Depending on your view, the Gods of the Green Hell either restored Porsche to its rightful place on the top step of the podium or robbed the Mercedes AMG from a sure win in the 2018 Nürburgring 24 Hours.
Dramatic weather arrived starting around 2:30am after 11 hours of running. Lightning bolts streaking across the night sky announced the arrival of rain and thunderstorms. The rain eased a bit before torrential rain arrived just after dawn and heavy fog covered sections of the track by noon. The heavy fog and moisture triggered a red flag which erased a lead of over four minutes enjoyed by the #4 black and orange Black Falcon Mercedes AMG over the #912 green and yellow Manthey Porsche. The persistent weather put a restart in doubt, but the green flag flew after a break of about two hours setting up a 90-minute sprint to the finish.
Twenty minutes later, Fred Makowiecki pushed his Porsche past Adam Christodoulou in his Mercedes AMG in the first two turns of the track within sight of the Mercedes Benz grandstands on the Porsche’s way to the win. Christodoulou drove valiantly in defense and sought to reclaim the lead, but finished 26 seconds adrift of Makowieki at the checkered flag. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Mercedes AMG after seeing a likely win slip away with the red flag stoppage. The win was the first overall victory for Porsche and Manthey since 2011. Richard Lietz, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy joined Makowiecki to steer the Porsche into first place.
Once again, weather at the Nürburgring had played a significant factor in the outcome of the 24 hour race. In fact, it was the third red flag interruption in the past six editions (2013 was halted overnight for heavy rain and 2016 encountered biblical rain and hail 45 minutes into the event, but only on the northern part of the track). While it didn’t cause a red flag, late rain led directly to a stunning last lap win for the Land Audi squad in 2017. Weather is always a potential factor.
While the Black Falcon team were left to regret the missed opportunity for overall honors, Porsche had reason from the outset to be optimistic for a good result. The #911 Manthey Porsche overcame gearbox troubles on Thursday before claiming pole in qualifying. Porsches swept the top three qualifying positions with Manthey, Falken and Frikadelli Porsche 911 GT3 R machines leading the field.
The #911 Manthey Porsche sprinted out to the lead immediately after the start, accumulating a 10 second lead after only two laps of running. It maintained the lead in dominant fashion for over 10 hours before Ringmeister Romain Dumas found oil on the right side of the track towards the end of the Pflanzgarten section amidst the darkness. The resulting loss of traction put the #911 Porsche into the barriers and out of the race. Not only did the accident end the race for the #911, the wet weather started to move in minutes afterward with exactly 13 hours remaining.
The #912 Porsche showed impressive strength to recover from a left rear puncture on the first lap to run second at the time of the sister car’s crash and assumed the lead with a 54 second gap over the second place #4 Mercedes AMG. The lead bounced between the Porsche, Mercedes and a BMW through pit stop sequences during the night and early morning.
The #912 dodged a bullet with under 9 hours to go when it spun and sustained damage after contact with a slower car. The Porsche steadily increased its lead, particularly in wet conditions before misfortune struck again. A three and a half minute penalty for failing to slow sufficiently through a safety zone in the overnight hours was finally imposed with four hours to go, erasing the lead and putting Maro Engel in the Mercedes well positioned with an imposing lead.
Engel only enjoyed the lead for less than 30 minutes when the red flags waved to halt proceedings due to the heavy fog. The pause erased the lead and the Porsche #912 passed the Mercedes AMG on its way to the win.
While the Manthey Porsche won top honours, only three Porsches finished in the top 15 overall. Mercedes AMG entries filled out second, third and fifth finishing spots with Aston Martin coming home in fourth. Qualifying saw a dozen cars within two and half seconds of each other with a pole time of 8:09 over the 25.378 kilometer course. Out of the 31 cars in the top class, the two at the end were the class of the field for the last half of the event. Most others did not have the outright pace, suffered mechanical misfortune, or encountered contact on course.
But for one small spot of oil in the darkness that sidelined the #911 Porsche, the two contenders at the end may have been fighting for second and third. Porsche fans looked upon the red flag as recognition that the Manthey Porsches owned the event and earned the late chance at redemption. Mercedes AMG fans looked upon the red flag as a cruel meteorological twist that cost Black Falcon a victory.
Apart from the matter of podium honours, Porsche was well represented in the race. 43 of the 147 entries were Porsches, split between 911 and Cayman variants. At the Nürburgring 24 hour race, the vast majority of entrants have no factory connection or support. Most are privateer efforts or full customer efforts. All were part of the celebration of Porsche’s 70th anniversary.
The 2019 edition is slated for June 22-23, which is later than the May dates of the last few years. May dates typically mean the race runs in the Eifel springtime, but June should have a better chance of less volatile weather. Of course, even if the rain, hail or fog do not feature, warm weather may make its own mark on the 2019 running. The Nürburgring typically deals in extremes rather than moderation. Only time will tell…
In all, 43 Porsches graced the 2018 event entry. For 2019, the exact same number of Porsches populate the entry list.
The defending champion Manthey Racing Porsche returns with the same driver line-up, albeit carrying the number 1 rather than last year’s 912. Similarly, the Manthey Racing 911 returns with most drivers, except Romain Dumas steps aside for Michael Christensen. Dumas moves to join one of the two Frikadelli Racing Porsches entered for 2019. The “Fastest Meatball in the World” is a Nürburgring staple but Queen of the Ring Sabine Schmitz is not scheduled to race in 2019.
The field of Porsches is usually deep and strong. Some from 2018 will be returning for 2019 and others are not coming back for more. We offer photos and commentary on several of the 2018 race Porsche entries to get you ready for 2019.
Photos and comments on some 2018/2019 Porsche entries
Cayman #144 of Adrenalin Motorsport exits the famous Karussell en route to its Class V 5 win. Its team Cayman #143 claimed third in class, one lap behind the lead. The pair returns for the 2019 race as well.
Mühlner Motorsport finished with a 1-2 in its Cup 3 class, a class comprised entirely of Porsche Cayman entries. The twin Cayman GT4 Club Sport finished on the same lead lap at the end. (#302 winner, #303 second). Mühlner Motorsport returns in 2019 with a Cayman and a 911 GT3 to run in two different classes.
The entry to the Karrussel is always an exciting spot on the track. Here the #306 Cayman runs in front of the #80 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in practice. The Cayman would finish but the 997 would not.
The #12 Manthey 911 GT3 R sits in pit lane awaiting the start of Thursday evening practice. The entry would finish the race, but 6 laps off the lead. The Manthey customer team hopes to improve their fortunes in 2019.
The #64 Black Falcon Porsche was striking in its metallic silver, yellow and black livery, but mechanical problems forced a withdrawal before the green flag flew on Saturday. Black Falcon runs a mix of Mercedes AMG GT3 and Porsche cars with a large presence and the #64 should get another try in 2019.
Black Falcon also ran the #138 with significantly more success. The 991 Carrera navigated the post-dawn torrential rain to win Class V 6 with a five-lap margin over second place. The class win was also good for a 57th place overall finish. The victory may have checked off a box of personal accomplishment for the drivers as none appear to be scheduled to return for 2019.
GetSpeed, based minutes from the track in Meuspath, brought a trio of Porsches to the 2018 Nürburgring 24 hours. After a difficult 2017, the #59 looked great in the Karussell en route to a 5th place finish in class, 19 laps off the leaders.
The #2 with its brilliant red Vodaphone livery finished 16th overall, 5 laps off the lead at the end. Lucas Luhr, well known Porsche pilot, was on the driving line-up.
The #57 J2 Racing privateer Porsche ran out of the GetSpeed stable with the red and white Rooster Rojo Tequila colours. Despite the creative livery, the car finished just off the class podium with a 2 lap deficit at the end but it did register an official finish which is always an accomplishment at the Nürburgring 24 hours. GetSpeed Performance is moving marques for 2019, leaving Porsche and choosing the Mercedes AMG GT3 for all three of its teams.
Showing the tight competition at the top of the field, the strong Falken Porsche finished 9th overall – only 3 laps off the lead. The two tone crowd favourite is always competitive at the Ring and returns for the 2019 race with a stellar entry of top tier drivers, including Jörg Bergmeister, Martin Ragginger, Dirk Werner and Klaus Bachler.
Timo Bernhard has many years of experience piloting Porsches, including much success on the Nordschleife. He’s won overall several times and also set the blazing lap speeds at the controls of the 919 Evo project. He stepped out of the driver’s seat to organize a team of his own. The #17 carried the Porsche 70th anniversary decals on the way to a 21st overall finish, seven laps from the lead at the end. Unfortunately, the Team Bernhard Porsche is not contesting the 2019 race.
What will the 2019 Nürburgring 24 hours bring? Watch and see – it is never boring or predictable!
Written by: Kevin Ehrlich
Images by: Kevin Ehrlich