INTERVIEW. Christian Land on Land Motorsport’s 2023 season

News | May 2, 2023

After a seven-year hiatus, Land Motorsport made its return to the 24H SERIES at this year’s Hankook 12H MUGELLO. And, as we learn from team manager Christian Land, the 2009 24H DUBAI winner is already eying that top step.


Words – James Gent

Images – Nico Mombaerts / Eric Teekens

Of the near-dozen teams that have already confirmed an entry for the full 24H SERIES in 2023, it’s not unreasonable to say that Land Motorsport is among the most compelling. 


It’s a bold claim perhaps, particularly since reigning 24H SERIES champions Phoenix Racing and CP Racing, new incumbents – and new winners – Haas RT and Buggyra ZM Racing, and reigning Porsche Endurance Challenge champion RPM Racing have also confirmed full season entries. On top of that, round one of CREVENTIC’s European season – Land Motorsport’s first 24H SERIES outing in seven years – didn’t quite go to plan. A water leak, discovered shortly after half-distance, and the subsequent five-lap penalty ‘earned’ for removing its Pro/Am Audi R8 LMS without pre-approval from scrutineering, ultimately cost the team’s #55 entry a top five finish, while a puncture and driveshaft failure, brutally, just 10 minutes from home, denied the sister #34 a certain GT3-Am class podium.


Even so, Land Motorsport’s accomplishments across the last three decades suggest the potential for a giant-killing performance is massive. A Porsche Carrera Cup mainstay between 1995 and 2015, the team netted the second of two series titles for founder Wolfgang Land in 1997, and helped its patriarch retain the series record for most wins of any driver (14) until 2019. Since then, Land Motorsport has taken championship glory in the ADAC GT Masters, has scored 25 wins in the VLN (a record only four other teams have beaten in 45 years), and became a prolific GT frontrunner during its IMSA years. 


Alongside that, the Rhineland-based outfit is a proven 24-hour race winner too, having won overall at the Nürburgring in 2017 (that same year Land came just 0.293s shy of GTD-class victory on its Daytona debut!) and, fittingly, Dubai in 2009. When it comes to endurance racing, Land Motorsport clearly knows how to get the job done.


It should come as no surprise then that team manager, and namesake, Christian Land is looking to hit the ground running in his team’s first full 24H SERIES campaign in 2023. 

“Our goal is to come into the championship, learn everything, and ‘be there’ for the first full season,” Christian Land explains. “Herberth [Motorsport], Phoenix [Racing] and CP [Racing] are obviously very experienced in the 24H SERIES, but, for sure, when Land Motorsport is on-track, we want to try and fight with and against these guys.”


Remarkably, Land Motorsport’s return at the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO was the German team’s first entry in the 24H SERIES since the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2016, and only its fourth overall since 2009! So, while the team’s endurance experience is certainly on-point, its ‘24H SERIES’ experience may be a little rusty. Code 60, for example, is a concept with which Land Motorsport has not had to deal in seven years and is a strategic minefield that causes even the best in the field to stumble. 


There’s the depth of the competitive field to consider too, hefty competition from Herberth, Phoenix, CP and Haas among many other GT3 rivals notwithstanding. When Land last competed at Dubai in 2016 for example, the pace difference between the A6-spec Audi R8 frontrunners to the A2-entered MINI Cooper JCWs and Renault Clio Cups was anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds per lap. At this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI, with more and more teams committing to GT4 and the Porsche 992 GT3 Cup, the gap from the frontrunning BMW M4 GT3s to the TCR-class Audi RS 3 LMS’ had almost halved to just over 12 seconds.


Realist that he is, Christian freely admits that the 24H SERIES his team will contest in 2023 has evolved significantly in the last seven years, though this has not dented his confidence…


“From my point of view, things have changed quite a bit,” Christian continues. “It’s a very competitive series now with a lot more professional teams, and with more GT3 cars. For sure, in the years before, there were more cars in the 24H SERIES but there has also been a big, positive improvement with the professionalism of all the teams. I’d say that’s actually been quite a big step forward.”

It’s unlikely though that Land Motorsport will take long to find its footing, given the support behind it. A Porsche customer for 22 years, Land Motorsport made the switch to Audi Sport in 2016 in a move that has produced high-profile 24-hour podiums and/or wins at Nürburgring, Spa (the team finished 3rd in 2018, again on event debut) and Daytona. Across in the 24H SERIES, the innate pace of Audi’s ‘EVO II’-gen R8 LMS was demonstrated with a 1-2 finish at the Hankook 12H MUGELLO. In the Land Motorsport garage specifically, the German team’s #55 qualified a strong 6th overall in Tuscany, had moved into the lead after just seven laps, and ended ‘part one’ in 4th only 22s behind the sister #34 R8, which, incidentally, had also worked its way through the field from 14th on the grid. 


It’s a partnership that could – if not, will – make a huge difference in 2023, and one Christian hopes will continue for plenty of years to come. 


“We had a long history with Porsche, but we decided to switch because Audi gave us some new opportunities. We entered that year’s [Hankook] 24H DUBAI – actually that was the first race that we did with Audi! – and we had only picked up the car at Audi on 27 December. By then it was too late to use a container, so the car went straight onto the plane and our mechanics saw the Audi GT3 R8 for the first time at the track in Dubai. So it was not an easy start for us! Plus, it was a big step away from a Porsche Cup car to a GT3 car: in the years before, we’d done the Porsche Carrera Cup for a long, long time, running two or three cars, so there was a big difference. But we had a lot of help from Audi at our first race, where we had to learn the car together. We’ve had a very good partnership with Audi since then. 


“I’d say we’ve had the most success in our whole company history together with the Audi Sport family, around the world in the [Intercontinental GT Challenge], at the Nürburgring, and a lot of other big races. A lot as ‘Audi Sport Team Land,’ under the manufacturer flag. That’s quite a big honour for a team to have. We are happy to be back in 2023 too as a factory team at this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours. We look forward to, hopefully, many years with Audi Sport.” 


There’s also the driver line-up to consider. The ‘Kirchhoff Gruppe’ livery on the #34 – to be run as ‘Land Motorsport’ in 2023 after years of operation under the ‘Car Collection Motorsport’ banner – has been a 24H SERIES fan favourite for close to a decade now, as indeed has its patron Dr Johannes Kirchhoff. The multi-time overall podium finisher competed at Mugello alongside the equally experienced Ingo Vogler, and the latter’s brother Tim, is also signed up for Spa, and has proven a safe – and, more importantly, consistent – pair of hands over the years. Likewise, 2020 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO winner Tim Müller could prove a similar difference maker alongside recent GT3 convert Stefan Wieninger in the #55.

Then there’s Land’s ace in the hole: Christopher Mies. A team staple since 2016, the two-time Nürburgring 24 Hours winner has won races in everything from ADAC GT Masters to the Blancpain Endurance Series and the Australian GT Championship, and, like Land Motorsport, is also a previous Hankook 24H DUBAI winner, the German driver having taken overall honours in 2022. Tellingly, Mies also competed with Land at Dubai in 2016, netting a start on that year’s front row and the two fastest overall race laps in the process. 


Unsurprisingly, Christian has no doubt that Mies’ pace and experience will prove valuable during the course of a full, potentially-championship-challenging campaign in 2023. 


“Chris is a team member at Land Motorsport. Since that first race in 2016, at each race when there was a Land car on the track, Chris has been a part of that team. He’s our factory driver, and he’s the only factory driver that has stayed for such a long time with one team. I’m happy that he’s here, especially since he’s very important for our customers like Dr Kirchhoff, Tim, the Vogler brothers and Stefan, to give them his experience with data, on-board video, etc. He’s one of the most experienced GT3 drivers you can get around the world, and I think he brings the whole program forward with our gentlemen drivers.


“I’ve been asked a lot: ‘how can you run a lot of races, touring the whole world, running races at the same time in IMSA and Germany?’ Actually we are very small family team: we have five people, working full time, at our workshop. So good organization is a big part of success, and one of the most important things – something I think works every time – is a family atmosphere. Everybody is there for each other, to work on the same goals. Basically, you need to handle a team like they are your own kids and your own family. We are a racing team, but for me it’s important that we are a racing family, and that we are there for each other when we need help.”

So, given its frontrunning pace in Mugello, the sizeable manufacturer support behind it, and a driver line-up that blends 24H SERIES experience with blistering pace, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Land Motorsport will be at the sharp end once again at this year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS. The #34 even finished on the podium at the 2018 edition. And yet…


“Honestly, there’s not a lot of pressure on us at the moment. We have two customer cars – one Am, one Pro/Am – and our focus, first of all, is to learn all the rules, which are quite new for us. That’s the most important thing. For sure, in the whole team, there is pressure with all the new rules and new people, but I think we can be pretty relaxed this weekend and just do what we do best.”

2009 24H DUBAI. The closest yet.

Land Motorsport’s first outright 24-hour race win in 2009 featured one of the most dramatic finishes in 24H SERIES history. 

By a strange coincidence, Carsten Tilke, who also took victory at the 2009 24H DUBAI with Land Motorsport, was also competing at the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, albeit with Hofor-Racing. The memories must have flooded back, right…?


“Yeah, for sure!” Christian Land laughs. “Carsten, and also Hermann, are very good friends of our team. I was a teammate with Hermann Tilke” – yes, that Hermann Tilke – “for a long-time, and I drove a lot of races with Carsten as well. They’ve been friends of our team for a long time now, and we were also in contact during the winter months, whether Carsten would enter [the 2023 Hankook 12H MUGELLO] with us, but the Hofor guys were a bit quicker! To be in the paddock again with the Tilke family is great. We’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success together, so maybe we will see him back in our car again in the future.”


Certainly the fourth edition of the Hankook 24H DUBAI was not want for talking points. Having set a commanding pace during Free Practice, Qualifying, Night Practice and race day’s Shakedown, it wasn’t too startling to see the #34 Autorlando Sport Porsche 997 RSR – one of a remarkable 26 Porsches in the 75-car field – retain pole position into turn one in the race itself. Clinging decisively to the Italian team’s coattails though was the first of two entries for Land Motorsport, also running a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Indeed, such was the pace of Autorlando’s Richard Lietz and fellow front row starter Marc Basseng – who teamed with Dirk Adorf, team owner Christian Land, and Hermann Tilke in Land’s #41 car – were soon leaving 3rd-placed Claudia Hürtgen in the Al Faisal Racing BMW in their wake. Admittedly, it was a gap aided by second row starters Equipe Verschuur and Khaleji Motorsport collecting each other on lap three. 


Despite Basseng forcing his way past Lietz on lap seven, Autorlando Sport had already pulled a lap clear of 2nd-placed Al Faisal Racing and a further two minutes ahead of 3rd-placed ARC Bratislava three hours in, an out-of-sequence Land Motorsport having dropped briefly to 4th. An easy run to the flag already looked ominous. 


Autorlando’s lead would last only half an hour longer however, contract on-track with a backmarker causing significant damage to the Porsche’s diffuser, exhaust and rear axle, and costing the Italian team almost an hour in the pits. Just like that, the polesitter had dropped to 55th, and could only recover to 26th at the flag.

Autorlando’s gauntlet thereafter was taken up by Al Faisal Racing, the #69 BMW Z4 M Coupé demonstrating impressive fuel consumption to keep the ARC Bratislava and Besaplast Porsches at bay for the following three hours before a front axle repair dropped the Saudi Arabian team briefly back into the pack. Come half-distance, the BMW was already back in the fight. 


Much the same could not be said for Land’s #41 car, however. The German team’s victory hopes were, seemingly, ended after nine hours when an engine fire engulfed, and destroyed, the Porsche’s rear end, fortunately without driver injury. A sad end, not just to the race, but also to a five-year partnership between Land Motorsport and primary sponsor Bilstein.


One consolation for Land however was the progress of its sister entry: “we were leading the race with the [#42] RSR until we had an engine failure. After that, we were all pushing together to get the win for our Porsche Cup car!” Methodically, the #42 had worked its way up from 8th on the grid to 3rd by the seventh hour, a position it held for the most part – albeit a lap adrift of ARC Bratislava and the recovered Al Faisal Racing – until hour 17, with Carsten Tilke and teammates Gabriël Abergel, Andrzej Dzikevic and Niclas Kentenich unable to hold off the charging Besaplast Racing Team Porsche 997.


Incredibly, with only 70 minutes to go, pandemonium descended on the 2009 24H DUBAI. Long-time leader Al Faisal Racing was back in the pits with a puncture, the shattered remnants of the Toyo tyre having also caused significant damage to the already-repaired rear bodywork. The costly stop, plus a one-lap penalty handed down when the injured BMW took a shortcut back to pitroad, dropped the leading Al Faisal Racing BMW to 4th. Incredibly, beneficiary ARC Bratislava was also in trouble just 42 minutes from home, suspension issues striking the Slovakian team a few laps after its final refuel, dropping the #12 Porsche off the podium. 


The mayhem, incredibly, vaulted Land Motorsport back into the lead – albeit with a different car – heading into the final 30 minutes, though Kentenich, on his final stint, was not yet out of the woods. A brake issue, plus massive amounts of fuel-saving for the #42 Porsche, meant a flying Claudia Hürtgen was tearing through the young German’s lead, the recovering #69 BMW at times up to 12 seconds per lap faster than the Porsche. 


In a remarkable grandstand finish, the fuel-starved #42 Land Motorsport Porsche crossed the line just 49.676 seconds clear of Al Faisal Racing to take the overall win (though denied her first 24-hour race win in 2009, Hürtgen eventually stood on the Dubai top step two years later). One lap further back, the Besaplast Racing Team held off an equally red-misted ARC Bratislava to secure 3rd, despite Sebastian Asch hemorrhaging time with a brake problem of his own. 


To this day, 2009 remains the closest finish ever at the Hankook 24H DUBAI.

You can also check out Christian’s interview in our magazine for the 2023 Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, available for download below. 

share this content on: