C claimed SPX honors with a 20th place finish overall, after the sister, pole-sitting No. 704 Glickenhaus entry crashed out with less than six hours to go following a number of earlier setbacks.
SP8 class honors went to the No. 7 Aston Martin Vantage GT8 featuring factory drivers Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim, which was classified 22nd overall.
Other class winners included the No. 66 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup MR (SP7) and No. 89 LMS Engineering Audi TT RS2 (SP3T).
The debuting pair of Audi R8 LMS GT4 cars, run by Phoenix Racing, finished 32nd and 67th overall.