Shift Up Now Athlete Pippa Mann and her WS Racing “Girls Only” teammates Celia Martin, Fabienne Wohlwend and Beitske Visser competed in the 51st running of the ADAC Total 24 Hour Race at the Nurburgring on May 21, 2023.
The event would mark Mann’s third year competing with the team in a GT4 car. After winning an NLS endurance series race in class as a warm-up race before the 24 Hour, and the qualifying race, the "Girls Only" team was ready for the 24 Hour race around the infamous, 15.7-mile Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit.
Mann and teammates had goals of winning their class, being in the top one-third of the entire GT4 field (including the SRO spec SP10 class) and in the top one-third of the 130 competitors overall.
On Thursday, practice and qualifying began under clear blue skies. Mann and Wohlwend would be the first drivers from the team to drive the Giti Tire BMW M4 GT4.
The teammates immediately set the bar for the pace in their class. Both had times fast enough for P1 over the nine-minute lap, and the sixth-fastest GT4 time from the session. This confirmed their intention of being able to compete with the SRO GT4 cars.
Night practice on Thursday evening was also dry, but with cold ambient and track temperatures. Martin was the first driver in the car and immediately matched her teammates’ pace from the earlier session. However, she had to pull off the track on her second lap. When the car wasn’t returned to the team until after the session, Visser was left without completing any laps since the qualifying race.
On Friday morning, the final practice and qualifying session was dry and sunny. Martin completed her mandatory two laps on the Nordschleife in qualifying. Then Visser drove the rest of the session, taking her first laps of the event, and completing her mandatory laps. For the third consecutive session, the Giti Tire “Girls Only” BMW M4 GT4 was the fastest car in the SP8T class.
When the pre-race warm-up session began on Saturday, Mann and Wohlwend had not driven since Thursday. So the team decided to bed one more set of Endless brake pads, and give both drivers one more lap before the race. The session passed without incident, and marked the fourth session where the team was at the top of the timesheets.
Unfortunately, instead of taking their starting-grid position based on lap time, a penalty meant that they would have to start at the back of the second run group. Visser was the starting driver and set first-stint goals of getting to the lead in the class, and through traffic into the SRO GT4 cars.
On Saturday afternoon, the green flag flew at 4:00pm Central European time under warm sunshine. Visser immediately got to work and went to the lead of the class by the end of the first lap. She then made steady progress forward through traffic while setting fast times.
However, it became clear early on that there was an unprecedented issue with the car’s transponder. The GPS was functioning and recording lap times, however the transponder issue was interfering with timing and scoring data. As a result, Visser’s car position was fluctuating wildly on timing and scoring screens as the transponder failed.
With a goal of not losing laps or taking the car to the garage, the team tried to fix the issue during the first pit stop, as Visser handed the wheel over to Wohlwend. However, once Wohlwend was back on track, it became clear a new transponder would have to be fitted to the car during the second pit stop.
While the timing and scoring continued to fluctuate, Wohlwend continued picking off cars and moving up the field. On lap six of her seven-lap stint, the car suffered a puncture from debris on the track, but she managed to make it back to the pits without further damage.
Martin was behind the wheel for the third stint of the race. When she left the pit box, the team was two laps down on the GT4 leaders, and the leaders in class, due to the transponder issues. The new transponder started working reliably and Martin was a woman on a mission. She ran the fastest time for the car so far in the race, and moved herself up the overall field as the laps ticked by.
Mann was the fourth driver into the car, driving the sunset stint. She picked up where her teammates left off. Her continued fast times moved the Giti Tire BMW M4 GT4 up the order.
As night fell and the temperatures cooled, the team moved to double stints, giving rest between stints to the drivers not in the car. In the dark and difficult conditions, the team continued their climb, taking back the lead in the class. They climbed back into the top 10 overall of all the GT4 cars, and inside the top 60 of the 135 race starters.
One hour before dawn, a slower-class car made a mistake while being lapped and hit the rear corner of the Giti Tire BMW M4 GT4. Onboard video showed there was nothing Martin could’ve done and the contact was hard enough to break the rear axle. It appeared that the severity of the damage, and time needed to make the repair, meant the team was likely out of the race.
However the WS Racing “Girls Only” team and management decided that, even though they would be many laps down and out of contention, they wanted to get the car back on track. In addition, they wanted to make sure they took enough laps, compared to the overall GT3 leaders, to be classified in the results.
The mechanics worked tirelessly after 13 hours of racing and 24 hours of being awake. Right around 10:00am local time, the car rejoined the race. Visser, as the most rested driver, was back behind the wheel. As a thank you to the team, she immediately set the fastest lap of the race for the car so far, then handed the wheel to Wolhwend, and then Martin.
Mann was back in the Giti Tire BMW M4 GT4 for a double stint to finish the race. After the pit stop in her second stint, Mann had what she described as “the luckiest lap I’ve ever had with traffic at the Ring.”
She set the new, fastest lap for the team by a couple of tenths from Visser, giving the the girls the sixth-fastest GT4 lap time in the race. She then slowed her pace to run with team’s sister BMW M4 GT4. The two cars also found one of the team’s other cars to set up a checkered-flag photograph, showcasing three of the 2023 Giti Tire WS Racing entries coming across the line together.
“We got so unlucky this weekend at times we couldn’t believe it,” said Mann. “But the determination and resilience of this team, and our girls was incredible. We were so fast all weekend, and to have all four drivers within two seconds on a nine-minute lap is incredible.
“Our engineer Tamires Lustosa gave us a strong car, and we were not only fastest in SP8T in every session, but also able to compete with the front portion of the SRO GT4 cars in SP10. We may not have gotten the reward we wanted in terms of the race result, but ultimately we executed another strong race, despite the adversity, and we showed our pace and potential every single session the car was on track.
"I want to thank Giti Tires, WS Racing, and Thorsten and Nicole Willems for inviting me back again this year, and also Bell Techlogix for their partnership with Shift Up Now which helped me cover the cost of travel to compete here. This event has quickly become one of my favorite races, and for me it ranks up there with the years I got to compete at the Indy 500.”
Mann will be returning to American soil this week. Alongside Loni Unser, she’ll be hosting guests from Bell Techlogix at the 2023 Indianapolis 500 this weekend.
The 52nd running of the ADAC Total 24 Hour Race is scheduled for May 9-12, 2024.