Audi’s Mirko Bortolotti led the Nürburgring 24 with four hours to go but BMW entries were closing the gap at the head of the field in drying conditions on Sunday morning.
Bortolotti, driving the factory-supported No. 3 Car Collection Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo, took over the lead when Nico Mueller pitted just before the 20-hour mark.
Mueller’s No. 1 Audi had moved to a different pit strategy after Frank Stippler made a shorter-than-usual four-lap stint not long after the restart from a long overnight red flag.
This put the No. 3 Car Collection Audi that Bortolotti shares with Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock into a ned lead, while the emergence of a dry line further complicated the situation at the front.
Audi had its three works-backed cars on full wet-weather tires with six hours to go, but BMW moved its challenging M6 GT3s including the Team Schnitzer No. 42 and the ROWE Racing No. 99 onto drying wet tires as the conditions gradually improved.
This call helped Sheldon van der Linde to charge past several cars and into second with the Schnitzer machine, which was behind only the No. 3 Audi with five and a half hours to go.
The lead gap then came down to as little as 4.3 seconds, with van der Linde on a roll and aided by a mistake from Haase who ran through the gravel at Aremberg.
Van der Linde handed the Schnitzer BMW over to Martin Tomczyk and the German driver continued his South African teammate’s good work, pursuing Bortolotti into a round of pit stops just before the race entered its final four hours.
During these stops, Bortolotti remained ahead with his Audi switching over to tires of the cut slick formation, which is the next step above full slick rubber.
ROWE Racing’s Nick Yelloly emerged from the pits ahead of Tomczyk with the two BMWs collectively less than 10 seconds behind the race-leading Audi.
Lance David Arnold was fifth in the best-placed Porsche 911 GT3 R from Frikadelli Racing Team, behind Philipp Eng in the other ROWE BMW.
Audi chanced its No. 29 Land-Motorsport on cut slicks for a stint, but Christopher Mies came back in after just two laps to join his fellow factory drivers on drying wet rubber.
This relegated one of the cars that had been a clear top-three contender to outside the top 10, leaving Kelvin van der Linde trying to make up the lost ground.
Mercedes-AMG’s main challenger for a period was the No. 22 10Q Racing Team machine which rose to as high as 4th with Daniel Juncadella on a charge, although the Spaniard lost momentum with a 32-second stop/hold penalty for disobeying flag signals.
With four hours left the manufacturer’s top entry was the No. 2 Haupt Racing Team car in seventh position, two spots ahead of Juncadella’s co-driver Thomas Jaeger.
The same type of penalty that affected the 10Q Racing squad also impacted the progress of the No. 18 KCMG Porsche which Dennis Olsen moved up to as high as third with five and a half hours to go.