The Nürburgring 24 Hours? Not quite this year. More accurately, the 2021 edition should be renamed the Nürburgring 10 Hours after dense fog led to a 14-hour halt through last Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
Just 59 laps were completed, making this the shortest N24 in history – although what became a GT sprint race when the field was finally released once more still provided plenty of action, controversy and an all-too-familiar winning team.
Porsche earns German bragging rights
The Nordschleife’s twice-round-the-clock classic may lack the high profile and global cache of the Le Mans 24 Hours, but it’s no surprise the race counts for a lot in Germany, especially for the ‘big four’: Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
This year, and for the 13th time, it was Porsche’s turn to grab the bragging rights by winning at The Green Hell, with the factory-supported Manthey team claiming its seventh N24 victory – although it was a first for drivers Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen and Matteo Cairoli.
Their striking lime-green 911 GT3 R finished less than nine seconds ahead of the #98 BMW M6 GT3 run by the winning team from last year, Rowe Racing.
The team’s #1 car, which had taken pole position and initially led when the race restarted, was one of a number to be eliminated in big shunts, with Maro Engel crashing heavily at Tiergarten as he tried to work his way through traffic.
Mercedes driver becomes the ‘villain’
You may have heard of the Formula 1 team formerly known as Racing Point running a ‘pink Mercedes’ last year. The term is a literal one in GT racing, thanks to the BWT-sponsored Getspeed Mercedes-AMG GT3, which completed a podium that featured three of the big four German car makers.
But driver Raffaele Marciello became the ‘villain’ of the race, despite securing third place with a brave pass of Falken Motorsport’s #44 Porsche on the penultimate lap. Earlier on, Marciello had punted off Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8 LMS GT3 (driven by Michele Beretta) to end a heated scrap for position. The incident led to a further spat on social media, with Marciello remaining defiant over his actions.
Honda and Hyundai win in WTCR
At least the weather behaved itself on Saturday morning, as a pair of races run in overcast but dry conditions kicked off the pandemic-delayed 2021 World Touring Car Cup.
Frenchman Jean-Karl Vernay took an early points lead with victory in the second race on his debut for the Engstler-run Hyundai team, giving the new Elantra N TCR the best possible start as it succeeds the i30 N hatchback.
But with members of the Hyundai board watching, the Engstler team took a controversial decision (on the opening weekend of the WTCR season, remember) to dictate team orders – to the son of the squad’s owner!
Luca Engstler tearfully vented in frustration on the team radio after obeying – although he came mighty close to passing Vernay on the last lap – then put on a brave face when fronting up to the media. Hard lessons for a 21-year-old.