Daniel Harper and the BMW Junior Team saw a tremendous fight back to the top ten go sadly unrewarded by a late retirement in the 2021 ADAC TOTAL 24 Hours of Nürburgring (05-06 June).
Following some encouraging performances across the opening events of the 2021 campaign behind the wheel of their BMW M6 GT3, and with fond memories of a brilliant class win on his first attempt at the 24 hour race last season, Harper headed into this year’s event in high spirits.
The Northern Irishman and his BMW Junior Team colleagues Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen were once again joined by BMW factory driver Augusto Farfus, whose wealth of experience in the M6 GT3 and in long endurance races proved hugely beneficial for the young talents.
Extreme and unpredictable weather has become a hallmark of the Nürburgring 24 Hours in recent times, and that proved to be the case once again this year. Therefore, some laps in both wet and dry conditions during Thursday’s opening qualifying session was important for Harper.
The 20 year old talent got some night running under his belt that evening as well, with good mileage, promising pace and more traffic management experience behind the wheel of the #77 Shell backed BMW meaning he felt prepared and ready to race on Saturday.
Prior to that, Harper watched on as his team-mates secured a great grid position for the car on Friday. In the first part of final qualifying, Farfus produced a superb lap to get them into the top 20 car shootout, in which Hesse starred in treacherous wet conditions to finish tenth quickest.
The weather was to play a major part in the beginning of the race on Saturday afternoon, with a big storm closing in on the circuit. Expecting heavy rain imminently, the team made the decision to pit the car at the end of the formation lap to change to wet tyres.
Unfortunately the rain arrived a little later than expected and the gamble didn’t pay off, ultimately leaving them five minutes down on the leading cars. They immediately set about fighting their way back up the order though, with Farfus and then Hesse putting in good stints.
Harper took over at the four hour mark and had a busy couple of hours behind the wheel. Negotiating multiple incidents and yellow flag zones on circuit, he produced a mature performance to stay out of trouble and pound in some quick lap times to remain in a competitive 19th position.
In last year’s edition of the twice round-the-clock spectacle, more than nine hours of racing was lost through the night due to heavy rain and fog. In an unfortunate case of déjà vu, fog would descend on the track once again at 9.30pm local time.
With poor visibility for drivers, marshals and safety teams, race control had to suspended the race overnight. It wasn’t until midday on Sunday that it was deemed the fog had cleared enough to allow the race to restart, ensuring a three and a half hour sprint to the finish.
With the large gap to the pack eradicated, the team decided that running an alternate pitstop strategy to most of the cars ahead of them could propel them into the top ten. A great stint from Verhagen ensured it worked too, as he handed over to Farfus in tenth place.
The experienced Brazilian then showed his class to work his way up to eighth, before disaster struck with 30 minutes to go. A fuel pump problem forced him to slow briefly and as he tried to switch to the back-up pump, a car behind misjudged an overtake and made heavy contact with the rear of the BMW, leading to a heart-breaking early conclusion to their race.
Daniel Harper: “Naturally we’re pretty gutted with the end result. After a rollercoaster race, to have been on course for a top ten finish at the chequered flag would have been fantastic and the least everyone in the team deserved for their hard work across the event.
“It all went really well across the first three qualifying sessions, we each got some good time in the car and we fine-tuned the car setup for the different weather conditions. Augusto and Max were superb in the final qualifying sessions to get us tenth on the grid.
“We made a bold decision to pit at the start with the rain coming in fast, but sadly it arrived a couple of laps too late for the gamble to pay off. We kept our heads up though and pushed on, knowing that a potential red flag would get us back in contention and that’s what happened.
“Neil and Augusto gave it everything on Sunday and did a fantastic job to move us up to eighth. As we all know, anything can happen in motorsport though and on this occasion the luck was against us with the mechanical issue and contact in the space of 30 seconds.
“It was a great team effort across the event; BMW Team RMG did a mega job in their first ever 24 hour race, whilst thank you to Augusto for all his help and guidance in recent months. Max, Neil and I are determined to bounce back and show what we can do in the final NES events this year.”
Harper and his BMW Junior Team colleagues are looking to shake off this disappointment and produce another front-running performance when they return to Nürburgring Endurance Series action on Saturday 26th June.
Source. Simon Paice Media/Photo. BMW