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DTM Norisring

How Mercedes scrambled to get DTM cars repaired after Norisring carnage

The opening DTM race at the Norisring last weekend was marred with crashes, forcing more than half of the field to retire from the race with severe damage to their cars. Here’s how Mercedes was able to ensure its entire fleet of AMG GT3s was repaired in time for the second race of the meeting.

Lucas Auer, Mercedes-AMG Team WINWARD Mercedes-AMG GT3, Ayhancan Guven, AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evom crash

A first corner pile-up and a slew of multi-car incidents in a race punctuated by four separate safety car periods meant only 11 out of 27 cars were able to reach the chequered flag after nearly an hour of racing at the Nuremberg-based street circuit. Even those cars that could make it to the finish were carrying visible damage, such was the chaos that ensued in Saturday’s opening encounter.

So, it was somewhat surprising that 25 cars were able to make it to the starting grid less than 24 hours later for the second half of the double header, with only Esteban Muth’s Walkenhorst BMW and Franck Perera’s Grasser Racing Lamborghini forced to miss the race.

A frantic effort was required to ensure the majority of the cars could be repaired in time for Sunday’s second contest, with Mercedes in particular having its work cut out given it was one of the worst-hit manufacturers in terms of the amount of damage sustained.

Matters were complicated by Luca Stolz’s HRT Mercedes suffering gearbox damage before qualifying, forcing him to miss the session.

Initially, HRT was able to source a spare gearbox from fellow Mercedes team Winward as the German manufacturer didn’t have any additional units in its stock. However, the Winward team then lost a gearbox of its own after Dev Gore smashed his Team Rosberg Audi into the back of David Schumacher’s car during the opening lap pile-up. 

HRT was hence forced to hand back the gearbox it had borrowed to Winward and its worries were compounded by Stolz having suffered a suspected engine failure after the race.

Since there was no additional engine in stock, Mercedes had to act and called for help from HWA’s headquarters in Affalterbach.

"We fetched parts from Affalterbach, because we had five damaged cars," revealed Thomas Jager, who heads Mercedes’ factory-supported programme in the DTM. "Our parts truck is well stocked, but many cars had similar damage, so especially the big bodywork parts like front skirts, bonnet, wings. And of course, those are in limited stock."

Start action, Franck Perera, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3

Start action, Franck Perera, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Due to the close proximity of the track from Affalterbach, which is located less than 200km down the road, this was “no problem” for Mercedes and “fortunately, we then got all the cars back on the grid. After all, that's the most important thing."

The transport bus with a spare engine and gearbox did not arrive at the Norisring until the evening hours of Saturday, which is why the team could not finish the installation until around two in the morning.

At this time there was still a lot of activity going on a few garages further down the pitlane, as Maro Engel’s Mercedes was being repaired following a violent crash caused by Lamborghini driver Mirko Bortolotti.

According to Jager, Engel’s car was "broken all around", with the engine on the front of the car a particular cause for concern as he had crashed head-on into the barriers. "You didn't know if anything was broken at the front,” admitted Jager.

Mercedes therefore wanted to carry out a functional test, but the GruppeM team had already violated the noise regulations on Friday evening when it started the engine of Mikael Grenier's car without permission after a gearbox repair at 22:07 - and had to pay a fine of 10,000 euros to series promoter ITR.

"We finished at six o'clock [in the morning], but there is this engine silence here," Engel explained the issue to Motorsport.com’s sister title Motorsport-Total.com. “We wanted to check whether the engine was still starting. So, we had to do that off the track. That's when we checked whether the engine was OK or had to be replaced."

As it was not possible to fire the engine at the track prior to qualifying, Engel’s car was taken to a nearby hall in an industrial estate by a transport vehicle belonging to the Winward team. They were joined by seven employees of the GruppeM team, including engineers, truck drivers and team owner Kenny Chen, who managed to warm up the engine in the workshop - and detected no problems with its running.

“We got help from team members of other teams," said Engel. "Winward was there - and the tip for the garage we used came from a Grasser mechanic who is based here."

​If the engine had been damaged and the team would only have found that out at 8:30am in the pits, it would have been impossible to get the car ready for qualifying, especially since Engel's Group B session was the first one to run at 9:50am.

"The team did a mega job," praised Engel.

Despite the heroic effort and the lengthy repair, Engel’s car wasn’t in perfect shape on Sunday, but this came as no surprise to Jager.

"On Maro's car, the aluminium beams holding the wing and the headlights were also bent away," he explained. "That was temporarily repaired. It's just the way it is that the gaps no longer fit exactly to the millimetre. Spare parts are now welded on - and then everything fits again."

Esteban Muth, Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, Franck Perera, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3, crash

Esteban Muth, Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, Franck Perera, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3, crash

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

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