The 2023 Nürburgring 12H weekend has come and gone. With over 60,000 spectators, sunny skies the entire weekend, and temperatures that sometimes were too high, the weekend could not have been better. The atmosphere was lively, fun, and competitive.
On Friday, I had my first laps in the 128ti. Having not driven a FWD car in actual race preparation in recent years aside from a test in an SRO HPD Civic Si, I knew I would have to re-familiarize my brain. On Friday the car was very loose and not inspiring a lot of confidence in me. It was actually quite powerful and gave a lot of input through the wheel. Mated to an LSD the car really tried to yank you around and in high-speed corners, the rear end would step out more than anyone would like. Even on power. The team made some changes overnight.
Saturday arrived and with that came qualifying and then the race. In qualifying, we got to feel the changes the team made and it was night and day. The car was far more stable. It is still a difficult car to drive fast and quite physical but it was more predictable now and with that comes confidence. Qualifying wasn't smooth sailing for others which meant we never really got a clean lap with a lot of dirt, cleanups, and slow zones.
For the start of the race we decided to have Bernhard take the green, followed by myself, Achim, and then Kurt to finish out the race in the dark as he has many night laps. As much as I crave the challenge of the Nordschleife at night, I still need more laps. The goal this weekend was to see the checkered flag.
The race saw the green flag wave and it was go time. Bernhard drove a fantastic opening stint moving us right up into contention for a podium. The class was quite healthy during this event with fourteen cars in the class. As things started to settle down into a rhythm, it was pit stop time.
I jumped in and was off into my stint. Things were fairly smooth. One of the trickiest bits is to stay on line. This car picks up pickup on the tires like nothing else I have driven. This is all on the rear tires given they're just hanging out back there. So when you really load them with pickup, it feels as though you are on ice. So trying to block cars and really avoid dirty sections of track was not the easiest but we managed. I also started to just accept and feel when I did have rear tire pickup how the car would react. The noise inside the cabin was insane though! It sounded like chunks were falling off of the car.
As I passed the car to Achim he held our strong running and we stayed in contention. As the race continued to unfold we just did not have the pace to compete with the VW and Hyundai cars in class but our goal was to still turn quick laps and stay out of trouble.
The final stint went well with Kurt moving up to 5th in class but we ended up with a penalty which resulted in us finishing in 6th positon in class.
Sunday it was decided that Bernhard and I would both do double stints and Achim would do the start. Any leftover time Achim would re-enter the car for the finish if it made sense to from a strategic point of view.
My stint went well and I was pretty happy with it. Still occasionally struggling with getting the car turned in while driving the tighter bits of track, the car responded very nicely to some throttle pre-load and taking a small bit of weight off the nose. We were able to stay towards the top five for most of the race. I ended up driving until the checkered flag.
The checkered flag flew and we finished 4th in VT2+FWD. I also managed my fastest lap on the very last lap. I knew it was the final lap as the marshals were waving at me. There was nobody ahead of me I could see so I had a clear track. It was dirty but I had learned a few new tricks about the car in the last couple of laps so decided to push a little more still leaving some room for error given it was the final lap.
As a driver, the Nordschleife is simply the biggest challenge in motorsport. Sure you can do laps but to be fast here requires a huge sense of feel and understanding of vehicle dynamics. Along with heavy traffic and dramatic closing speeds, it's not for the faint of heart. The challenge is why I keep having this urge to return.
Overall I am happy with the 12H weekend. The BMW 128ti is still being developed as a race car so it will continue to improve. The team did a fantastic job all weekend running so many cars and we were able to keep it on track and clean.
Big thanks to Sorg Rennsport and all of my partners for their continued support. See you all at the next!