Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
“It's so nice to have a clear lap of the Nordschleife at last.” That quote could have come from any one of the top three qualifiers for tomorrow's Nurburgring 24 Hours race, as every one of them expressed their satisfaction with the race's new Top 40 qualifying shootout format. But it was German veteran Uwe Alzen of BMW Team Schubert that profited most from the new arrangement, setting pole position with a blisteringly fast time of 8:18.132 in the Z4, over a second faster than his closest challenger, fellow German Christian Mamerow in the #26 Mamerow Racing Audi R8.
“The Top 40 is great for drivers and great for spectators,” said Alzen, who is sharing the #19 works-supported Schubert Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 with Jorg and Dirk Muller, and Dirk Adorf. “It's very nice to do lap with no traffic, and also I think the Balance of Performance has worked very well at this race, because we have BMW, Audi and Mercedes in the top three.” Rain is expected for at least some of the 24 Hours, and Alzen added that he was confident whatever the weather brings. “We have a great wet setup and every tyre compound is perfect – it's making the decision what tyres to run on that will the hard part.”
Mamerow didn't seem too disappointed to be lining up second, however, and also enthused about the new shootout qualifying format. “It's great; it's definitely the right idea. That was my first-ever traffic-free lap of the Nordschleife," he laughed. “We planned to set the time on the first of the two flying laps, and set up the car and tyre pressures with that in mind, so it all went to plan.” For the race tomorrow, he says the team has set the car up so that minimal changes will be required to change between wet and dry settings. “Also, because the track here is so long, you can't go for an extreme wet setup, in case it's dry in one part of the track and you ruin the wet-weather tyres there.” Mamerow will be racing tomorrow with Christian Abt, Michael Ammermuller and Armin Hahne.
Third on the grid went to Sean Edwards in the #15 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG he shares with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Manuel Metzger and Ralf Schall. He echoed Alzen's view that the Balance of Performance regulations have done their job and that there will be little to choose between the top GT3 marques in tomorrow's race. Indeed, third to seventh places on the grid are covered by just a second. “I think we'll be very strong in the wet,” said Edwards. “We need to be cautious in traffic for the first 12 hours, see where we are then and decide how hard we need to push.” The #65 Hankook-Heico Mercedes and #20 works BMW will start fourth and fifth, ahead of the leading Porsche: the Manthey Racing Marc Lieb/Romain Dumas/Lucas Luhr/Richard Lietz car that set the pace in Thursday's night qualifying. The first non-German car brand on the grid is the new Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 of Darren Turner, Dennis Rostek and the sons of German racing legend Hans Stuck: Johannes and Ferdinand.