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The Nürburgring 24 hours 2017

Milltek Racing @ The Nürburgring 24 hours 2017The decision to enter the ADAC Zurich Nürburgring 24 hours, arguably one of the toughest endurance races in Europe, was a difficult call for the team at Milltek Sport, after a great start to our Toyota Motorsport GT-86 Cup programme within the VLN series with our 2017 spec GT-86 Race car (including a 1st and a 3rd place and leading the championship after the first two rounds). We wanted to race and take on the challenge of competing in one of the largest and most competitive classes (second biggest class to GT3’s) for the N24 grid with over 160 cars competing. With 15 cars in our class, SP3 for 2.0 naturally aspirated cars, which included the longest running car in N24 and VLN history, the Opel Manta, and the higher powered and lighter Renault Clio’s, it was going to be a big test for the car, team and drivers.

For the N24, resident VLN drivers Dale Lomas and Lucian Garvits would be joined by the father and son team of Werner and Moritz Gusenbauer, a valuable addition to the team with both drivers being highly experienced VLN and N24 regulars on the various class podiums, Werner alone has competed in 150 VLN’s and 13 N24’s!

The team would be headed up by Milltek Sport Managing Director, Steve Pound and supported by our long term partners Manheller Racing, along with Kjetil Somme as the race engineer and from the Milltek Sport UK office Sam Nye and Oliver Wildsmith providing pit support and covering the media side of the event, Christian & Matt also joined as data engineers to help us log and analyse all aspects of the car.

The entry to the event would not have been possible without the continued support from the team at LITEBLOX High Performance batteries and we welcomed RAVENOL High Performance Lubricants for this event, who provided engine, diff and gearbox oils for the car.

With only a few weeks between VLN 2 and N24 a lot of work had to be completed, so with the help of Chris @ Specialised Motorsport Engineering in Koln a long list of repairs, servicing and the biggest change of all; the removal of the standard 50L fuel tank and the installation of a new TMG 100L fuel cell was started. With the bodywork damage from VLN 2 repaired and the car stripped ready for the fuel cell we only had 10 days to get the works completed when the new fuel cell parts arrived. Chris worked tirelessly with many long days, and got everything completed with just 24 hours before the car was due at the circuit for technical inspection. Other additions for the race included additional lighting for the night time running and new bonnet cooling vents.

The team assembled at the circuit on the Wednesday afternoon and the final preparations were completed with the help of our graphics team, Bianca (the designer of the theme for our car), Thomas from Vollverklebt and Inne & Mickel from Black Fish Graphics, with the car looking better than new the long process of technical inspection, sign on and briefings began, the car passed inspection with flying colours and was given it’s all important ready to race sticker.

Thursday came and it was time for the new drivers to become acquainted with the car and for the car to be fuelled, this is where the team came across their first stumbling block of the weekend and discovered that the new fuelling system was suffering tank ventilation issues, and the coolant radiator developed a leak. A quick swap of the radiator by Manheller was sorted first, then the fuel system issues was then resolved with support from TMG which did result in a few of the team literally taking a shower in race fuel to get there but not in time for the practice, so the first run out for the car would be the night qualifying session that evening.

The focus now switched to getting the car qualified and with the drivers all being experienced, this was no problem, the car ran faultlessly during the required 2 timed laps per driver, and with some time left at the end of the session the new drivers took some extra laps to get more seat time. We finished the day with a P6 in class on old tyres. A new engine map was also applied to the car by TMG to enable some better fuel efficiency, something we hoped would be an ace card for us to enable longer running than our competitors.

Originally the plan was to not run the Friday morning qualification session to rest the car, but as the Thursday practise session had been missed and some further changes had been completed to the fuel cell ventilation system, the Gusenbauer’s took the car for some more running and testing, with Werner out first on the new Pirelli Hard compound slicks the lap times tumbled, setting a 10:16 with full fuel in his two laps, Moritz then took the car out for the second stint and reduced this further to 10:15 bringing the position in class to P5. Sprits where high in the team with everyone pleased with the position in class and the car feeling strong, the Manheller team completed a full pre-race service with fresh RAVENOL fluids ready for the start of the race on the Saturday.

Race day came and the weather was sunny and warm, great for the assembled 200,000+ spectators, but would give the drivers a hard time in the car with minimal cooling (no GT3 aircon or cooled seats here).

Lucian was selected to start the race with Werner helping by taking the car to the grid so Lucian can stay cool in the pit garage as long as possible. On the way to the grid the first problem of the day occurred with the radio system failing, so a re-wire had to be completed by Steve and Kjetil with only 20 mins to go, again the team pulled together and got the job done.

Lucian started the race and was quickly on the pace and chasing down the class leaders, working his way up to P1 in class by consistent lap time and running longer than our competitors, a total of 13 laps completed in his stint, even with our ABS issue of VLN 2 returning to haunt us.

Werner was next in the car with fresh front tyres and full tank of race gas. Werner started his stint in P4 and continued to set great lap times, commenting with a laugh “you have given me a drift car thanks!”, again we moved up the class to P1 within 8 laps, but on lap 25 the next challenge for the team occurred, when a Porsche Cayman understeered into Werner at the start of Dottingen Hohe, damaging the front right wheel and alignment that would come back to haunt use later in the race, so Werner safely brought the car back to the pits a lap earlier than planned but still in P1.

Stint 3 started with Dale taking the drivers seat, again returning to the race in P4 Dale reported the car was badly out of alignment but pushed on with consistent lap times and back up to P1 in class, then the next issue hit, on lap 34 Dale reported he had no drive and was stranded on the GP circuit, after 25 mins he was returned to the pits to find a failed drive shaft, the Manheller team got this replaced and re-aligned the suspension is record time.

Mortiz took stint 4 in the car, returning to the race in P7 after the extended stop, on the pace from the start he covered 13 laps before taking some damage from a AMG GT3 in the carousel, Mortiz brought the car to the pits for inspection sitting in P6.

Lucian returned to the car for his second stint of the race, with the damage from the GT3 again the alignment had suffered, Lucian pushed on and got the car to P5 within 12 laps, but the alignment was getting worse and the car was getting undrivable, so pitted early for inspection, the Manheller team inspected the car but couldn’t find any issues, so the car was pushed back out for fuel.

With another full tank and more new tyres Dale returned to the race in P5 still, but the instability of the car was getting worse, so he returned to the pits where the Manheller guys found a loose ball joint on the wishbone which was fixed promptly, back out again and now back to P6 Dale pushed on until the problem returned 5 laps later, so another visit to the pits was required, the nut was replaced on the ball joint and Dale finished his stint after 13 laps and back up to P5.

Now with the sun coming back up Werner returned to car for his second stint, still suffering alignment issues Werner pushed hard setting the cars fastest race lap of 10:15.910, but on his 12th lap our old friend the left drive shaft failed again, but this time just before the pit entry, so Werner rolled the car in with Kjetil pushing the car from the end of the pit lane, in an unbelievable 7 mins the car was back out thanks to Manheller keeping us in P4.

Next with the temps rising in the morning Lucian took the wheel, all looked good until the 12th lap again where Lucian reports the engine is making a different sound and has lost power, he is asked to box over the radio, and now we find the exhaust rubbers have failed causing the exhaust to drop and separate at the headers. Now back up to P3 the team from Manheller reassemble the red hot exhaust and replace the rubber mountings and change the front brake pads, with the swift work we keep P3 but only by a few seconds now.

With just under 5 hours remaining Werner heads out in the car, but the radio has become one way so the team cannot hear the driver, Werner pushes on and builds a small gap between him and P4, after 10 laps and without radio comms now, he boxes earlier than expected. A decision is taken to replace the left drive shaft as a “just in case”, which turns out to be a good call as the shaft comes off the car with a split boot and is smoking, again a speedy change from Manheller returns the car to the race still in P3.

With a full tank and 4 new tyres Dale steps in for the final stint still without the microphone working, this will be a longer than expected stint as the car was pitted early previously, but again trouble struck with bad vibrations from the front wheels, so after two laps Dale returned to the pits and both front wheel bearings where replaced, Dale remained in the car for the stop in blistering heat and returned to race with just under two hours to go, now down to P4 with the 129 Clio almost 4 minutes up the road. Dale pushed hard and slowly reduced the gap to 3 minutes with 3 laps to go.

With the rain clouds forming fast and tension, the whole team glued to the live feed and timing screens constantly giving feedback to the driver, and then towards the end of the 3rd from last lap the heavens opened, Dale’s experience paid dividends and he pushed on in the rain on the hot slicks, and caught the 129 Clio for P3 with just over 1 ½ laps to go, the message was sent over the radio to stay out and push on, the Clio pits for wets and Dale continued past the pits on slicks, the starts to slow over the back ½ of the circuit but it remains full wet conditions, on the live stream we see the lead Audi pass Dale so the team radio him and confirm it’s the last lap, the Clio exits the pits after a fast 2 min stop and pushes hard to catch Dale, but he can’t and Dale brings the car home in P3, the whole team is elated.

The result really couldn’t have been achieved without the whole Milltek Racing team, the four drivers, the Manheller Racing crew, and support of Nico, Oliver and Florian from Toyota Motorsport.

So after 24 hours with 118 laps completed, P3 in Class, P87 overall, 828.6 Litres of Fuel, 34 Pirelli tyres, 4 drive shafts, 3 exhaust rubbers, 2 wheel bearings, 1 Alloy wheel and whole load of team work, blood, sweat and tears the team collected our trophies and celebrated with Pizza and Beer!

We can’t wait to return to the Green Hell and do it all again.