ROWE Racing BMW driver Philipp Eng slipped from second to third before fighting his way into the lead during an action-packed opening stint to the Nürburgring 24.
The Austrian pitted after seven laps and 54 minutes of racing with around three seconds in hand to Jordan Pepper in the Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.
Eng and Pepper were the starring drivers of the opening stanza, with both working their way past pole-sitter Jonathan Hirschi aboard the Octane126 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020.
Eng started his No. 99 BMW M4 GT3 alongside Hirschi on the front row of the grid and held station behind the Ferrari driver through the first lap, while Pepper dropped to fourth behind the BMW Junior Team’s Neil Verhagen.
On lap two, Pepper reclaimed his third-place starting position from Verhagen before advancing to second when Eng got caught up behind a backmarker Toyota Altis at the start of the third lap.
With Hirschi losing momentum as he negotiated cars from lower categories around the Nordschleife, Pepper closed in and pounced on the Ferrari with a high-speed overtake at Kesselchen.
Eng then drafted past Hirschi on the Dottinger Hohe straight and set about finding a way past Pepper’s Lamborghini.
The ROWE BMW driver out-braked Pepper into the Ravenol curve on the Grand Prix portion of the 25.3 km combined circuit, taking a lead that would last until his first pit stop, when he handed over to qualifying driver Augusto Farfus.
Hirschi gradually lost ground and was overtaken by Mercedes-AMG driver Nico Bastian shortly before making the Ferrari’s first stop.
Verhagen ran a few seconds behind Eng and Pepper in third, while Raffaele Marciello made a stellar overtake on Maro Engel, Nico Mueller and Matt Campbell in one move on the Dottinger Hohe to claim fifth, which became fourth when he passed Hirschi.
After Marciello pitted, Toksport WRT Porsche driver Campbell found a way past Verhagen’s BMW.
Another Porsche 911 GT3 R to watch in the opening stint was the No. 1 Manthey example in which Kevin Estre started from 35th after a penalty imposed during practice.
The defending N24 winner reached 21st position before pitting at the first opportunity after five laps alongside the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the Schubert Motorsport BMW and the No. 5 Scherer Sport Team Phoenix Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II.
It was a busy pit stop for Estre as the Frenchman accepted a new front bumper on his Manthey Porsche following a tap from Dinamic Porsche driver Christian Engelhart.
But the cars that pitted at the first chance were on course to have the advantage during the second stint, courtesy of their stops being shorter than their competitors’.