The new Nürburgring 24 qualifying format designed to prevent manufacturers from masking the performance of their cars is forcing teams up and down the grid to adjust.
A new rule brought in for the 2019 race means the pre-qualifying order will be decided by each car’s theoretical ‘perfect’ lap, which is worked out by combining the best sectors over five hours of running on Thursday and Friday.
A total of 17 cars were confirmed as shootout participants before the event, based on their theoretical best laps in the Nordschleife-based VLN series and the N24 Qualifying Race.
This has left 19 cars on the bubble and trying to secure a place in the shootout to have a chance of contesting for the overall pole.
The new system effectively means that the car setting the best overall lap time across the two preliminary sessions might not necessarily come away with the best theoretical.
Audi Sport Team Land driver Kelvin van der Linde, whose No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo has already been guaranteed a shootout spot, said the system needs to be “optimized” for fans to understand.
“It’s super confusing; for the fans it’s not great,” van der Linde told Sportscar365. “It’s even hard for the media to explain, so a person sitting at home has no clue what’s going on.
“I think we need a finer line between making everybody push, that’s the background behind it, and also giving the fans something to understand at home.
“I liked the system we had before which was very clear-cut, we had to be in the top 20 otherwise we are out. Now, 80 percent of the Pro cars and 80 percent of the Pro-Am cars [can reach the shootout], so it’s very difficult.
“Maybe they can improve the on-screen data that they have for the people.”
Van der Linde believes the new system is a good idea performance-wise, and will encourage teams to show a truer pace in next year’s VLN races building up to the N24.
“Based on this year’s experience, a lot of the teams will push harder in the VLNs to make sure they’ve secured [a Top-Qualifying place],” he said.
“We’ve seen manufacturers that didn’t show everything and then got a BoP cut when they eventually did.
“I think this year, especially with the technology of the new sector system, everybody is actually pushing very hard.
“From that point of view, they’ve made steps to avoid this kind of sand-bagging effect.”
Head of Mercedes-AMG customer racing Stefan Wendl noted that ‘bubble’ teams are being forced to push their tire allocations in preliminary quali to secure a shootout berth.
He suggested to Sportscar365 that this means other teams with cars already booked in for Top-Qualifying automatically have more leniency in managing their tire sets.
Mercedes-AMG has five cars – three in the Pro class and two in Pro-Am – that are trying to progress, including the No. 6 Black Falcon and No. 48 Mann Filter entries.
“It must have taken quite a while to understand the system even though we were a part of constructing it,” said Wendl.
“It’s not just ADAC – all manufacturers were involved to put it in place. It’s there to activate all the cars and avoid sandbagging, to show maximum potential. The idea is still right.
“I think the times are some seconds slower than the qualifying pace and there are some brands which don’t need to show any performance yet, which are only in their race-prep program, while we are on quali run after quali run.
“For example, the No. 48 [Mann Filter Mercedes] used two sets of tires yesterday. We needed continuous running to get the two sectors done.”
Van der Linde believes that securing a top 30 starting position is imperative for the N24 because of the lack of safety cars and ways of making up lost time.
“I think [not having to pre-qualify] is a better situation to be in, because I just see the stress of the other guys,” he said.
“For us, it’s super relaxed, but if we go 10 meters down the pit lane it’s complete stress.
“They really want to make sure the car is in there, because if you’re out of the top 30 it’s a big disadvantage.”
Jake Kilshaw contributed to this report.