Teething pains are normal when developing a race car. Save for series like Formula One where every team is starting with a new car at the beginning of each season, it's to be expected that a new race car will face some difficulties when competing in its first race. That's what makes this past weekend's results so extraordinary.
Instead of being relegated to the garage with mechanical troubles, as you might expect from a new racing machine, both the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 and the Ford Focus touring car scored podium finishes on their race debuts this past weekend.
The race-prepped neo-gullwing finished third overall and first in the GT3 class at the opening round of the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Championship, fielded by the Black Falcon team. A second SLS followed in fourth place overall, with another two finishing 7th and 19th. The series consists of ten endurance races, all competed around a combination of the Nordschleife and Grand Prix circuits at the Nürburgring, and this race marked the first time that the SLS GT3, having completed its testing phase, was fielded entirely by privateers with no factory support. BMW claimed victory with a one-two finish in the M3 GT, while the Pininfarina P4/5 failed to complete the race.
The Ford triumph, meanwhile, came in the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship. As we reported recently, the BTCC is benefiting from a large field of competition that's unprecedented in size, but the new Focus surmounted the odds by cementing a third-place finish in the first of three races on the Indy configuration at Brands Hatch. Tom Chilton scored that podium finish in the "Global Ford Focus" racer while Andy Neate finished 11th in the second car, and while neither fared as well in the second or third races (finishing 11/12 and 8/15 respectively), that they finished each race at all was an accomplishment in and of itself for the new Focus and for Team AON which fielded them.
The checkered flags in the first two races went to Fifth Gear presenter and defending series champion Jason Plato in the Chevrolet Cruze, with two-time former BTCC champ Matt Neal taking the win in the third race behind the wheel of the Honda Civic. Press releases after the jump.
Related GalleryMercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 race debut – VLN Nurburgring
Related GalleryFord Focus BTCC race debut – Brands Hatch
[Sources: Mercedes-Benz, Team AON]
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 in the 2011 VLN round one
Podium Finish in the Nürburgring Season Opener
Nürburgring – The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 started with good results into the 2011 season of the VLN series (Nürburgring Endurance Championships). Two of the gullwing cars finished third and fourth respectively. It was the first time after the development and test programme of the SLS AMG GT3, that the customer teams entered the car without factory support.
After 28 laps over the Nordschleife and the shortened Grand Prix circuit, Black Falcon was the most successful gullwing team: Former DTM driver Thomas Jäger, Kenneth Heyer, Jan Seyffarth and Jeroen Bleekemolen finished third overall and first of the GT3 cars. Horn Motorsport with David Horn and Sascha Bert with another SLS AMG GT3 came home fourth, despite a spin at the Mercedes-Arena on lap 24; they had started 18th on the grid. Two other gullwing cars of Black Falcon with drivers Andrii Lebed/Ralf Schall/Hannes Plesse and Vimal Mehta/Sean Paul Breslin/Sean Patrick Bresling ended up 7th 19th respectively.
Mamerow Racing with former DTM driver Armin Hahne and Chris Mamerow retired due to a technical problem. When Hahne pitted from the lead on lap 21, Mamerow was not able to continue. ROWE RACING did not start following an accident of Dominik Schwager in qualifying. He had damaged his car so badly, that the team was not able to repair it in time for the race.
The best SLS AMG GT3 in qualifying was the Black Falcon team car with Thomas Jäger/Kenneth Heyer/Jan Seyffarth/Jeroen Bleekemolen in third position; followed by Armin Hahne/Chris Mamerow in the Mamerow Racing car in seventh place. Hahne's fast lap was disrupted by yellow flags so that he wasn't able to benefit from the improving conditions towards the end of the session.
It was an exciting and close race right from the start. After three laps, Jäger was third with 1.3sec behind the leader. Four different teams were in the lead with three different makes.
Thomas Jäger, third: "A good start of the Mercedes-AMG customer sports programme. Today, the SLS AMG GT3 proved fast and well-engineered. Also for our colleagues of Mamerow Racing a podium finish was possible. It's a shame that they retired from the lead. However, this was just the beginning of a long season and with the SLS's potential I expect many good results." In the course of the best possible support of Mercedes-AMG for their customer teams, test driver Thomas Jäger is racing alternately for the teams.
Customer Sports: SLS AMG GT3s entered by private teams
The SLS AMG GT3s have been entered exclusively by private teams. Black Falcon took part with three cars while Mamerow Racing, Horn Motorsport and ROWE RACING were at the start with one car each.
The VLN Nürburgring Endurance Championship has been held since 1977, and is seen as Europe's most successful broad-based motorsport series. The ten races of the 2011 season will be held exclusively on the Nürburgring's legendary Nordschleife (North Loop) and the short link to the Grand Prix circuit. The field, with different vehicle models ranging from near-series compact cars to recent classics and right up to thoroughbred super-sports cars, guarantees attractive and exciting races.
The next event will be staged on 30 April 2011.
More information about the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 may be found at: www.mercedes-amg.com/slsgt3
You will receive our next information on the SLS AMG GT3 customer sports project with our newsletter on 19 April 2011. If you want to unsubscribe, please send an E-Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Points and potential for Team Aon at season opener
Both Team Aon British Touring Car Championship drivers Tom Chilton and Andy Neate believe that their new-shape Ford Focus will become a leading force in the tin-top contest after the car made its world debut at Brands Hatch on Sunday.
Chilton opened the account for the new Focus with a podium finish in the opening race of the weekend and saw the chequered flag twice more to bank points in his bid for the title this season, but Neate was hampered by contact and set-up problems and ran just outside the top ten in all three races.
Following three races in the points, Chilton says that the data learned from the competitive debut of the new car will help the team push the programme forward and allow the team to show the true potential of the Focus.
Reflecting on the three rounds, Chilton said: "We know a lot more about the car now than we did at the start of the weekend, and we finished all three races. We had a great first race to finish in third. We are still developing this car; we've effectively had three days testing in dry weather with a new car, which is nothing. We've got a much better idea now of where we stand and we know the areas we need to improve on before the next rounds at Donington."
While Chilton claimed a trophy, the meeting was more difficult for his team-mate Andy Neate. He had qualified inside the top ten for the opening race but struggled to perfect the handling of the car and narrowly failed to register a point. However, he also thinks that there is a lot to come from the two-litre turbocharged machine.
Reflecting on his weekend, Neate said, "We've had an issue with the rear of the car, which the boys managed to get to the bottom of by the end of race two. I was hoping to make the most of race three, I had a good start, but then I got spun by Alex MacDowall on lap one, which put me at the back. Then later I had contact with John George that knocked my steering out. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, so it's a disappointing start to the season because we came here with quite a lot of potential."
Despite the difficulties, Team Aon opened its account with a strong haul of points and team principal Mike Earle says that with more time to work on the car, progress will be made.
"It was an encouraging start with a podium in race one, but it turned into disappointment," said Earle "We've still got issues with various aspects of the car, which isn't surprising as it's so new and we've had limited testing. But we picked up a few points and now we'll get back into a test programme to get to where we want to be and show the potential of the new Focus."
The next rounds of the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship take place at Donington Park in Leicestershire on April 16-17.