For the 41st running of the toughest race on earth, Black Falcon, the privately owned local team from Meuspath took on the world’s biggest racing teams and Won! A monumental achievement for all those involved, in some of the most difficult racing conditions imaginable.
What a difference one year can make. In May 2012, the Black Falcon team started the 24 Hour race at Nürburgring with high hopes of victory. Having qualified in 3rd position, the team tasted bitter disappointment after the car was crashed following a high-speed tyre puncture on the fourth lap. Now one year later, that bitterness has been replaced by the sweet taste of success. A whole year in planning. Is what it took from the entire team including all the partners, drivers, team members and sponsors. With three SLS AMG GT3’s and two Porsche cup cars entered, the build up to this race, left the team with no time to spare. The start of the racing season was blighted by poor weather. Heavy snow and freezing conditions meant the first race and test days were cancelled. Leaving little time and fewer opportunities to make the final set up and preparation for the cars.
With two test days and two VLN races, the team worked alongside their partners: Dunlop, Bilstein, Pagid and AMG, to get the best working combination of tyres, dampers, brakes and chassis, to produce the number one performing car in the field. With this combined effort and many late nights the Black Falcon team worked tirelessly to have all the cars ready to go for the 24 our race.
For the 2013 entry, Black Falcon entered with car number 9, one of the strongest driver combinations in the field. Five times DTM champion and one of the living legends of Motor racing, Bernd Schneider, teamed up with his Dubai race winning team mates and Carrera Cup super stars, Sean Edwards, Jeroen Bleekemolen and new for 2013 Nicki Thiim. In car number 10, Andrii Lebed, Harri Proczyk and Dennis Rostek, making a second strong entry, joined Andreas Simonsen. For the third entry, sporting the number 63, Christian Bracke and 24-hour Nürburgring first timer, Khaled Al Qubaisi and their Pro driver, Daniel Keilwitz, joined Vimal Mehta.
After a washout on the Friday practice sessions, Saturday saw the sun come out over the Eifel and all three cars breeze into the Top 40 qualifying sessions. Andreas Simonsen topped the time sheets in both Qualifying 1 and 2. With the order of the Top 40 qualifying being decided by lottery, it was to the misfortune of Sean Edwards in car number 9 that he should get stuck behind slower traffic and therefore miss out on taking a place on the front row. Not that is would have mattered anyhow as the car 9 would also have to serve a five grid penalty for a yellow flag infringement in qualifying 1, meaning that Sean would start the race in P11. For Simonsen in car 10, a fantastic lap saw them taking P9 against some of the best teams and drivers in GT racing. For Keilwitz in car 63, in his first race in the SLS a respectable P17.
With the race starting unusually at 5pm on Sunday and the weather predicted 24 hours of rain, the teams were all happy to set off from the start line under dry conditions. However, for car 9 stating in P11 the challenge was going to be tough. With the Audi’s, Aston Martin and BMW steaming ahead from the start line, the Black Flacon number 9 was quickly losing time to the leaders and by the first pit stops already had a mountain to climb!
Sadly for Simonsen in Car 10 after a great start, had contact with a SEAT and damaged the right rear axle. Limping back to the pits where the Black Falcon mechanics worked furiously to have the car back on track, having lost only 6 laps. A great job by the team, but sadly now putting a podium finish well out of reach. The drivers would now be fighting to keep some pride and get into the top 20!
Meanwhile, Car 9 and 63 continued the battle on track. With Schneider at the wheel, the team moved in and out of the top 5 as the teams made their pit stops, and soon into early evening the rain started. By the time Bleekemolen took over the deluge had begun and cars were crashing off the track all over the place. Conditions continued to worsen with fog sitting on the track and soon after 11 pm the race organisers took the decision to temporarily stop the race. For car 9 this was a shame, as Bernd Schneider was now cutting his way back through the field to make up some to of the lost time from the opening stages of the race, the new Dunlop rain tyres, proving to be unbeatable in these conditions. However, this was to be cut short and the race would not start again until 8am the following day.
During the break, the cars were quickly cleaned up and made ready for the restart, unusually giving the drivers and team members some time to sleep. However with the race clock still ticking, time was getting short for Black Falcon to get to the front.
With great relief the race restarted at 8am and all three SLS were on track in what was still a very wet race. In conditions like these, the drivers had to be extra cautious to avoid getting involved in any accident, but for car 9 this was not the time to be too careful. There was a race to be won and Bernd Schneider had a point to prove. With the full Dunlop rain tyre working at its best, Schneider set the fastest laps in the field and pushed the car into the top 3. A driving stint that saw the team have their hearts in their mouths on many occasions. Soon Edwards took over and proved he too could be the fastest man on track. Car 63 in the hands of Nürburgring 24 hour first timer, Khaled Al Qubaisi taking the restart had crept its way into the top 20. Vimal Mehta took over for a clean stint before handing the car over to Christian Bracke.
Sadly for car 10, a technical issue saw the car stopping on track leaving no chance for a top 20 finish. The team did manage to get the car restarted and safely back into the pits.
By midday on Monday, with the rain easing and the track beginning to dry, car 9 moved onto the superior Dunlop cut slick. Demonstrating the great set up, fantastic strategy and awesome driving skills, car 9 was soon leading the field.
With careful planning and a little bit of luck the Black Falcon pit wall team chose a strategy that would allow them to make one less pit stop than their competitors. By the final stint with a four-minute lead, Sean Edwards was able to adopt a fuel saving mode and despite the hard charging Z4 from Marc VDS, Edwards was able to cruise to the finish line.
Finally all five Black Falcon cars finished the 24h Nurburgring race, the two Cup Porsche finished in the upper places in the strong SP7 class. No scratches or dents, only tires, fuel and brakes were used by the Porsche drivers, which have done a real zero-mistake-job under extreme conditions.
Winning the Nürburgring 24hrs has been the dream for all those involved with Black Falcon. The emotions ran high as this; the ultimate goal of winning was deservedly achieved. Giving Mercedes their first ever 24hr win at Nürburgring. A success like this is only possible, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Black Falcon team. Most especially mechanics, but also, the strategic planning on the pit wall, the support from Dunlop, Bilstein, Pagid and of course AMG, their team, and the all dominating GT3 car they have built.
On the 12th January 2013, Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon made history by winning the Dubai 24 hour race twice in a row. For the second year running the SLS AMG GT3 took the top place on the podium after one of the toughest weeks in the team’s history.
Starting with testing on Wednesday, all was well with the two cars entered for Friday’s race. The pace was good, the set up working well and the drivers were happy. However, this equilibrium was soon brought to an end. Towards the end of the Wednesday practice, the session was stopped for a Red flag. The news over the radio told the team that sadly the car bearing Number One had spun at Turn 5 and crashed heavily into the barrier. With great thanks, the driver was unhurt, a testament to the strength and safety of the SLS AMG GT3!
With the car recovered to the pits it was immediately obvious that this chassis would never roll again. Various options were explored, with the support of AMG and in the end the personal relationship that AMG Bernd Schneider has with rival team Preci Spark, negotiations began to find a way the Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon could acquire their spare car.
Time was of the essence, as the team would have to strip the crashed car and build up the replacement chassis in 24 hours.
With thanks to the Jones brothers and the Preci Spark team a deal was struck and by 9pm Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon had a replacement chassis. With qualifying beginning at 5pm the next day, it would be a sleepless night ahead for the mechanics.
Through a quite unbelievable force of team work from the Black Falcon mechanics, lead by the never tiring power of chief mechanic Marvin Wagner, car Number One rose from the ashes and was able to dominate qualifying taking pole position by a healthy margin over its rivals.
Step one complete, but the car was only half ready to take on a full 24-hour race. Yet another sleepless night ahead as the mechanics toiled away to get this car ready. After all this we just could not fail now!
With the race starting at 1400 on Friday 11th January, it was becoming heart achingly close that the car would be ready. The team continued to work calmly and methodically to ensure every screw was done up properly, every measurement was accurate and that this car would not fail. It was a testament to the incredible team work, that only seconds before the race started, car Number One was in position, on the ground and ready to start the race. It should be mentioned that under normal circumstances after a rebuild of this type, a car we require a roll out before being used at race pace. This was now just not possible. Some fingers would need to be crossed!
In car Number Two, Andreas Simonsen had a fantastic start, pulling the car from 14th in qualifying up to seventh and well within sight of the leaders. Throughout the race there was numerous Code 60 “safety car” situations, from which the team seemed to almost always find not to be in their favour. Several times having only just passed the pit entry before a Code 60 began, or being stuck in traffic at the fuel pumps or just being behind a driver on the track driving 40 kmh, which on one occasion lost the team a full 90 seconds from their competitors. All in all the frustrations were mounting as the team fought to the front and then lost positions because of the Code 60.
Despite all this, by the half-way mark, car One occupied Position One and car Two thanks to the hard work of Khaled Al Qubaisi, Andreas Simonsen, Sergei Afanasiev, Simon Knap and Steve Jans, had puled itself up to Position two, behind its sister car.
However, their luck would not remain and throughout the night, car Two sustained a number of contacts with other cars until, despite the strong build of the SLS, the team had to bring the car into the pit garage for repair.
This was very sad as the mechanics and drivers had all been working hard and with great success, pushing the car for a definite podium finish. Losing 20 laps in the pit box, dropped car Two out of the top ten and out of contention for a podium. Therefore it become the new goal to finish as high up the top ten as possible and from here on in the divers would have to push hard.
With only one hour to go, Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon had once again taken complete control of the race.
The main competitors had gradually fallen away with problems of their own and car Number One driven by Khaled Al Qubaisi, Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Sean Edwards took an emphatic win at 1400 on Saturday the 12th January.
Driving into Parc Fermé, Khaled once again jumped onto the bonnet of the car, shrouded in a UAE flag and unable to contain his emotion after this incredible story. Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon, back-to-back winners of the Dubai 24 hours!
For car Number Two, the fight back through the field had been metronomic and the drivers pulled the car into a respectable 7th place overall. Sadly not the result the guys had worked so hard to achieve, but with the confidence and knowledge that they can fight for top honors in 2014.
Marvin Wagner, technical director Black Falcon: „The title defence was not easy for us. I am very proud of my team, which showed that it works professional and focused also in difficult conditions. We did not had any technical problems on all three Black Falcon cars during the whole 24 hours and gained the victory as a reward.”
Also the Porsche 997 Cup GT3 entered by Black Falcon Team TMD Friction was managing its own up and downs during the Dubai 24 hours event. After setting the fastest Qualifying time in the 997-class with 2:03.944 Christian von Rieff, Christian Raubach, Burkard Kaiser, Erwin Stückle and Patrick Huisman started from position 15 overall and first in class, alongside the SLS #2. During the opening stages of the race, the Black Falcon Porsche #44 was the leading non-GT3-car in the field and always in the Top Twenty. Unfortunately after 8 hours of racing, another car hit #44 and the car had to return to the pits for repairs. The team worked feverishly to repair the car but sadly this meant two hours in the pit and #44 rejoined the race in position 57. During the night there was more drama as the team had to manage a second accident caused by a competitor. From the early morning the car #44 drove lap after lap from position 42 up to 28 overall and finished on position 5 in the class 997. In the last lap Christian von Rieff managed to drive next to the Black Falcon SLS #1 and crossed the checkered flag alongside the winning car for a team photo finish.
Sean Paul Breslin, Black Falcon SLS Team manager:
“We came to defend the victory. We have suffered a lot. We never gave up. And now we’ve done it.
After an excellent, self-sacrificing team performance our drivers have achieved the maximum and won for the second time in a row this prestigious race.
We are speechless, overjoyed and can not even believe it. Thanks to everyone who made this possible and especially to all the fans and supporters who have kept their fingers crossed.”
Jan Derenbach, Black Falcon Porsche Team manager:
“Unfortunately we had some bad luck with our Porsche during the race and had to handle two accidents which were caused by the mistakes of competitors. But in the first part of the race we showed that we are also competitive with our Porsche 997 Cup. I want to thank the mechanics and drivers who did a great job and I am very proud that we were able to defend the title.”
Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon with its drivers Sean Edwards, Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Thomas Jager, beat strong competition from BMW, Ferrari, Audi, Mercedes and Porsche to win the seventh edition of the 24 hour race in Dubai. With a new distance record of 628 laps (3385 miles) Black Falcon scored the first 24 victory for Mercedes since 1989 at Le Mans and the first for the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, only a year after its debut in the 24 hours of Dubai.
This year’s edition of the 24 hour race in the Arab emirate of Dubai was full of international teams and drivers at their best. From the start of the race, Black Falcon’s SLS was amongst the fastest and fought all the way from 15th up to 1st position in the first hour. Later in the race they lost their advantage, because it was too far away from the pit lane entry at the beginning of a code 60 and therefore could not take full advantage of a pitstop. The competition took advantage of the situation and drove past Black Falcon. Several tactical ploys by the drivers and team were able to regain the lost time and get the lead back eventually.
Sean Edwards was the one to regain the lead before midnight with a great move around the outside of another Mercedes SLS. Over the next few hours Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards and Thomas Jager built their lead up. Even so, after 18 hour of the race, the top three cars (Mercedes, BMW, Mercedes) were covered by only 7 seconds! Good tactics from the team, excellent pit stops from the crew and fast driving, combined with the high reliability of the SLS meant that after 24 hours, the first overall victory for Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon was achieved.
“What an amazing race we had, it was such an amazing fight all the way to the end! I am so happy to win my first 24 hour race and to help Mercedes get the first for the SLS. Everyone performed flawlessly from the team and drivers, which is what you need in modern endurance racing, no mistakes. We spent the least time in the pits and won the race because of it.”
Khaled Al Qubaisi:
“To have won the 24 hours of Dubai is a great feeling. The victory was hard fought, the race was very tight and the competition very high. Therefore, the race for the whole team was incredibly demanding. Nevertheless, everybody in the team did a great job, and my dream team of drivers performed outstandingly. It was such a great feeling to cross the finish line after so much hard work to achieve the result we really deserved!”