TUESDAY 18 MAY 2010
SIMONSEN: 2ND OUTRIGHT AT 24HR OF NüRBURGRING FOR FERRARI
After the relatively disappointing result at the Spa Le Mans Series round, last weekend, Allan Simonsen and the Hankook Team turned their energies and focus to the greatest 'road race' in the world, the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

Joining Simonsen for the race would be his regular German co-driver, Dominik Farnbacher, along with Leh Keen, the reigning Grand-Am GT champion and Marco Seefried.

Both additional drivers had volumes of experience with GT racing, the latter, Marco, had previously worked with Team Farnbacher and was the most experienced driver at the Norsdshcliefe, or Green Hell, as the locals call it.

Spa and Nürburgring have something in common – they both are situated in pretty forests and are almost always subject to inclement weather. This year was to be no exception.

As the team assembled on Wednesday evening, in prepartion for the first quaulifying session of Thursday evening, it was raining to the point of almost snowing. Heavy fog engulfed the top of the mountain making pitlane visibility almost non existant. It wouldn't get much better, but like they say, its the same for everyone.

By the time qualifying came around, it was still ugly weather – just the type that Hankook rubber enjoys. That was borne out with the team setting pole by the end of the evening, lifting the teams spirits enormously. It was a time that sent a strong message down pitlane to the other 250 or so competitors: We are here to win!

This was the strongest attempt by a Ferrari team to win the N24 event. In fact, Team Hankook Farnbacher were the only Ferrari in the field – a race that has been won the last three years by Porsche. And they were not about to let it slip through thier fingers this year. That was clear to see with the racing debut of the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid, an alertantive energy source variant, that converted braking energy into electricity. The power was then delivered by two 60kW electric motors to the front wheels, effectively offering 4WD. (To be accurate the car did run at a VLN event 4 weeks prior)

Audi wasn't taking this lying down either, with no less than six R8 LMS GT3's entered. Not exactly to true GT3 specification, as was the Hankook Ferrari 430 GT2; the organisers allowed larger eair intakes and the inclusion of ABS, quite valuable around this tricky track.

Friday would offer the team another bite at the qualifying cherry, from 12.45pm to 2.45pm. The aggregate of the two sessions would determine starting order. But the weather had now turned against the team. It was dry. The performance of the Hankook slick was looking strong against their main competitors, Michelin and Dunlop, or so it initially seemed. Unfortunately, it would not be comprehensively tested until the race itself.

As Farnbacher started his out lap, getting the vital components up to temperature for his flying lap. Suddenly there was a slower BMW in the way and without warning turned into the rear of the car, at Hatzenbach, deflecting the Ferrari into the barriers. It was a good hit, breaking two of the Bilstiens (the team changed the dampers from Sachs to B this weekend), heavily damaging the rear suspension along with front and rear bodywork. It was a tough break. The car would remain on the circuit until the end of the session, effectively giving the team no time at all. Thursday's qualifying was the fastest at that time, a little over 9 minutes, but now, the Porsche/Audi pole battle was driving times down to the mid 8.20's. As the session closed, Audi would take position 1-4 and Porsche in P5. That now mean the sole Ferrari would start in 46th position! The only positive was the car would be part of the first 'wave' of starters.

So large is the field at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, organisers must create 3 staring group, each separated by around 3 minutes, or a third of a lap (~7km). At 3pm on Saturday, group 1, the fastest qualifiers get the green light, with a chase car following behind. Its then repeated twice more, giving the fans three exciting starts to watch.


Grid positive

Marco, Leh, Dominik and Allan

Lovin' those Hankooks!

BMW's Dr Thiesen is impressed.

Final stop

Post race grinning
Saturday – race day – overcast, but dry. Dominik was the nominated start driver.

Like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race Alan, Dominik and Leh would do in four weeks time, the build up was unbeliveable. Vast crowd lined the track and the grid itself was packed solid. With no less than six cars per garage, space was at a premium and it would take the teams alomost two hours to get all the cars onto the grid. At 2.15pm, the grid started to clear. Spectators and crew shuffled off to their favourite vantage point for the start of the great race.

An Audi R8 pace trundled down the relatively deserted pit lane, and took to the track. That was the signal for the first pack of cars to start their warm up lap. The same proceedure was repeated twice again for the other two groups. As the clock ticked closer to 3pm, only the position of the overhead TV helicopters revealed where the starting field really was. Pricisely at 3pm, in truly efficeient Germanic tradition, 80+ cars thundered into the first bend at the end of pit straight. It's probably the tightest bend on the entire circuit, yet not one car in any group crashed into each other. Such calm behaviour from racing car drivers is most uncommon!

Nine laps later, Farnbacher pitted, handing over to Allan, taking on fuel and tyres simultaneously. He had started 46th. Now he was 10th! An amazing show of skill and determination. Allan would return form his stint, handing over to Leh in 5th. And then 4th with Marco. In a strange twist, Marco was doing double duties, racing a Porsche in the same SP7 category. How odd was that, to see him change his Hankook overalls, for another brand and then back again. Was he competing against himself? What if he crashed into his own car? How could be concievably be on two steps of the podium at the same time, should lady lucky smile upon him. Funny stuff!

Considering the #43 Ferrari had taken quite a hit the day before and was unable to do even a discretionary lap to check things were work fine – an installation laps as they say to check for leaks and squeaks – everything was going splendidly well. Team spirits were up having bounced back from the overnight low. Two extremely late nights had taken a toll on the teams energy and to face a 24 hour race when you're already tired is a big ask. With the car still singing along in 4th place as dawn broke, it was a huge adrenilin buzz for all.

The hybrid Porsche led, from an Audi R8 LMS, then the works BMW M3. Suddenly the Audi vanished, moving the Ferrari up to 3rd.

Never before had the Italian marque prospered so well at this arduous event.

Midday. Three hours to go. Allan Simonsen pits for the last time. His driving duties over he heads to the team transporter for a massage. Dominik is in the car and a grin had spread across his face prior to donning his helmet. No dramas for the pitstop and he heads back out for what will probably be his last stint, albiet a double.

1.30pm. The Hydrid Porsche has expired elevating the team to 2nd outright and the pressure is really on. Its almost unbearable in the pit bay. Dominik double stints and comes in for the final stop. Marco gets the driving duties and you could see the pressure on him to not mess it up. TV crews surround the car. And then he's away. One lap separates the Ferrari from the #26 BMW and guess what – the German marque appears to be slowing! But not enough.

Chewed fingernails litter the garage floor. 2.50pm – the team head over to the pit wall, cramming to get a view of the finish. Dominik takes the highest sport, just like Helio Castroneves would do after an Indy victory, climbing the wire.

Finally, after 12 minutes, which seemed like an eternity to everyone, the high spirited Ferrari makes it way across the line to claim 2nd place outright at the most difficult race in the world. Audi 3rd. Porsche is deposed form the podium for the first time in 4 years and they are nowhere to be seen, post race.

Champagne flows. Hankook banners are everywhere. Grins on all faces.

Media Centre time and its a very contrasting degree of body language. Both the BMW and Audi drivers sit upright like naughty boys, whilst the Hankook quads seem relaxed as can be. More huge smiles and a thumbs up from Dr Mario Thiesen, the BMW Group Motorsport director, to the Ferrari boys.

Fastest in free practice. Fastest in Q1. Crashed in Q2. Started 46th. Finished 2nd. Won SP7 Class. Now that is a true gritty performance and the greatest achievement for Ferrari at this event. Ever.

Allan has some thoughts on the race:

“Our car was perfectly reliable the whole race long, our fuel economy was good and we were able to minimise pit stops as much as possible – which is the secret of a good result at Nurburgring,”

“Our intermediate tyres were unbelievable and I think that if it had rained during the race we could have won the event,”

“We ran the engine very lean, which gave us an extra lap between pit-stops and helped compensate for a slight lack of top speed compared to the works cars.”

“Once we were near the front-runners we changed the engine mapping to give the car more power. We drove competitive times and the tyres gave us the confidence to push hard on this difficult track,”

“This race is a huge deal in Europe – it’s like Germany’s Bathurst – so for me it is a pleasure.”

Oh, and Marco's other car crashed out whilst trying to avoid a track marshal that ran across the track in front of one of his other drivers. Yes, this is truly the Wild West of Motor Racing.

“The Hankook tyres have been extremely constant and have been for sure a key factor here at Nurburgring.”

Stay tuned for Le Mans 24 Hour, June 12-14.