What, on the surface, appeared to be a ‘predictable’ race on CREVENTIC’s first ever endurance event in Germany turned out to be anything but. At the 2020 Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING, two Porsche 911-II Cups secured an historic 1-2 finish, and as we find out with DUWO Racing’s Ben Wagener, it was a fight that went down to the wire.
This weekend, the 24H SERIES descends on Germany’s second most famous racetrack for only the second time in its 15-year history. And already, with the green flag still days away from dropping, the difference between the editions is palpable.
The Hockenheimring after all is set to welcome close to 40 cars for this year’s 12-hour race, more than double the quota that arrived for the inaugural, 16-hour edition in 2020. This year’s race on 22-23 May will be CREVENTIC’s third endurance event in as many months, while the 2020 edition, held in September and greenlit with just two weeks advanced notice after the unavoidable cancellation of the Hankook 24H BARCELONA, was only the fourth for the Dutch promoter that year. A live crowd is still not a reality in 2021, but team, series and track personnel alike are fully up to speed with the health and safety protocols, and social distance requirements of a world now 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic. By contrast, heightened travel restrictions meant that all bodies, CREVENTIC included, could run only a skeleton crew on the ground in Baden-Württemberg in September 2020. Even the live stream was touch and go!
In short, preparation in 2021 is a vivid contrast to the difficulties 15 teams experienced in the build-up to last year’s race. Though, admittedly, difficulties the likes of Ben Wagener and his crew at DUWO Racing were willing to face for the sake of competition.
“It was quite difficult, especially for our international drivers taking international flights,” Ben explains to CREVENTIC. “Ironically, Hockenheim was probably the easiest one, because in Germany, the authorities are very responsive and give good feedback, so we felt well-prepared and safe travelling to the Hockenheim. Compare that with the problems we had at Le Castellet: our drivers were not allowed to take Air France because of international restrictions, so they had to change at Milan. Of course, you want everyone to be safe, but these kinds of headaches can disturb preparations for a race. We hope it gets easier in the future because we want to be here, competing.”
Like many on the Hockenheim grid, DUWO Racing was lining up for only its second 24H SERIES start of the year on Saturday 5 September (only Red Camel-Jordans.nl, Autorama Motorsport and AC Motorsport competed at every event). And as usual for the former CUP1 champion, class victory was the team’s main objective.
Unusually though, with Equipe Verschuur and CP Racing being the only GT3 entrants at Hockenheim ‘20, it was a foregone conclusion – if such a thing exists in endurance racing – that a ‘991’ class entrant would finish on the overall podium. So, as DUWO Racing prepared for the race, was an overall podium on their collective minds?
“As a small team – and non-professionals, because none of us make any money from this or work full-time in motorsport – we wanted to compete in the highest classes, and ‘991’ is always highly respected. When you commit to that, and I believe we have had a good program since 2019, the aim is always on the class win. The rest? You take what you can get.
“You can be happy with P8, P10, P12 as well as a podium, but it always depends on the competition you’re facing. So actually, we thought it was shame there were only two GT3 cars at Hockenheim. We always want fast cars on the track because a full grid makes an event more interesting.”
The pace of the #909 Porsche 991-II Cup during qualifying certainly didn’t suggest DUWO would be happy with P8, P10 or P12 though. Indeed, Andrey Mukovoz’s 1m 46.116s around the 4.574km Hockenheimring was almost 1.5s faster than Harry Hilders managed for 991-class rival, NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing. It also kept DUWO Racing at the top of the timesheets until Mike Verschuur – who secured Equipe Verschuur’s second consecutive pole position of the season in Germany – and CP Racing’s Charles Espenlaub set their banker laps.
Granted, qualifying for an endurance event is rarely the be-all and end-all. But for DUWO Racing, which would now start 3rd ahead of the Bas Koeten-prepared 991 Cup, it was an almighty shot across the bows of its accomplished Dutch rivals.
When the green flag dropped the following afternoon, Mukovoz maintained the team’s 991-class lead into turn one in front of Hilders, Verschuur doing likewise in the pole sitting Renault R.S.01 GT3 up ahead. Behind the GT division though, chaos was unfolding in the TCE ranks as Red Camel’s Ivo Breukers was pinched between the fast-starting AC Motorsport’s Vincent Radermecker and TOPCAR Sport’s Fabian Danz on the run down into turn one. With nowhere to go, the orange CUPRA’s front right wheel connected with the Audi’s rear left, spinning Radermecker into the unsighted Danz and putting both the Audi and the Swiss CUPRA into the gravel on the start-finish straight.
In what must be a 24H SERIES record, the first Code 60 was called just 42 seconds after the green flag had been flown!
Even with ‘just’ 15 cars on the grid, further drama unfolded in the following hours. Having missed qualifying altogether after changing the Ligier’s 3.7-litre V6, Nordschleife Racing was pulling comfortably away at the head of TCE only to lose 15 minutes in the pits to a damaged floor after less than an hour. Gearbox issues and a puncture similarly troubled TCX rival Day V Tec and GT4’s Team Avia Sorg Rennsport respectively.
Even Speed Lover, 991’s third entrant, put itself out of contention with a hefty knock against the tyre barriers at Sachs. Not that Ben was happy to see a class rival in trouble, however…
“When you have more cars in your class, it just makes it more fun,” Ben continues. “Sometimes you can be happier with 3rd place than with a win. In Dubai for example, you always have plenty of Cup cars to battle. And you’re fighting against big teams in this 991 world, so it makes beating them more satisfying. In the end, we’re here to have fun: to make sure the drivers go home happy and the team goes home happy. If we get a podium or a trophy, great! But it always means more when there are more competitors to beat.”
Significantly, mechanical woes would also strike Equipe Verschuur, the Renault’s one-lap lead gone in an instant with driveshaft failure after four hours had elapsed. With one GT3 entrant now in the garage, 991-class leader DUWO Racing moved up to 2nd overall, six laps behind CP Racing and, crucially, just under a lap ahead of the pursuing NKPP Bas Koeten Racing.
A heavy, but short, rain shower midway through Saturday afternoon threw another spanner in the works, but when the chequered flag flew for ‘part one’ of the 2020 Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING DUWO Racing was still 44s clear of NKPP Racing. Both 991 class frontrunners would thus start day two on the same lap.
“In endurance racing, you have to concentrate on yourself first. You need to prepare the car well, it must move smoothly through the field and it has to be fast, so you have to concentrate on your team. Of course, you keep a close eye on your competitors and check their strategy from the first pit stop onwards, but you don’t concentrate too much because you have enough to do with yourself!”
Green flag, Sunday morning. Part two. Once again, the DUWO Racing Porsche, now with Stanislav Sidoruk at the wheel, held its ground into turn one, and had even started to inch away as the first – or, rather, ninth – hour ticked by.
After a flawless run though, the cruelties of endurance motorsport struck home hard just 90 minutes later…
“We had an issue with the exhaust on the left side, which went loose. Hot air was going under the rear bumper and it was starting to melt. So we had to fix the bumper, reseal the exhaust, and tighten the clamp. It was only one single nut that came loose!
“Honestly, when the car came in [to the pits], I thought it would be a lot more work and would take much longer. After this repair, we were happy that we could still fight for the win.”
Even a sub-10 minute pit stop was not enough to prevent NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing moving into 2nd overall and taking the class lead. Few at the time though realised just how dearly this comparatively simple fix would cost DUWO Racing.
One hour later. Equipe Verschuur, already 53 laps down but still circulating, was pulled behind the barrier with a little over five hours left on the clock, a second broken driveshaft proving terminal this time. Moments later, cameras picked up the CP Racing Mercedes being towed out of the tyre barriers on the exit of Sachs, the normally impeccable Joe Foster having made the tiniest of mistakes under braking. A seemingly unassailable lead was obliterated as the American team lost 46 minutes in the pits repairing the front end damage. Two hours later, while Shane Lewis was mounting a charge back from 3rd, a temperature spike showed that all was still not well with the Mercedes’ radiator, and the #85 AMG was back in the garage for another 38-minute stop.
Incredibly, just two hours from home, both GT3 entrants were now out of contention. The fight for overall victory at the Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING had thus come down to two Porsche 911-II Cup cars.
In a further twist to proceedings, as the 14th hour ticked by, a sensation battle began raging on-track between NKPP’s Marcel van Berlo and DUWO’s Andrey Mukovoz. Across a double stint, the Russian, lapping regularly more than a second quicker than van Berlo up ahead, had annihilated the 90-second gap between 1st and 2nd and was harrying the back of the NKPP Porsche.
“In 2017, we were racing a BMW M235i in CUP1, and I remember being at Paul Ricard that year, sharing the box with Scuderia Praha: they were on pole position and we were last on the grid. So to be fighting for the overall win at Hockenheim, three years later… that was a big moment, and that felt like a big success!”
Five laps later, Mukovoz was past van Berlo, and back in the lead. Victory though was far from confirmed.
After its earlier exhaust incident, DUWO was still one pit stop down on its Dutch rivals, meaning Ben and his team of strategists had to roll the dice: if, during his final double stint, Stanislav Sidoruk could leach every drop of fuel he could from the Porsche’s 100-litre fuel cell, maybe – just maybe – the 991 polesitter could still leapfrog Bas Koeten…
“It was so tight at the end, which is really cool for a 16-hour race! And we tried everything. I remember we went high-risk with the fuel. In that situation, you just have to go for it and that’s what we did.”
Ultimately, the gamble didn’t pay off as Sidoruk, just 20 seconds behind after the final stops, ran dry with only three laps to go. Up front, Harry Hilders dutifully brought the NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing Porsche 911-II Cup home to win what had turned into an astonishing Hankook 16H HOCKENHEIMRING. Amazingly, despite the last-minute splash and dash, DUWO Racing’s Stanislav Sidoruk still took the chequered flag on the same lap as the leader, 1m 46s adrift. After 16 hours.
Though disappointed that luck worked against them in Germany, Ben still believes there are positives to be taken from last year’s Hockenheim event.
“In the end we had to fuel two or three laps from the end to get the last five or six litres into the tank. It was sad not to win the class, because we could have made history, but it was fun.
“Hockenheim felt bittersweet. It we had been 2nd to a GT3 car, it would have been different. Like always, when you have a split race, you can be leading with one lap after the first day, but the next day, you could lose all the time you’ve built up with just one mistake or one small problem. What counts is what is on the paper, so in a way that really motivated us.
It was the same at Portimão, earlier in the year, when we won our class. We were running the car at Spa just 10 days before, and had a big crash when one of our drivers lost the car. So we had to repair the car – we fixed the complete chassis and body – and so we were all exhausted going to Portimão. To get the class win after all that was sweet. We always look back on these feelings.
“But in the end, at Hockenheim, you just have to congratulate [NKPP Racing by] Bas Koeten Racing on doing a great job. They’ve been doing this every weekend for many years and we see how they work as a team. There’s a lot we can learn from them.”
Behind an unexpected Porsche 991-II Cup 1-2, Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing penned its own footnote in the 24H SERIES history books by finishing 1st and 2nd in the TCE ranks, and, more significantly, 3rd and 4th overall. It marked the first time a TCR car had finished on the overall podium at a CREVENTIC endurance event hosting both the GT and TCE divisions.
After surviving its race-start clash with AC Motorsport (which sadly retired at three-quarter distance), TOPCAR Sport completed the TCR podium in 6th place overall in front of GT4-class winner, Team Avia Sorg Rennsport. Sportsmen to the end, CP Racing got its Mercedes going again and collected a hard-earned GT3-class win in 7th overall. Despite gearbox issues, Day V Tec collected the TCX class win in 8th overall, just ahead of the equally trouble-hit Nordschleife Racing. A distant PROsport Racing meanwhile rounded out the top 10, a commendable recovery drive given that the team German team had lost almost an hour in the pits with suspension issues.
Ironically, what had looked to be a foregone conclusion with ‘just’ 15 cars on 5-6 September 2020 proved to be one of the 24H SERIES’ more dramatic events of the year. With three times more cars on the grid and eight months of additional ‘Covid-era’ preparation under our competitors’ collective belts, one wonders what surprises the Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING will have in store in 2021.
- Words – James Gent
- Images – Boost Racing Images, and Lazenby Visuals