With a winning margin of just 5.6 seconds, last year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours was the closest finish in the 45 year-history of the event and will live long in the memory for Maro Engel’s dramatic final lap pass on Christian Hohenadel to take victory for Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon.
However, despite Mercedes-AMG sweeping the top four positions, the mood at the checkered flag was tense, as Hohenadel’s irate HTP Motorsport team believed it had assurances that Engel would not attack them.
Marco Seefried, now driving for Falken Motorsports, did not attend the podium to collect his second-place trophy, while Mercedes-AMG factory driver Christian Vietoris was the only member of the crew to attend the post-race press conference.
HTP lodged a protest into Engel’s race-winning move, as side-to-side contact between the cars occurred at the Ravenol corner on the Grand Prix circuit, although this was swiftly dismissed by the stewards.
Twelve months on, those feelings are still raw.
“I just was disappointed because we got told what has to happen and what really happened out on track was not matching,” Seefried told Sportscar365.
“To come up here and be in the position to maybe have the win, it takes so much. You have to have some luck and to be there at the end to fight for a win is a difficult one.
“I have no problem finishing second, but I would like to end up second in an honest way. How this turned out to be was a disappointment to me.
“I didn’t get the trophy, I even don’t know who has it. Maybe Mercedes took it, maybe the team took it, at the end I didn’t care anymore.”
Hohenadel was struggling with his brakes in the closing stages, which allowed Engel to close in.
However, despite the Black Falcon car’s evident pace advantage, fourth member of the crew Renger van der Zande believed Hohenadel had the race sewn up.
“We thought the race was more or less there, we were in the pit-box waiting for the last lap and then this happened, so what can you say?” said the Dutchman, who has switched to the Haribo Mercedes team for this year’s race.
“Christian didn’t expect that Maro would dive-bomb him from so far away. The whole combination of it made it very tense and very exciting from the outside, but very bad for us.
“Between two cars from the same brand, it was a very harsh move. I don’t think I would have done the same move, it was full on risk, too much in my opinion, but he got away with it.
“We were prepared to celebrate but that didn’t happen.”
For his part, Engel looks back on the weekend as the high point of his career.
Having taken pole position in the Top-30 Qualifying in the No. 9 Black Falcon Mercedes, Engel switched back to the No. 4 car in the closing stages and set the fastest lap of the entire race on the penultimate tour as he closed in on Hohenadel.
“It was an incredible weekend and probably the best weekend in motorsport that I’ve had in my whole career,” he told Sportscar365.
“To get pole position and complete my very small personal triple crown with Bathurst and Macau was quite special, but the race was almost even more special in the way it unfolded with the hail [which caused the race to be red-flagged] and then obviously it went right down to the wire.”
Engel regrets that contact was made, but never considered a redress.
“I actually had my nose ahead a little bit,” he said. “It was a little bit unfortunate that there was still contact, but I’d like to think that I did everything I could to avoid it because I was on the left-side up on the curb and fully alongside.
“Once I was in the lead it was really a question of getting my head down. I really forced myself not to think about the potential win or anything, because anything can happen in one lap of the Nordschleife.
“I maybe added 5 percent more safety, but I knew I had to put a really strong lap together to pull a bit of a gap, because with one wrong traffic at a wrong place, you could easily lose two or three seconds and get overtaken.”
Could he have waited for a better opportunity to present itself?
“Not really, it’s really hard to predict and time, because a lot of cars come out of the pits for that final lap, a lot of cars are slowing to find their team-mates or even to try and get into the final finishing picture,” Engel explained.
“I caught him by Brünnchen on the penultimate lap and thought I will probably have a good chance on the Döttinger Höhe to have a go, but then I caught traffic in Schwalbenschwanz and the gap was too big, which just shows how difficult it is to plan anything.”
Van der Zande is a great friend of Engel’s, but is determined to have his revenge on-track this year.
“It’s all done now, we race on the limit and people cry, so you have to give Maro credit for being a real racer and as a racer sometimes you have to be very opportunistic, which is what he did,” he added.
“I’m back here this year to win the race, because I have something left to finish off here.”