For the fourth of five rounds, the Le Mans Series circus moved to the legendary Nürburgring track. The original 'Nordschleife' was the scene of many epic 1000 km races and the more civilised Grand Prix circuit has hosted a round of the Le Mans Series every year since its inception in 2004. Each of the previous three 2009 races were won by three very different machines; the Aston Martin Lola took a debut win at Barcelona, Peugeot dominated its one-off outing at Spa and Henri Pescarolo scored his first win as a manufacturer at Portimao. This break-through victory and a very solid season meant that the #16 Pescarolo had now moved ahead of the Aston Martin Racing team in the tables. A similar thing happened in the GT2 class were the first victory of the JMW Motorsport team saw their Ferrari jump the Team Felbermayr Proton Porsche that had won the previous two rounds.
These protagonists, and an additional Aston Martin Racing Lola, were part of the 38-car grid that lined up for the 1000 km race. Among the drivers was Michael Vergers, who had just broken the production-car record on the Nordschleife with a Radical SR8 LM. He had set the 6m 48s wearing jeans and on the same set of tyres he used driving the car down from the England based factory to the track over public roads. In the build-up to the race on Sunday afternoon there were various support races out on the track including the highly entertaining Classic Endurance Racing one-hour event and the German ADAC Masters GT3 race. All this and more can be found in our exclusive 180-shot gallery
Practice and qualifying
On Friday morning the beautiful summer weather was rudely interrupted by a small monsoon, which eventually stopped right before the first of three one-hour free-practice sessions. The track dried up remarkably quickly and accordingly the times dropped to competitive levels. The timing screens showed familiar signs with the Aston-engined Lolas and Pescarolo ahead in LMP1, the Quifel-ASM Ginetta-Zytek topping the tables in LMP2 and the JMW Ferrari and Felbrmayr Porsche dicing it out in GT2. Sadly, the GT1 class comprised of just two cars; the Luc Alphand Corvette and Larbre Saleen. They were relatively close on pace and swapped the throughout the three practice sessions. In the Saturday afternoon qualification, the gap was 0.7 seconds in favour of the Larbre team.
The split prototype and GT qualifying sessions both featured lengthy yellow flag periods due to incidents at the 'Ford Kurve'. The biggest was Xavier Pompidou's off with the #33 Speedy-Sebah Lola, which destroyed the right rear-corner of his Judd-engined coupe. A little earlier the #91 FBR Ferrari had gone off at the exact same corner but fortunately without running into the tyres. It was quite surprising that neither session was red-flagged. Amidst the mayhem the Hankook shod Ferrari F430 GTC managed to clinch a surprise pole in the hands of Pierre Kaffer. There were no upsets in the prototype classes with Olivier Pla setting the fastest LMP2 time in his Ginetta-Zytek and Stefan Mucke clinching the pole ahead of his Aston Martin Racing team-mate despite leaving it very late to come out.
Classic Endurance Racing
Going from strength to strength each new round of the Classic Endurance Racing (CER) series sees new historic racing cars come out of the woodworks. The newcomers are certainly not grid-fillers: on the Nurbürgring entry-list were several BMW M1s and Porsche 935s that we had not seen in action before. Even more exciting was the CER debut of one of the two original turbine-engined Howmet TXs brought by Xavier Micheron.
Recently restored the whistling TX had already been seen in action during the Le Mans Classic and the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The current owner had offered the car for auction back in 2006 because he could not get the unusual turbine engine set-up correctly. Fortunately the car failed to sell and soon after Micheron found an expert who was able to fully sort the 425 bhp helicopter engine. Now in its full 1968 Le Mans configuration, the Howmet provided quite a spectacle with its whistling turbine amidst the roaring and/or rumbling rivals. Sadly its race ended on the final lap in a white cloud of smoke but hopefully the car is not too badly damaged.
The one-hour enduro saw more drama in the closing stages when Kevin Wilkins lost all power from the Cosworth BDG engine in his Lola T296 with less than two laps to go. Together with co-driver Mike Catlow he had fought all the way up to second the dominant Jean-Marc Luco in his Porsche 936. The belt on the oil-pump had slipped. Oil had already caused problems earlier in the race when one of the M1's dumped all its oil on the track. It took some time but eventually the safety car came out to allow for the track to be cleaned.
After an action-packed race, topped the 50-car field for the fourth consecutive time this season. A win at Silverstone would give the Swiss Porsche enthusiast a clean-sweep of the championship. More than a minute adrift Michel Quiniou and Patrice Lafargue finished second and third in their Lolas. The GT2 class was won by newcomer to the series Mark Bullitt in his fire-belching Joest Porsche 935. Seasoned CER racers John Sheldon and Claude Nahum won the P1 and GT1 classes respectively in their Chevron B16 and Ford GT40.
Nürburgring 1000 km
Under a clear blue sky the eager field was let got just before 12:30 on Sunday. Apart from some locked wheels all 38 cars made it through the first corners without incidents. The JMW Motorsport Ferrari made a stellar start and within a few laps was in the lead of the GT2 class. Sadly fortunes weren't on the Dunlop liveried F430's side as technical problems caused a lengthy delay. Fellow Portimao winner Pescarolo was even worse off. The French prototype had fought its way up to fourth but was forced to retire shortly after the first pit-stop with a mechanical failure.
At the head of the field the two front-row Lola Astons were joined by the 2008-spec Lola Aston of Speedy-Sebah. The silver and red machine also suffered long delays due to major problems with the cable loom. Big accidents for one of the Kolles Audis and the Strakka Ginetta-Zytek paved the way for a superb one-two-three finish for the Aston Martin Racing team after a virtually trouble-free run. The 'best of the rest' position was for the surviving Kolles Audi R10 TDI. The Signature Plus Courage-Oreca managed a fifth in the LMP1 class.
One lap down and in sixth, the first of the LMP2 machines crossed the line. This was the Quifel-ASM Ginetta-Zytek of Miguel Amaral and Olivier Pla. It was the second win for the Portuguese team, underlining the progress made by all parties involved. For a gentleman-driver Amaral showed excellent pace and he barely lost time to the professional in the chasing Lolas. The repaired #33 Lola Judd was showing good form and remarkable mileage until a problem threw them down the order. The remaining podium places were for the #29 Racing Box Lola-Judd and the #35 Pescarolo-Mazda.
Despite featuring only two cars, the GT1 class actually had more than its share of excitement. The Larbre Saleen seemed to pull gradually pull away early in the race but as the tyres wore down, the Alphand Corvette clawed back to the tail of the its compatriot. It seemed all over when the Saleen was pulled into the garage for repairs. Many laps in arrears the S7 ventured back out onto the track only to find that the Corvette had now pulled onto pit-road. Its problems were so severe that it remained in the pit until the dying seconds of the race when it completed one lap just to be classified.
After the JMW Ferrari had dropped down the order, the GT2 class turned into a free for all. Team Modena with their Ferrari took over the lead as the Hankook Ferrari failed to continue their pole-setting pace. Looking set to take the win, the Modena Ferrari was hit by one of the P1 prototypes and limped back to the pits with a puncture. This cleared the way to victory and the championship lead for the Felbermayr Porsche. The Spyker team finished a hard-fought second after having to start from the back. Tom Coronel was elated and planted a big kiss on the cheek of his team-mate Jarek Janis a kiss during the podium ceremonies.
In 1959 Sir Stirling Moss drove an epic race to secure the second Nürburgring 1000 km race win for the Aston Martin DBR1. It took the British manufacturer half a century to repeat that feat but they did it in great style. The one-two-three victory this weekend was a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary's of Aston's most successful racing season ever. Hopefully the further revised regulations announced at the 'Ring and a renewed effort from Aston Martin Racing will get the howling V12 engined machines competitive also when the big boys come back to play again. With the three competitive championships still up for grasps and the prospect of Nigel Mansell returning to the track, the final round of the season at Silverstone will be something to look forward to.