Haupt Racing Team’s No. 4 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo moved into the lead of the Nürburgring 24 after Manuel Metzger closed the gap to GetSpeed Performance driver Fabian Schiller.
Schiller inherited a lead of around 55 seconds from his co-driver Raffaele Marciello, who broke free from HRT’s Maro Engel and the rest of the field in the opening two stints.
But as a dry line emerged over the third and fourth hours it was the No. 4 HRT Mercedes that came to the fore with Metzger eating into Schiller’s advantage on each long lap.
Heading into the third round of stops at the end of hour four, the gap had come down to around seven seconds, although it had been as large as a minute and 20 seconds when Marciello was against Engel.
The two leading Mercedes-AMGs had been running identical stint lengths in the earliest stages of the race but Schiller produced an unexpected nine-lap run coming into the fifth hour, which required a longer third stop than Metzger who came in the lap beforehand.
This handed Metzger a 50-second advantage over Schiller’s co-driver Maximilian Goetz once the pit stops had shaken out.
In third place heading into hour five, and with darkness descending rapidly over the circuit, was Nico Mueller in the No. 1 Audi Sport Team Phoenix Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
Mueller was running just over 40 seconds down on Goetz and a minute and 10 seconds up the road from Christopher Mies in the fourth-placed Audi Sport Team Land car.
The Land machine is on a different pit stop pattern to the other front-runners, following Mies’ short five-lap opening stint.
In fifth place at the end of four hours and four stints was Mirko Bortolotti in the No. 3 Audi Sport Team Car Collection entry.
Bortolotti progressed into the top five near the end of the fourth hour with an overtake on Michele Beretta in the No. 5 Phoenix Racing independent Audi.
One of the early contenders – Konrad Motorsport’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – hit trouble in the third hour when Franck Perera parked up with a mechanical issue.
The car, in which Marco Mapelli charged from 23rd on the grid to third, was responsible for leaving a trail of oil on parts of the Nordschleife until Perera parked up at Bergwerk.
There was also trouble for the Pro-Am BMW M6 GT3 from Walkenhorst Motorsport which had the first big crash of the race exiting the Brunnchen right-hander in hour two.
BMW’s highest-placed entry after four hours was the No. 99 ROWE Racing car in ninth with Nick Yelloly – who started the race – back behind the wheel.
The British driver was chasing Porsche’s Mathieu Jaminet for eighth, while the highest-running Porsche 911 GT3 R of Alexandre Imperatori was a further 20 seconds ahead.