Walkenhorst Motorsport won the Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie season-opener after a time penalty denied the new Haupt Racing Team from winning on its competition debut.
Maro Engel appeared to have given the recently-launched HRT Mercedes squad a victory on its maiden outing by overtaking David Pittard in the Walkenhorst BMW M6 GT3 with just over 10 minutes remaining and building a 10-second lead up to the checkered flag.
But Engel, who shared the Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo with Patrick Assenheimer in the four-hour contest, was classified second after a 37-second time penalty was applied for their car undercutting its minimum pit time requirement.
This handed the win to Pittard and Mikkel Jensen, who were without their usual co-driver Christian Krognes, while Engel and Assenheimer settled for second ahead of Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed’s Fabian Schiller, Raffaele Marciello and Maximilian Buhk.
Assenheimer started from pole and was almost 10 seconds clear of the pack by the end of the opening stint, only for Buhk to get ahead during the first round of pit stops.
The two Mercedes drivers then engaged in an entertaining tussle for the lead, swapping places twice, while several other cars jostled for the positions behind them in hour two.
Buhk held sway into the second round of stops, while Assenheimer slipped to third after being overtaken by DTM driver Nico Müller in the Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
Müller made an expert move just before halfway, diving down the inside of Assenheimer and Phoenix Racing’s Michele Beretta in a single action at the Turn 1 hairpin.
But the third round of stops reshuffled the order and produced another lead change as the Walkenhorst BMW emerged in front, with Jensen running ahead of Engel, Schiller, Beretta’s co-driver Kim Luis Schramm and Robin Frijns, who was in for Müller.
Jensen gained a handful of seconds on Engel during the penultimate stint, enabling the Dane to narrowly stay ahead after his pursuer made up time during the final stop by staying out for an extra lap.
Engel then erased the reduced buffer during the short final stint and made a move at the start of Lap 25 in the stadium part of the circuit’s sprint section.
However, this action proved to be for naught, as the time penalty switched back the positions and handed Walkenhorst the spoils.
Reigning Nürburgring 24 winner Phoenix Racing was on course to finish third after jumping GetSpeed in the final round of stops, but its Audi encountered a mechanical problem on the last lap, forcing Beretta to limp it home in seventh.
This gave Schiller, Marciello and Buhk a top-three result, while the Audi driven by Müller, Frijns and recent Audi Formula E signing Rene Rast ended up fourth.
ROWE Racing completed the top five with its BMW driven by Nicky Catsburg and Philipp Eng, ahead of the best of the Porsche 911 GT3 Rs.
Manthey Racing’s Julien Andlauer, Matt Campbell and Lars Kern finished sixth ahead of the stricken Phoenix Audi, while Falken Motorsports’ Porsche crossed the line in eighth.
Frikadelli Racing’s Porsche crew of Klaus Abbelen, Lance David Arnold and Alex Müller earned the SP9 Pro-Am class honors, beating GetSpeed Performance’s No. 8 Mercedes.
Best of the GT4 finishers was the Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 which won the SP10 category in 21st overall.
In addition to having no spectators around the Nordschleife, Saturday’s race included the introduction of a new pit lane system designed to keep the 141 teams safely distanced.
The new measure, which involves tire changes in the paddock and refueling in the conventional pit lane, is set to be in place for the rest of the NLS season.
RESULTS: Adenauer ADAC Trophy