TF Sport’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3 held the upper hand at the Nürburrging 24 after six hours as darkness descended over the Nordschleife with the race settling into a rhythm.
After an action-packed opening quarter that saw several of the fancied contenders crash out or hit trouble, the No. 90 Aston Martin of Maxime Martin, Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and David Pittard emerged as the car to beat heading into the night.
Thiim held a net lead of around 15 seconds over Marco Wittmann in the No. 98 ROWE Racing BMW M4 GT3 with 18 hours still to run.
The TF Sport Aston Martin rose from 25th on the grid after taking a short five-lap opening stint that yielded a shorter opening pit stop to elevate it higher up the field.
Martin passed ROWE’s John Edwards for second place before drafting past the Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R on the Dottinger Hohe for the lead after three and a half hours.
Edwards also moved the No. 98 BMW ahead of Manthey before last year’s N24-winning Porsche dramatically crashed out when Laurens Vanthoor and his Audi-driving brother Dries came to blows.
Pittard extended TF Sport’s edge to around 20 seconds by the four-hour mark, although Nicky Catsburg brought the BMW closer again in the ebb and flow of evening traffic and incident zones.
One such incident was a sixth-hour engine fire for the CUP-X leading No. 160 KTM X-Bow GTX at Aremberg, from which driver Felix von der Laden was able to jump clear, but only after his car had started rolling down the hill to Fox Hole.
The car bounced off the perimeter barriers before coming to a rest at the bottom of the hill, where fire crews were able to reach it.
The lead margin came down to under 10 seconds near the end of Sorensen’s single stint against Wittmann in the fifth hour, but went back out again after the most recent round of stops when Thiim returned to the TF car and Wittmann stayed in the BMW.
Audi Sport Team Phoenix ran net third at the six-hour mark, with Robin Frijns trying to work down a half-minute deficit to the front-running pair.
Frijns broke free from an entertaining three-car battle between his crew’s No. 15 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II, the No. 5 privateer Phoenix Audi and the No. 3 GetSpeed-run Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.
GetSpeed held fourth after six hours, 20 seconds behind the factory-supported Phoenix car and 36 seconds clear of the No. 4 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG.
Schubert Motorsport’s BMW M4 GT3 was the classified leader at one-quarter duration, but is in reality running net sixth behind the second GetSpeed car on the pit cycle.
The No. 132 IronForce Racing by Phoenix entry held the lead in the all-Porsche CUP 2 class, while FK Performance Motorsport’s No. 78 BMW M4 GT4 was the highest placed GT4 car, and the SP10 leader, in 40th overall.