Mercedes legend Bernd Schneider has put in a stirring double stint for Black-Falcon to take the German company to its first Nurburgring 24 Hour victory after a best described bizarre twice around the clock classic at the Nordschleife.
The win, which Schneider shared with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards and Nicki Thiim adds to the AMG Customer Sport program's victory at the Dubai 24 Hour and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour – both with Schneider at the wheel – to ensure the SLS AMG GT3 is undefeated in every major production touring car endurance race in the world during 2013.
Much of the night component of the race was eliminated when heavy rain and fog descended on the German forests, officials deeming conditions too dangerous to continue. Around nine hours saw the 175 cars sit in pitlane until the changeable conditions eased and racing could continue around 8a.m.
It was the first time that Schneider had completed the 24 Hour event. In a further bizarre twist, with his driving duties complete, Bleekemolen left the circuit with around six hours remaining to be by his wife's bedside as she was giving birth to twins!
At the re-start, the Bilstein Aston-Martin driven by regular Australian visitor, Allan Simonsen led the way and the Dunlop-shod Black-Falcon Gullwing was positioned in 13th.
Schneider charged his way forward and showed all of his skill to recover from an off that almost eliminated the Anglo-German effort. From there he was able to work his way into the lead. Then in a stunning 25 minute stanza with three and a half hours remaining, he extended the lead in damp conditions from 18 seconds to in excess of two minutes.
It was almost an AMG trifecta with the pair of ROWE Racing SLS' – containing Bathurst victors Thomas Jager and Alex Roloff – getting themselves in position to complete the podium.
An outstanding final stint by Belgian, Maxime Martin, in the Marc VDS BMW Z4 saw him set the fastest lap of the race with 10 minutes remaining in the event and charge past both of the ROWE Mercedes. At times he was 20 seconds faster than anyone else on circuit.
Whilst many of the smaller class competitors were spending their final 22 kilometre lap on a tour of the ‘ring, Edwards in the Black-Falcon machine and Martin were in a battle to the finish line – with the two German marques being within two minutes of each other on the final tour.
The #22 ROWE SLS completed the podium after the #23 machine had to stop for a splash and dash after a strong fight between the two team cars in the final 20 minutes.
A number of Australians made the annual trip to the Nurburgring with the first Australian home being former V8 Supercar racer, Rodney Forbes. He finished in an outstanding 14th position outright on board a 2010 model Porsche Carrera Cup machine.
West Aussie Paul Stubber taking 35th position in a Porsche 997 GT3. An all Australian Porsche effort containing Clint Harvey, Brett Niall, Malcolm Niall and Mark Pilatti finished 54th and Rob Thomson came home 61st.
Perpetual Nordschleife visitors Mal Rose and Peter Leemhuis brought their Aston Martin Vantage home in 76th, whilst Angus Chapel and Garth Duffy were 78th. Martin Bailey came home 125th, whilst Christopher Gleeson and Ric Shaw in their respective efforts didn't finish, whilst an all Antipodean outfit of Tony Alford, Kean Booker, Richard Gartner and Peter O'Donnell lasted just three laps.
With the long term future of the Nurburgring being seriously in question at the moment, the success and tough competition that marked the 41st edition of the 24 Hour race at the Nordschleife showed that regardless of what happens with the ownership of the circuit, the spirit of the Green Hell will live on.