The Nürburgring 24 Hours is now over and what a race it was. This race is always special and for me it was a new experience, driving for TMG United, a team made up of volunteers from Toyota Motorsport GmbH.
TMG United is led by Jörg Mertin and Andre Haun who, like their colleagues, have a huge amount of motorsport experience but are doing different roles in this team. On top of that, no-one has participated in the Nürburgring 24 Hours before!
The TMG guys certainly know about 24-hour races though. When I picked up my team clothing – after I negotiated the strict security – I found myself trying on shirts surrounded by driver overalls from Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Toyota’s other Le Mans drivers. Somehow I already feel part of a bigger TMG 24-hour drivers club!
Race week began for the four TMG United drivers – Alex Fielenbach, Adrian Brusius, Lars Peucker and myself – with a smooth technical check on Wednesday, followed by a team-building barbecue. So far, so smooth.
Regular TMG United driver Alex had the honour of completing the first laps in Thursday practice in our GT86 CS-Cup. His lap times were certainly faster than the 20 minutes we spent driving a lap in a Toyota Proace earlier in the day, when we checked the circuit as a final preparation. In fact, we were the quickest SP3 car in practice and all drivers were comfortable, thanks to perfect preparation from the team.
The GT86 CS-Cup was not only well prepared; I discovered it is a fantastic race car. Corner speeds are higher than most cars I have driven on the Nordschleife and it felt totally stable so I could push to the limit almost immediately. I fell in love very quickly.
Night qualifying is always interesting for drivers and there is pressure to get a clean lap. Pressure on me. I started qualifying and found space. 25 kilometres later the clock stopped at 10mins 03secs, a good lap which takes the pressure off the other drivers. We focused on set-up improvements to reduce tyre degradation, plus practical things like light and seat positions.
Friday qualifying and it’s time to decide the starting order. Grid positions for a 24-hour race are not a big thing, but it’s another chance for drivers to find their rhythm and getting second place in class puts a smile on the team’s faces. Now we’re ready to race!
Saturday morning. Race day! We go to the grid two hours before the race and it’s 25°C. I’m most concerned about getting enough to drink and keeping my energy levels high; the car has been really well prepared and shown not a single fault.
I started the race and it was a bit chaotic. Our strong qualifying put us ahead of cars with more power so I took it super easy, with no useless fighting and no risk. After 11 laps, I was fighting for the class lead and at the end of my stint when I got a big hit from a GT3 BMW. Luckily the damage were just cosmetic when I handed the car over to Adrian.
He keeps us in the top three but soon our hearts sank. Over the radio, we’ve heard “I have a problem with the clutch”. Amazingly, the team fixed the problem in just five minutes so we were good to go and got back into the fight.
Now the car is running fine, the weather is nice, the race is on and darkness is coming. My next stint comes at 1am; it’s very dark but I see fine thanks to the adjustments we made to the lights. Actually, the lights came from an LMP1 car, so they should be good for the job! The car drove fantastic and it was easy to set fast times without stressing the car and tyres.
But a 24-hour race is never easy. I’m running second in class when a BMW M235 spins in front of me, and I have no chance to avoid it. Adrenaline and frustration are high but I had to think quickly and bring the heavily-damaged car back to the box. I’m so disappointed and worried our race could be over. But the team works hard and fast; one hour later the GT86 CS-Cup is on track again and the box looks like nothing ever happened. I’m so thankful and impressed by the team work.
Adrian is now in the car, he is driving steady but we lost a lot of places. More drama: it starts to rain on half the track. Time for a switch to rain tyres and another driver change. I wasn’t myself after the accident but the team had faith and wanted me in the car again. I’m really grateful for the trust they have in their drivers.
I go out on the foggy, wet and dark track and I’m loving it. I am up the pace because this is our big chance to make up time so I push the car and myself in the super difficult conditions. Visibility was terrible but I am up to two minutes faster than our class rivals and after 12 laps we are fourth. The car was so stable, and the traction control worked really well in the rain.
I gave the GT86 CS-Cup to Lars and finally I could get some sleep in our driver caravan. But suddenly a wake-up call: “Do you want to drive? Third place is in our sights but we need your speed.” I was tired, but I am always ready for my team. Get up, driving suit on, head to the box. Third place is close: game on.
Or maybe not. After two laps of my stint, heavy fog caused the race to be red flagged. More than two hours later we are on the grid and ready for a final hour of action. The message from the team is clear: use your experience and speed, get the podium!
The restart went well, not too much traffic and the cars behind were not aggressive. After the first 25 minutes I opened up a five-minute gap on fourth place. Perfect, that is all we need – just bring it home. Half an hour to go, and the track is really foggy again, but we held the gap and made it to the finish line. We did it!
TMG United with Alex Fielenbach, Adrian Brusius, Lars Peucker and myself, finished third from 14 cars in the SP3 class of the 2018 Nürburgring 24 Hours, this legendary endurance race. What a feeling – we fought hard and got our reward.
A team that stands together in hard times is a great team. Without the experience from other motorsport that TMG United has, without the friendships inside the team and without the drivers this would not be possible. Thank you so much to everyone. TMG United deserved this result and the respect that comes with it, so much so that I gave the team my trophy from the race. They earned that.
I am so proud to say that I am a member of TMG United and we rocked the Nürburgring 24 Hours!
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