Nürburgring 24 Hours winner Connor De Phillippi believed any chance of a victory was scuppered after his Audi Sport Team Land machine had to make an unscheduled pit call in Hour 22.
De Phillippi, Kelvin van der Linde, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Mies led a race-high 126 laps, but came unstuck with a sensor problem to its No. 29 Audi R8 LMS following the last handover from De Philippi to van der Linde.
Attempts to fix the problem remotely were unsuccessful, requiring van der Linde to tour around the Grand Prix circuit and return to the pits, before re-joining in third.
De Phillippi, who became only the second American driver to win the event after van der Linde’s timely switch to wet tires with two laps to go, said he as convinced that the victory had slipped through his fingers.
“I’d done four or five double stints and we’d been leading for 21 or 22 hours, but when that happened I really thought our race was over to be honest,” he told Sportscar365.
“I thought we could maybe hang onto the podium and if we had luck, maybe get the [second-placed No. 98 ROWE Racing] BMW, but they were also very quick at the end there.
“As soon as I started checking my trusty little weather app, it started looking like there may be rain at the very end. So we put the rain tires in the tire warmers and I don’t want to say prayed for rain, but we were prepared for it.”
Both De Phillippi and Mies were also driving Land’s No. 28 Audi alongside Pierre Kaffer and Christopher Haase.
Repairs to the front-right headlight, electronic glitches and two-left rear punctures – each with De Phillippi at the wheel – ensured the car was outside the top 20 before an oil leak caused it to be retired with four hours to go.
The rollercoaster of emotions across both cars made De Phillippi’s ultimate triumph all the more special.
“I’ve actually never had a tire puncture at this track before and both times I had it at 250 km/h,” he said.
“We had to reduce the camber a bit on the rear because we weren’t sure if we were just overheating. But the fact that I jumped into the 28 car and went through that, then came back to the other car and then had everything go upside down, I’m speechless.
“We definitely will have to soak this one in, this is one to put down in the memory books and remember forever.”
Having added an overall victory in one of Europe’s classic endurance races to the ADAC GT Masters title in 2016 and a close second in the GT Daytona class in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, De Phillippi praised Wolfgang Lang’s family-run team.
“The caliber of the 24 Hour race now is world-class, so for a small team out of a little village that has 750 people in it to be able to pull off an accomplishment like this incredible,” he added.
“Everyone is working in harmony and when you have everyone on the same page, it goes a long, long way in racing.”