ROWE Racing team principal Hans-Peter Naundorf described the first part of the Nürburgring 24 as “really wild” as multiple SP9 cars had incidents in the early running.
Naundorf was among a handful of managers and drivers to assess that the opening stages of this year’s N24 were particularly chaotic and, in some cases, more aggressive than usual.
After six hours of racing, key protagonists such as the Porsche 911 GT3 Rs from Manthey Racing and Toksport WRT, and the BMW M4 GT3s from ROWE Racing’s No. 99 crew and the RMG-supported Junior Team had been eliminated due to accidents.
More cars encountered on-track dramas early on that forced them to spend the rest of the race playing catch up and thinned out the group of front-runners.
Speaking shortly after his No. 98 BMW crashed out from the lead due to a right-front suspension failure, Naundorf said the first portion felt “more like a 15-minute sprint” than an endurance event.
“The start of the race was really wild, the first three or four hours,” he told Sportscar365.
“I think it was too hard and too crazy driving, from everyone. A lot of these things you see are not because cars had failures, just because of rodeo driving.
“It looked more like a 15-minute sprint race than a 24-hour race.
“A lot of cars dropped out, and unfortunately one of ours did as well in a collision with another car.
“That was the first downside for us. We were just trying to get motivated again and trying to get the No. 98 in front. We told the drivers to really pay attention and take care, just take it more easy.”
The No. 99 ROWE BMW retired in the fourth hour after Nick Yelloly made contact with Julien Andlauer’s Toksport WRT Porsche at the chicane.
The collision sent the Porsche into the gravel as the BMW picked up an array of damage to parts including the front-right suspension, bodywork and cooling system.
When asked if his team got dragged into the wild nature of the SP9 race, Naundorf said: “If everybody touches you and pushes you wide, you just want to get out of this bunch and find clear air.
“But they’re racing drivers, not taxi drivers.”
Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed’s Adam Christodoulou noted that his team approached this N24 with the policy of not forcing the issue when close racing situations arose.
His No. 3 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo ended up having a trouble-free run and finished second behind the winning Audi Sport Team Phoenix entry.
“You have to fight for track position but our approach this year was that we can’t have any contact or anything, so we gave a little bit more margin,” Christodoulou said.
“We fought, but if it was side by side, then it was like: ‘let’s live to fight another day.’ I think that definitely helped.
“There’s always going to be risks and you’re cutting everything as fine as you can. You try to get as close as you can to little cars because you need to maximize cornering speeds.
“Every now and again, mistakes happen, but the start of the race was as if it was the final hour of the race, to be honest, a little chaotic.
“I got a front seat to the whole thing; not that I was too happy about it at the time because of course, I was just trying to survive myself.”
Kelvin van der Linde, who was on the winning Phoenix Audi crew, feels that close-quarters racing in the early stages has become a “general trend” in the N24.
“Every year there are more competitive cars with all-factory lineups and it’s forcing all of us to take so much risk,” he said.
“Over one lap you can only make one or two seconds maximum, as a driver.
“Where you really win the lap time is in traffic and strategy. It’s just forcing people to take a lot of risks.”
KCMG team manager Matt Howson reckons that some of the SP9 teams will need to consider how to avoid such frantic opening-stage racing in future N24 editions.
He said that KCMG’s Porsche encountered an engine mount failure that was potentially caused by repeated bashing with other cars.
“In this race, you need to be very aggressive in traffic and everyone is just duking for track position,” Howson told Sportscar365.
“But it felt like it was a little bit too much at times, just looking at the amount of incidents and bangs.
“In four hours of a 24-hour race, the attrition rate was atrocious, and a lot of the teams will be reflecting on why that is.
“I think it probably wasn’t the best spectacle in the sense that there should have been more cars in the fight.
“We have to look back and see what went wrong, and what we can do to improve it in the future.”
Davey Euwema contributed to this report