When Nick Catsburg (NED) crossed the finish line in the #99 BMW M6 GT3 shortly after 15:30 on Sunday afternoon, the celebrations knew no bounds. Together with ROWE Racing and his team-mates Alexander Sims and Nick Yelloly (both GBR), Catsburg had just won another thrilling Nürburgring 24 Hours (GER) on the Nordschleife. This was the first victory for ROWE Racing at the 24-hour race. And it was also a very special success for record winner BMW: the manufacturer’s 20th overall victory came on the 50th anniversary of the endurance classic. That was all a few days ago now, but the emotions are still just as strong.
1970 – 2010 – 2020: BMW was the overall winner of the inaugural 24-hour race in 1970. The 19th and most recent overall victory came courtesy of BMW Team Schnitzer in 2010. Since then, BMW had endured a long wait for its 20th overall win, although BMW teams had finished the race second on the podium on four occasions in recent years. It was almost as though the racing gods had come up with a special plan: overall victory number 20 was to come in 2020, at the 50th anniversary of the 24-hour race, 50 years after the first win and ten years after the latest success.
“The moment the car crossed the finish line is one we will remember for a very long time,” says BMW Group Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. “We have waited ten years for this victory, although the BMW teams have missed out by incredibly small margins in recent years, and have finished runner-up on four occasions. The fact that we made it onto the top step of the podium on the 50th anniversary makes the win even more special. ROWE Racing took full advantage of the potential of the BMW M6 GT3 in extremely difficult conditions, with a flawless race and the right strategic decisions at the right time. It was an outstanding performance and team effort, which was rewarded with that long-awaited victory.”
This success is also of particular importance to ROWE Racing team principal, Hans-Peter Naundorf. In 2017, the team missed out on overall victory by just 29.418 seconds after a dramatic climax. The 2018 and 2019 races did not go to plan, but the team’s fortunes changed this year. “With all the factors that made this race so special, the history of BMW, the yearning desire of all of us to finally win this race, and all the joint efforts, this success is something very, very special,” says Naundorf. “Throughout all the years, we have always invested the most energy and placed our biggest hopes in this race, and we have experienced some bitter disappointments with early exits, particularly in the last two years. It is very satisfying to have achieved this success – particularly as this year’s was the toughest 24-hour race in recent history. In the end, we were simply tougher than the rest.”
It was the ROWE Racing team that claimed the very first 24-hour victory for the BMW M6 GT3 at Spa-Francorchamps in 2016. However, Naundorf believes there is no comparison between the two successes: “Our success in Spa in 2016 surprised everyone. At the Nürburgring, we had been one of the favourites for years, and we knew that we could do it. As such, after all the preparations and intensive years, this is a far bigger breakthrough. In Spa, we claimed an unexpected victory with a totally new car. Now, after five years, the BMW M6 GT3 is a stalwart and everything is sorted. In this situation, every little screw has to fit perfectly into place, you have to have the right drivers in the car, and then the weather gods have to give you these conditions, in which only the very best can come through without making any mistakes. Conquering the Nordschleife is the toughest thing I have done in my 25 years in motor racing.”
Naundorf believes that the BMW M6 GT3 has benefitted from its maturity and the many kilometres it has completed on the Nordschleife: “The car is incredibly stable when you know how to use it properly. There are no longer any areas in need of improvement, all BMW cars ran like clockwork.” The strength of the BMW M6 GT3 on the Nordschleife this year is underlined, not only by the fact that it not only took overall victory, but also that four of the five BMW M6 GT3 finished the race without any incidents – including three cars in the top four. The third spot on the podium went to BMW Team Schnitzer, with the #98 ROWE Racing car in fourth place.