Falken Motorsports team principal Sven Schnabl has said he’s crossing his fingers that the recent dominating form of Porsche teams in the NLS and Nürburgring 24 qualifying race will be maintained through to this weekend’s 24-hour race.
Porsche 911 GT3 Rs have commanded the races held on the Nordschleife so far this season, with Manthey Racing and Frikadelli Racing Team winning the first two NLS rounds before the latter added another win at last month’s six-hour dress rehearsal race.
Falken Motorsports, which is run by Schnabl Engineering, has also finished at the sharp end of each race held so far, starting with seventh in NLS round two for Alessio Picariello and Dirk Werner.
That result was backed up by a podium for Klaus Bachler and Martin Ragginger in round three, followed by sixth in the N24 qualifying race where the team ran its full crews.
After three races in which Porsches filled out seven of the nine available podium spots, Schnabl said that he hopes the 911 GT3 Rs won’t be surprised by their rivals during qualifying or be hit with any Balance of Performance adjustments to slow them down.
The BoP issued for the N24 is unchanged since the qualifying race bar a few clarifications, although further adjustments can be made over the next few days.
“I cross my fingers and I hope so,” Schnabl told Sportscar365 when asked if he thinks Porsche’s teams can maintain their NLS and qualifying race form into the headline event.
“They want to start the 24-hours with the same BoP as the qualifying race. Because the organizers saw that others can do better and didn’t do.
“I have to look at what’s going on in Team Falken, and I have no idea what’s going on in ROWE, Phoenix or whoever. If I summarize: It’s not because the BoP has been pro-Porsche.
“We ran the same BoP that we ran in the 2020 24-hour race. So why suddenly should Porsche be that much quicker? I don’t know. The car has, technically, no updates at all.
“The question is: is anyone sandbagging? I don’t know. We just go as quick as we can and that is the status Porsche is doing with all their cars. Maybe it’s different with others. I do not know.
“I just hope that in Top Qualifying, the others just do not bring anything they did not show in terms of performance.
“Two years back, what happened to Mercedes at Spa: suddenly they burned out a firework and nobody could follow. I hope that’s not going to happen at the Nürburgring.
“I don’t want to say we are well-sorted, but we are sorted OK. Our drivers have had quite some track time. We did not do anything silly or stupid in terms of maneuvers on the track.
“But you never know, the race could finish at 3:40 p.m. after the race starts. The main thing is to finish, first, and then hopefully on the podium. And if it could be even better, on top of the podium.”
Haupt Racing Team principal Sean Paul Breslin reckons that Porsche will “dominate” the N24 on the current BoP while he expects the Mercedes-AMG teams to struggle.
Mercedes-AMG ran strongly at the event last year and led the opening hours until the lead cars from HRT and GetSpeed crashed out, paving the way for a BMW win from Audi.
“Porsche will dominate the race,” Breslin told Sportscar365. “BMW should be quite good as well. Porsche should nail it.
“Nobody believes that we don’t really have the performance, but we don’t. Everything we’ve got is there. We can do a good lap, probably in qualifying with Maro [Engel] on a banzai lap and low fuel.
“But as soon as you make the car heavy with the fuel, it’s so much extra weight on top of the weight – and it’s the heaviest car by far – that it’s very, very difficult to navigate through traffic. The car is just heavier and the Porsche’s much lighter.”
ROWE Racing’s Hans-Peter Naundorf, whose BMW team is the defending N24 winner, is confident that his outfit can mount a challenge at the front despite Porsche’s form.
“Although we saw in the warm‑up races that the sheer performance of other cars is better than ours, we will not let that discourage us,” said Naundorf.
“We are a perfectly‑rehearsed team with an enormous amount of team spirit and we will take our opportunity, should it come our way.”
Falken Continuing to Manage Remote Engineering
Schnabl suggested that Falken is in a better position to tackle this N24 than last year, considering that was the first edition held during the coronavirus pandemic and, for the team, its first since switching to two Porsches rather than one Porsche and one BMW.
However, the organization is continuing to use remote communications to liaise with Falken’s Japanese engineers who cannot attend the event due to travel restrictions.
The Falken Porsches have new soft and medium tires for the 2021 race, while their NLS program after the N24 will launch the development of next season’s Falken tire product.
“It was already easier for us last year to run a two-car Porsche team than to run a two-car BMW and Porsche team,” said Schnabl.
“In terms of handling and communication, looking into data, driving different setups, tire development: that’s why we pushed for a two-car team from one manufacturer.
“It didn’t matter if it was Porsche, BMW, Audi or Mercedes. But at the end of the day, it should have been a car manufacturer we worked with before, either BMW or Porsche.
“At least that was already easier for us. Yes, the situation with COVID-19 is that our Japanese tire engineers [have] not been able to attend since the middle of last year.
“They are still not coming. That didn’t make the situation easier.
“These things which we set up last year, telemetry to Japan and so on, we are quite used to that now. We do [Microsoft] Teams meetings in debriefs so everyone can follow.
“In terms of drivers, yes we are in a better position than we have been last year.
“It was already a better go for us last year, but for the whole package – even with all the restrictions we have at the moment – I think it’s easier for everybody today than it was in September last year.”