Falken Motorsport has taken the bold and unusual step of running two different brands at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, pairing a BMW M6 GT3 with its trusted Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The decision was reached following a successful trial run in VLN 8 with the BMW, which proved to be instantly on the pace on a Falken tire designed for the Porsche.
Peter Dumbreck is sharing the BMW with Alexandre Imperatori, Step Dusseldorp and Marco Seefried, who finished second last year with HTP Motorsport, while factory drivers Laurens Vanthoor, Dirk Werner and Joerg Bergmeister are joined in the Porsche by Martin Ragginger.
The two cars are vastly different in the way they achieve their lap times, with the BMW relying on aero and the rear-wheel-drive Porsche on traction out of the slower corners.
As a result, there is limited data transfer between the two brands, with the team having to debrief each of their crews separately.
“There is almost no crossover,” Dumbreck told Sportscar365.
The Briton is a newcomer to BMW this year after many years of racing Mercedes and Porsche machinery.
“We have separate meetings, the two cars run under the same team banner, but we are effectively two separate teams with separate engineers and mechanics,” he said.
This, combined with the necessity to bring a full package of spares for each of the cars, creates a lot of additional work for the team, however as team boss Sven Schnabl explains, it offers a huge benefit to Falken from the perspective of developing tires.
“Up to the 24-hour race two cars have been confirmed, which is logistics-wise and setup-wise a bit of a nightmare because it’s not just running two cars, it’s double the amount of spares, double the amount of rims, equipment and so on,” he told Sportscar365.
“Tire-wise, we came to a point after the qualifying race where we said ‘which direction do we go?’ ‘Do we start to do different tires for different brands?’
“Until now we tried to do the same for both cars and until now it worked, but if we are going to continue with two cars after the 24-hour race, we might go different ways in development for BMW or for a Porsche.”
Moreover, Falken’s approach enables them to effectively second-guess the Balance of Performance process by having their feet in both camps.
“Whatever goes on with BoP, we might have the advantage with the other brand if one gets a BoP which is worse or is suddenly some car manufacturer makes a huge step forwards,” said Schnabl.
“If you have two different brands, you will benefit from whatever BoP they get.”
Dumbreck continues: “Suddenly instead of having one car, Falken has an extra 50 percent chance of doing better in the race.
“They don’t mind which car wins, although of course we’d like the BMW to win and the Porsche crew would like their car to win!”
The move has strategic advantages too, albeit one not necessarily related to running two different brands.
“Whatever decision we made on tires, on whatever, rain tires, hard or medium, we only had one perspective to go on, we couldn’t rely on anybody in the past, but this should help us for sure,” Schnabl said.
“If we have one car which is in Fuchshorhe and they say ‘rain, rain, rain’, then we can call the other car in. That is something which is definitely a benefit for us.”
“Especially at the Nürburgring, information and communication is key between cars of a brand or a team, because if you see something you can report it before I see it eight minutes down the line,” adds Vanthoor.
“That way it doesn’t matter if it’s a Porsche or a BMW, that’s just a fact of having two cars.”
Both cars are locked in for the Top-30 Qualifying session this afternoon and the Falken Porsche has shown stronger pace than the factory-run Manthey cars on Michelins, which Schnabl argues underlines the worth of the team’s innovative approach.
“We showed in VLN 1, VLN 2 and the quali race that we can compete with the best cars on the grid overall, at least with the best cars from each manufacturer,” said Schnabl.
“We nearly won VLN 1 with a Porsche, then we were a bit unlucky, but we’ve been up to the pace of the front-running Porsches and up to the pace with the best BMWs.”
Vanthoor was the man at the wheel in the closing stages of VLN 1 before an altercation with a back-marker at the Hohenrain Chicane derailed his hopes.
However, despite that crushing disappointment, the Belgian takes comfort that Falken have been competitive from the beginning and believes they could be a dark horse for victory on Sunday afternoon.
“Michelin is struggling quite a bit, so you could almost say that we have an advantage,” Vanthoor said.
“I think on one lap pace we are similar to the others, but we’re very consistent compared to the other Porsches, so it’s a very good thing.
“In terms of the preparation and the tires on the car and everything else, I think we are looking good compared to some others who still have some worries about tires.
“We’ve honestly not been playing the game, we’ve just done our work and always driven what we could.
“Now we will see in qualifying and the race if suddenly someone is surprisingly good, but if it goes like it was, I’d say we’re there among the favorites.”