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Championship title goes to Nehls and Hammel in Zandvoort

Kim Berwanger and Philipp Eis (Seat Cupra TCR) took their second win of the season at the DMV NES 500 finale in Zandvoort. Second place went to Jürgen Oehler/Ioannis Smyrlis (BMW M4 GT4). Reinhard Nehls and Heiko Hammel secured the championship title with a second place in NES 7.

Reinhard Nehls and Heiko Hammel had their sights firmly set on the title of champion of all classes, which they had been aiming for for years, at the finale in Zandvoort. The duo travelled to the North Sea coast one point behind Jesper Henriksen and Frederik Vodder (Audi RS3 LMS TCR). The pace for the weekend was set accordingly. If they were to win the title, they had to finish ahead of the Audi drivers. The calculation worked out. "It didn't get any better than that. We had geared our entire race to the Audi. It was clear that whoever finished first would have the championship. When they came to a stop, we came too. We hit a full course yellow better than the Audi. Then it was really just managing. We didn't even look at the cars that were ahead of us in the race," said Heiko Hammel, describing the strategy. As Hammel mentioned, luck was also on the side of the two champions. While Henriksen/Vodder completed their stop before the FCY, the yellow flags went out just as the Opel duo made their first pit stop. Of course, that played into their cards. However, the weekend did not go entirely without trepidation. In the race, the Astra was parked one minute longer than the competition because the axle shaft had to be replaced. However, the team achieved even more beforehand, as a happy Reinhard Nehls told: "For me, this is the greatest success. We are a great team, not just a team, we are friends. At this point, a big praise to the team. We had two bad days at first, but we pulled through super. The guys got another Opel TCR overnight, took it apart in the workshop and removed the steering gear and brought it here. We put that in the car at three o'clock this morning."

Second overall victory for Berwanger/Eis

The race itself was marked by several full-course yellow phases as well as a premature stop around 18 minutes before the end. That Kim Berwanger and Philipp Eis would triumph for the second time this year was not necessarily foreseeable at the beginning. The duo held back at the beginning, especially as they relied on the hard tyre compound. When it went into the first FCY, the duo was in fifth place. The team used the long repair time at the track boundary to make a double stop. Another FCY was used for the third mandatory stop. The second-placed drivers were also not quite on the cards, at least not after the initial phase. Ioannis Smyrlis spontaneously climbed into the M4 cockpit for Florian Sternkopf, who had fallen ill. Thrown into the deep end, Smyrlis showed that he didn't need a long time to get used to the race. From seventh on the grid, the M4 driver moved up to second position in the course of the first lap, but was late on the brakes at the end of the start and finish. That cost him a few places when there was also a drive through for a false start.

"Ioannis made a great start, unfortunately a bit too good. But he had an excuse for that and that was that the brake was not quite where it should be. That's why he hit the car in front and swerved to the side. We rightly got the drive through for that," said team manager Florian Sternkopf with a smile. When it came to the FCY phase, the Cerny Motorsport team took advantage and completed all three mandatory stops in a row. This was no easy task for final driver Jürgen Oehler, as there were still around 90 minutes to go. The M4 came into the pits once more for refuelling, which was still enough for a commanding fourth place overall. "I didn't have any experience on the car yet, but I was still the fastest on the car. In the beginning, I had to sort of get my head around the car. I started from seventh place and fell completely to the back due to the action. After that, I drove back up to second place. That was the fastest pace in the race. Class victory and second place overall is quite good," Smyrlis said. Team-mate Jürgen Oehler, who had already competed in the DMV BMW Challenge with the M4, said: "It was a good debut and was really fun. We drove consistently. The tyres were a bit tight towards the end. I thought that could still become a problem. Since we drove the last one and a half hours with the same set of tyres, it was no longer possible to hold the Seat with these tyres."

Slips in the chasing pack

Initially, the pace at the front was set by others. The KK BMW M2 GTR of van den Munckhof/Barten/Molenaar set the pace at the front. Behind them, Heiko Hammel and Sophie Hofmann in the Audi R8 GT4 fought for second place. The first to be caught out was Erik Bänecke, who had just taken over the Audi R8 from Sophie Hofmann. A slip into the tyres triggered the long FCY, although Bänecke was able to continue after a short time. "The Audi went away quite uncharacteristically, first over the front wheels and then with a thud over the rear wheels," Bänecke reported later. Just like Henriksen/Vodder, van den Munckhof/Barten/Molenaar were unlucky to have made their first stop before FCY. Towards the end of the race, van den Munckhof managed to move up to third place, but at the end of the start and finish, van den Munckhof fired the M2 heavily into the tyre barrier. Shortly afterwards the race was abandoned. The only consolation was that, despite the accident, van den Munckhof and Barten won the NES 8 title.

Due to the retirement of the KK M2 GTR, Moritz and Leonard Oehme still managed to finish fourth overall in their Porsche 718 CS GT4. The duo drove a flawless race overall and finished ahead of Henriksen/Vodder thanks to a clever pit strategy. As a result, the two Porsche drivers also ended up in third place in NES 7. Despite the accident, van den Munckhof/Barten/Molenaar were still classified in sixth place. Seventh place went to Michael Neuhauser (BMW M3 E46), who had started as a soloist.

Excitement in the NES 3

As at the Nürburgring, Pia Ohlsson and Christian Ladurner (VW Scirocco) won the NES 5. The duo left the BMW M235i RC of Tom Alpiger and Dennis Leissing behind. The NES 3 was exciting right to the end. Christian Schotte, Nico Silva and Rob Crocker (BMW 325i E90) surprisingly took the class win. At the beginning, the trio was in fourth place in NES 3. Martin Heidrich and Alex Pavlov (BMW 328i ST E36) were actually in a commanding lead at this point, but stopped before the FCY. This cost a lot of time. Towards the end it became exciting once again. Pavlov was gaining two seconds per lap. When everything looked like it was going to be an exciting final, the race came to an early end and Pavlov/Heidrich had to settle for second place. Third place in NES 3 went to Antony Harz and Mika Nikelsen (BMW 325i E90). There were no questions in NES 1+2, where Igor Rodella and Andreas Saner (Suzuki Swift Sport) took the win. At the finish, the two Swiss had a three-lap lead over Hermann/Hermann/Hermann (BMW 318ti Cup).

The next season of DMV NES 500 starts at Hockenheimring from March 22th -24th 2024! Photos & Text: arp Redaktionsbüro Patrick Holzer



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