The Nürburgring 24-winning Audi Sport Team Phoenix crew needed to push “250 percent” because 100 percent “wasn’t enough”, according to Dries Vanthoor.
The No. 4 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo that Vanthoor took to the line after earlier stints by Frank Stippler, Frederic Vervisch and Pierre Kaffer won after a clean run in the face of setbacks for the various front-runners.
Vanthoor said that the team needed to tread a fine line between pushing to stay within reach of the lead pack and being careful not to make any mistakes, especially early on.
This year’s N24 was marked by a series of late issues for the top cars, including the No. 911 Manthey Porsche which lost a nailed-on shot at victory through a lengthy stop/hold penalty, and crashes for the main Mercedes-AMG GT3s.
These incidents helped guide the No. 4 Phoenix car to victory, marking Audi’s fifth Nürburgring win in eight years.
“From lap one we started pushing like hell, because we knew that we had to push to be evenly matched or even get close,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365.
“This was really hard. I’m really exhausted, and completely done. I gave 250 percent because 100 percent wasn’t enough, not even to keep up.
“In my first stint I had to really push hard to keep up and push even harder to do something, but the car got better during the race.
“In the night it worked really well, and we could push. At the end we got a bit of luck with the others making mistakes. Unfortunately, Laurens [Vanthoor] had a penalty so we knew we could take the lead.
“I think we can be very happy with the race we had – it was one of the hardest 24-hour races I’ve done, and to come out with a victory is a very nice feeling”.
Vanthoor’s co-driver Stippler agreed that the Audis didn’t have the pace to match the Porsche and Mercedes-AMG entries in the early running.
Beyond a brief spell in third for the off-strategy No. 14 Car Collection Audi near the start, no R8 Evo ran extensively in the top three until the Phoenix car emerged as a contender in Hour 20.
After a close on-track battle with the Audi Sport Team Land car and the No. 6 Black Falcon Mercedes, the Phoenix machine eked out a gap and assumed the lead when the Manthey Porsche was pegged back around three hours from the end.
“We tried the hardest we could because we realized that by speed only, we were not competitive enough,” Stippler told Sportscar365.
“We were pushing like hell, and we thought that by pushing like hell and not making many mistakes, we could maybe make the top five. Then we were lucky at the very end.
“I don’t think we would have beaten [the Manthey Porsche] by speed, but fortunately, by good luck and hard work, we went without mistakes. This was the key.”
The 44-year-old felt that this weekend’s victory made up for a string of tough N24 races for the Phoenix squad, which hadn’t been on the overall podium since its last victory in 2014.
Long-time Phoenix driver Stippler, who won with the team in 2012, admitted he’s had a sense of “bad karma” arriving at the circuit in recent years following a series of disappointing races including three straight retirements from 2014 to 2016.
“The last few years were disappointing for me personally, because our car retired four or five times in a row even if we had a very strong, competitive driver lineup with a very competitive car,” he said.
“Then, at a certain stage, you get into a bit of a bad mood travelling to the ‘Ring, hoping you don’t have the same bad luck and karma.
“I was very happy that we could have a comeback last season, finishing the race as one of the best Audis, and we were back in the rankings at least. This year, we were even better.”