Richard Westbrook believes that BMW is better-prepared to take the fight to Mercedes-AMG in the Nürburgring 24, as the M6 GT3 makes its second appearance in the Eiffel classic.
On its first outing at the Green Hell in 2016, BMW was Mercedes’ greatest challenger, with the No. 18 Schubert entry leading the early stages until it suffered a terminal engine failure and the No. 23 ROWE Racing car finishing as the best non-Mercedes in fifth.
ROWE skipped the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup season-opener at Monza to attend the six-hour qualifying race and Westbrook is optimistic that the team is well-placed to add a second 24 hour success, after its Spa victory achieved by Alexander Sims, Philipp Eng and Maxime Martin last year.
New rules for this year have prohibited the use of non-commercially available development tires and limit aerodynamic performance with ride height and rear-wing changes, but Westbrook, who shares the No. 98 BMW with Sims, Nick Catsburg and Markus Palttala, thinks it has affected all manufacturers in a similar way.
“It just felt like we were a bit green to it last year with the car and the pre-race prep definitely hasn’t been as good as it has this year,” Westbrook told Sportscar365.
“From my side, I feel like we’ve got a lot more running under our belt, it’s been a lot more trouble-free.
“The tire situation and the aero situation is the same for everyone, so how it affects us will affect the Mercedes equally I’m sure. I just think that we’re a bit better prepared and we’ll be able to take the fight to Mercedes more so than we did last year.”
Westbrook is one of three Ford-contracted drivers in the race, with Stefan Muecke and Dirk Mueller joining the HTP and Black Falcon Mercedes squads, respectively.
This will be the Briton’s third attempt with BMW and his second with ROWE after finishing a close second with a Marc VDS-entered Z4 GT3 in 2015.
While the racing is very different in style to what he is accustomed to in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where safety car interruptions are commonplace, Westbrook counts the N24 as one of his favorite events.
“I’ve had this relationship with BMW for some years now going back to 2015, so I’m really happy to be back – it’s one of my favorite events, definitely one of the toughest but I really like the challenge and I’m really thankful to Ford for letting me continue doing it,” added Westbrook.
“There’s definitely no time for relaxing at the Nürburgring and the weather is always a challenge, as we saw last year with that torrential hailstorm, it looked like something out of Armageddon! You just never know what’s around the corner.
“It’s a big achievement to not put a scratch on the car for 24 hours round there, it’s flat out from the word go because even though it’s a 24 hour race, there is no Safety Car to neutralize the race, which obviously we’re used to in America.
“When I first started coming here in 2008, it used to be that you could take it easy for the first few hours and just see how the race plays out, but if you do that now then you’re going to lose a minute in your stint and you can’t afford to do that. It’s way, way more competitive than when I first started.”