Nick Catsburg, Nick Yelloly and Alexander Sims scored victory in their Rowe-run M6 #99 in a heart-stopping finale in an event that was repeatedly turned on its head by unpredictable weather.
The 48th edition of the race, which was four months late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was interrupted by a red flag for nine and a half hours during the night because the drains could no longer carry off the rainwater. Only at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning was the race restarted, and the victory was also decided by the conditions.
After the restart the BMW was always in the leading group. It had been several minutes behind due to the heavy rain, but this was cancelled out by the interruption. The M6 GT3 did not work well in heavy rain, but in mixed conditions it was another story.
A zero-defect job brought Rowe Racing the first victory in team’s history. "None of us made any mistakes, neither the drivers nor the team," said Catsburg. "That's how you win this race."
The immediate rival in the final stages, the Car Collection Audi #3 of Mirko Bortolotti, Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock made one strategic mistake that decided their fate.
Three Audi R8 LMS car led the race at the restart – but the Phoenix-Audi #1 of Nico Muller, Dries Vanthoor, Fred Vervisch and Frank Stippler and the Land-Audi #29 (Mattia Drudi, Christopher Mies, Rene Rast and Kelvin van der Linde) went backwards with penalties. In addition, both cars lost time on dry track on Sunday morning, the Land-Audi even more than Phoenix.
The final blow to last year's winners came 40 minutes before the end with a ride by Dries Vanthoor in the Klostertal section. This resulted in a puncture, which pushed the team back to fifth place.
The top favourite for the victory was therefore the Car Collection Audi #3, which led the race until 90 minutes before the end, just ahead of the Rowe-BMW #99. But the team made a crucial mistake which cost the victory.
A few hours after the restart it seemed the race would end in dry conditions, but it suddenly started raining again shortly before 2 pm. The heavy shower came out of nowhere and was also not shown on the official weather radar of the German Weather Service.
The track was completely flooded once again. Rowe and Phoenix reacted immediately and came to the pits to get rain tyres; the Car-Collection-Audi stayed outside for another lap on slicks – this cost 50 seconds.
But the team did not give up, and Haase made up about 10 seconds per lap on the BMW when it was completely wet. But the rain subsided and the track became drier again, causing the pendulum to swing back and forth.
Car Collection still had an ace up its sleeve: The last stop was to be 23 seconds shorter because it came in one lap later. But the team was unable to complete tire changes and refuelling within the minimum standing time, so the BMW regained track position and the race was decided.
"The weather put a damper on our plans," said Haase, who drove the final stint. "In the penultimate stint it started to rain. We’d thought it was dry enough for slicks, but then the rain moved and flooded large parts of the track.”