A year on from delivering Mercedes’ first ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours victory, the Black Falcon team were ‘only’ able to finish second at the 2014 edition of the endurance race around the Nordschleife.
Despite the dissapointment, drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen, Andreas Simonsen, Christian Menzel and Lance David Arnold completed a record race distance of 159 laps of the 25.378 metre circuit, that combines the famed ‘Green Hell’ and the newer Grand Prix track of the Nurburgring.
Though their red liveried, Reissdorf Alkohol-Frei sponsored Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 carried the number 1 through the race, it was a largely new look line-up in the car compared to the quartet who scored the 2013 win. Nicki Thiim was, instead part of a rival Audi team, Bernd Schneider was at the race but only in a role as a Mercedes ambassador, while Sean Edwards, who drove the bulk of the 2013 race with Schneider was tragically killed in an accident in Australia late last year.
The Briton was remembered by the team, the #1 carrying a tribute to him across the front of its bonnet. Thus, the team set out to defend their victory, seeking what surely would have been an emotional victory.
Unfortunately, while the team would be part of a thrilling battle through the first part of the race they would finish three minutes behind the winners, as both of the leading cars completed a record race distance. The Phoenix Racing team of Christopher Haase, Markus Winkelhock, Rene Rast and Christian Mamerow celebrated Audi’s return to the N24 victory podium, with Haase and Winkelhock taking their second wins in the race having been part of the 2012 winning line-up.
For a brief period in the earlier hours of daylight on Sunday morning, the Black Falcon Mercedes and Phoenix Audi crossed the line with the timing systems unable to put even a tenth of a second between them. Incredibly after the pair came across the line wheel to wheel to end the 102nd lap they repeated the feat the following lap before the #4 Audi was able to move into a lead.
From that point the #4 car never had to give up the lead as their rivals, including the #1 crew were delayed with penalties and problems through the latter portion of the race.
The Black Falcon team’s offence was failing to adhere to the minimum pit stop length mandated by the regulations, the team serving their sentence as part of another scheduled stop shortly after their neck-and-neck passes with the Audi.
The defending winners fell to third later on Sunday, losing a place to the #20 BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert Z4 GT3. However the BMW team would also be hit by a penalty – theirs for avoidable contact with a Black Falcon run V6 class Porsche – before suspension damage following a spin dropped them from the top five and left them dicing with the Aston Martin Vantage team in the final laps over fifth place.
Falken Motorsports’ Porsche finished fourth, behind the #22 Rowe Racing team, who put their SLS AMG GT3 on the podium, alongside the Black Falcon entry.
Both SLS had been among the eight different cars that led laps during the first half of the race, starting with the Kevin Estre Dorr Motorsport McLaren that led off from pole. But after Maxime Martin had spun his Marc VDS run BMW out of second on some oil, it was the #14 Black Falcon that became the McLaren’s nearest challenger.
The team’s ‘second’ entry in the GT3 class, crewed by Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Adam Christodoulou and Yelmer Buurman, had started as the best of the Mercedes, however in the race and after leading 13 laps it crashed during the hours of darkness while trying to file past slower cars.
With substantial damage to the rear, the car was removed to a nearby service road, while a crew of mechanics dispatched by the team began to fix the car by the side of the track. Under the gaze of the fans gathered above the Adenau bridge, a typical endurance racing drama unfolded, as mechanics and driver made repairs and tried to return it to the race.
Their work paid off; the #14 car returning to pits having been stranded out at the far side of the circuit for several hours. But ultimately their effort was in vain as the damage that remained was enough to put the car out of the race once back in the garage.
The Black Falcon team, which is based in the technology park that flanks the Nordschleife, also fielded several entries in the lower classes, with a total of seven cars starting the race.
One of the team’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars emerged as the clear winner in the SP7 class – the foursome of Andreas Weishaupt, Maik Rosenberg, Hannes Plesse and David Jahn dominating the opposition and winning by four laps in 12th position overall while another Black Falcon entry took fifth in class.
Despite failing to secure the overall win, the team secured a final podium with a Porsche Carrera in the production based V6 class. Finishing second in class, it added another trophy to their N24 cabinet, while reinforcing the team’s reputation as one of Germany’s most successful endurance racing teams.
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Words:James Broomhead and Kevin Mc Glone
Pictures:Kevin Mc Glone(Red Square Images)