Following Côme Ledogar and Martin Plowman’s post-session penalty for over-boosting in Q3, they saw their grid position lost to Christopher Mies in the #33 Audi, meaning the 4 rings would start on the front row of the grid for Saturday’s qualifying race.
The race started off in exciting fashion with 3 cars going off at turn 1. The #1 Audi of Laurens Vanthoor was spun around whilst the #75 ISR Audi and one of the Lamborghini’s were able to make it back on track via the gravel. This left Vanthoor in 30th position. Later on in the first lap, Stuart Leonard’s #2 Audi was seen shedding bodywork too. On a track where you would usually back Audi to do well, they hadn’t had the greatest of starts.
By lap 2, it was already becoming clear that Alvaro Parente and Christopher Mies were pulling away, but some good news came through for Audi, as they were running 2-3-4 with the #33 ahead of the #28 of René Rast and #74 of Franck Perera respectively. Over the course of laps 1 and 2, the elder Vanthoor had also made 5 places back following his spin to rise up to 25th.
By lap 6, Rast was starting to turn the screw on the two lead cars. He had been lapping quicker than both for 2 laps and by lap 8 he was within a second of Mies. By that point though, Perera was lapping quicker than all 3 ahead of him. Maybe after such a chaotic start, the Audis were starting to show their true value around the Nürburgring.
Whilst all of that tussling was going on, Maxime Soulet’s #8 Bentley was starting to apply pressure onto Dries Vanthoor. The 17 year-old though had Phillipp Eng in the #99 BMW M6 in his sights and dived up the inside at the top of the hill, leading towards the chicane but was overzealous in his attack and went straight on across the grass, rather than taking the chicane on. He subsequently surrendered the place he almost gained, lost ground and then found himself in defensive mode as Soulet attacked. The Bentley driver found himself right on the young Belgian’s tail as they sprinted along the finish straight. He tried to attack and make the move leading down towards turn 1 but Vanthoor defended it fantastically well. The two touched but nothing more came of it despite Soulet’s attempt to take the place on the switchback. This all allowed Ledogar to catch the two up slightly.
After 12 laps, the 5th placed Ferrari found itself seemingly in the middle of nowhere, 2.5 seconds behind the #74 Audi and 9 seconds ahead of the #99 BMW.
3 laps on from their original tussle, Dries Vanthoor was still fighting back Soulet’s efforts in the Bentley at turn 1. He managed it too, as he, Soulet and Eng pitted from 6-7-8 on lap 17 as the pit window opened. Race leader Parente elected to do the same on lap 19.
Following the 6-7-8 mini-train of cars’ pitstops, Nico Müller emerged ahead of the BMW and the Bentley, now in the hands of Andy Soucek.
The other two main players in Audis pitted on lap 22, with Rast handing over to Will Stevens and Franck Perera to Marlon Stockinger. The latter emerged ahead of Stevens after that round of stops, thanks to rapid work from the pit crew and as they left the pitlane you could see Rob Bell – newly-installed into the McLaren formerly of Alvaro Parente – flying down the straight. He split the Audis and Stevens found himself behind him as he rejoined the action.
Race leader Christopher Mies pitted on the lap 23 to hand over to teammate Enzo Ide. Mies had stayed out longer than anybody else at the front end of the field and had built a sound lead. That, combined with more excellent work once again from WRT saw Enzo Ide leave the pitlane almost 10 seconds ahead of Stockinger and Bell.
Following Ide’s introduction to the race, Bell scrapped with Stockinger at turn 1 for 2nd place but he ran slightly wide and couldn’t make a move stick. Following on from that though, Stockinger inexplicably lost his handling at turn 3, which allowed Bell to make an easy pass into 2nd. If he could negotiate the traffic well enough, you’d back him to win the race from there.
8.8s was the gap at the start of lap 24 and whilst McLaren chased Audi, WRT chased ISR as Will Stevens was all over Stockinger’s back. Meanwhile, Frédéric Vervisch in the #1 car had risen to 9th – another excellent example of just how brilliant WRT’s pit crews are.
The following lap Rob Bell had now made up half a second in the lead battle and had begun to close ever so slightly. Will Stevens also took another nibble at Marlon Stockinger at turn 1 but again couldn’t make a move stick.
Lap 26 saw the introduction of the first and only full course yellow as the #59 McLaren was seen crawling. Though it wasn’t creating any danger, it still had to be removed.
After a single lap FCY we were back underway and after another attempt at turn 1, Will Stevens eventually took third place from Stockinger’s grasp on lap 30. Also, by this point, Rob Bell was closing on Enzo Ide, taking massive chunks out of his lead time. Following the FCY the gap was 4.1s, which very quickly became 3.3s.
By lap 31 the experienced McLaren driver was just 2.5 seconds behind but had to contend with traffic in the shape of the #2 Stuart Leonard-driven Audi. Doubts would no doubt have been in Bell’s mind as a tactical delay may have been put into place. But with Ide in traffic himself, he was gaining nothing out of Leonard’s no doubt inadvertent generosity. 2 laps later, the gap was just 1.5s.
Whilst the lead battle was going on, Nico Müller – fresh from taking over from younger Vanthoor – overtook the pesky #8 Bentley of Andy Soucek at… you guessed it, turn 1! That was on lap 35.
We were now in the dying stages of the race and for all intents and purposes it looked like Bell would eventually take the win at some point. The Brit attacked at turn 4 on lap 36 but ran wide. His brakes seemingly not helping him out and he lost time. He was late in braking the following lap too at turn 1 as questions started to arise over whether they were slowly wearing at this late stage.
With 2 laps remaining, the gap was 0.6s which led to a couple of attempted moved from Bell, but Ide held on superbly to be the first double-winner of the season with teammate Christopher Mies. 4 Audis appeared in the top 5 to round off a great day for the 4 rings.