Fred Makowiecki says he was told by his Manthey Racing crew that it was a “win or nothing” situation, which set the tone for his storming final stint in treacherous conditions to claim victory in the Nürburgring 24.
The Frenchman gave Porsche its first overall N24 win in seven years in Sunday’s rain-drenched and weather-affected enduro, with a late-race red flag for fog setting up a frantic 90-minute shootout to the finish.
Makowiecki restarted in second and was essentially gifted four minutes due the neutralization, moments after being forced to serve a 3-minute and 32-second stop-and-hold penalty for a Code 60 speeding violation that dropped the No. 912 Porsche 911 GT3 R from the lead.
While having bounced back from a first-lap puncture that cost them roughly three minutes, Makowiecki knew he and co-drivers Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz had a competitive car underneath them.
“It was a deal with my teammates that we said, after the puncture, now we push and we’ll see where we are,” Makowiecki told Sportscar365.
“We knew we had the chance to win and knew we had the speed to win but we had to take risks to get it.
“When I started the last stint, they came to me and said it was win or nothing. We were on this page. I was there to take a lot of risks because we wanted to win and not finish P2.
“I think I could have been more disappointed if I had the speed and came back with second place, that’s why I tried to do my best.”
Makowiecki’s daring pass on the race-leading No. 4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Adam Christodoulou put him out front with 1 hour and 11 minutes to go, but he still had the challenge of lap traffic and worsening conditions to deal with.
“When I could see it was not too hard to follow, I thought we had a chance because we saw that during the race that the Mercedes was quicker than us in the very heavy rain; that’s why we weren’t so optimistic,” he said.
“At the end, we had a mega car, in the dry, in the rain, we were really competitive.
“I’m so proud of my teammates and team. I have no words for this dream.”
Christodoulou: Porsche Was Too Quick
Runner-up finisher Christodoulou admitted that he was unable to challenge Makowiecki in the closing stages once his tires faded away.
The Sean Paul Breslin-led Black Falcon squad had been hoping for the race to run one lap less, which would in effect had given them a shorter refueling time on the final stop.
However, Makowiecki’s 31-second gap he pulled on the Mercedes prior to the final stops negated that chance.
“When we came in for the last splash and dash, we weren’t sure if it was going to be one or two laps in the end,” Christodoulou said.
“To be honest, they pulled a gap on us and I just started running out of tire.
“I tried to fight it for as long as possible but they were just a bit too quick. They seemed to have had a bit more traction and as soon as it started raining, this is where I felt we had a struggle.”
Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser said that was the turning point of the race.
“It was clear we had to make a gap if they could do one lap more,” he told Sportscar365. “So we made a gap and their strategy was blown away.
“I think with the strategy and that [Fred] could make the gap… at the end of the day that was the winning point.”
Walliser: ‘A Race to Remember’
Walliser, meanwhile, is reveling in the German manufacturer’s historic victory, in what he says is the most significant GT win since joining the motorsports department in late 2014.
“The race was really something to remember,” he said. “There was really difficult conditions and this 90-minute shootout was unbelievable.
“On the most difficult race track in the world, in the worst conditions, two cars were fighting each other for the win of the 24-hour race. And both drivers knew it; it was crazy.”
The victory, coming on the 70th anniversary of Porsche, also marked the first Nürburgring 24 win for the Manthey squad since Porsche took a majority interest in the team.
Despite the red flag playing into their favor, in eliminating a four-minute deficit to the Mercedes, Walliser reckoned they could have still had a chance for the win had it stayed green.
“It was not completely impossible,” he said. “It would have been very, very close. We calculated 5.5 seconds [per lap needed to hunt down the Mercedes].
“I think we had many situations, like in Bathurst and Macau where we’ve not been lucky. For sure that helped a little bit.
“But this is the strategy and preparation of racing. It’s also part of the success. You can’t try to make a lucky shot here. There’s no chance; it doesn’t work.”