A “pumped” Kevin Gleason is buzzing after last weekend’s ADAC Zurich Nürburgring 24 Hours on Germany’s infamous Nordschleife, even though a blown engine forced his Rotek Racing team into retirement while battling for victory in the early hours of Sunday morning (21-22 June).
Rotek Racing lined-up on SP4T pole position and the front row of the second group of cars for the start of the 2014 Nürburgring 24 Hours at 16.00 on Saturday (21 June), following a ballsy performance from former World Touring Car racer Darryl O’Young in a wet-to-drying qualifying session.
The Nordschleife – also known as ‘The Green Hell’ – has a notorious reputation as the world’s most demanding race circuit, with a heady combination of uncompromising corners, blind crests and steep inclines spread over 14 miles in Germany’s Eifel Mountains.
It’s an intimidating, yet intoxicating blend at the best of times and despite having mixed weather and track conditions to contend with, O’Young lapped ‘The Ring’ in an impressive 9m04.225s to seal pole position for Rotek Racing and its multiple VLN-winning Audi TTRS.
However, it was up to Gleason to take the start of the legendary twice-around-the-clock endurance race on Saturday afternoon.
The American racer drove exceptionally well during his initial two-hour stint to maintain the SP4T class lead and climb to 40th on the overall leaderboard, as the merciless Nordschleife claimed the scalps of countless drivers, or mechanical failures took teams out of the running.
An unscheduled stop, where Rotek Racing placed itself on an alternate fuel strategy that it hoped would strengthen its position later in the race, prevented Gleason from rising further up the order, but it was fellow American and team boss, Robb Holland, who had the unenviable task of picking up the baton following a heroic opening stint.
Sadly, the Nürburgring and Silverstone-based Rotek Racing outfit lost four laps to its class rivals while solving a fuel pump issue during the first run for Canadian-born Chinese racer O’Young, who went on to valiantly halve the team’s deficit before handing the repaired TTRS to former World Touring Car Champion, Rob Huff.
Blistering pace on used tyres meant Rotek was second in class and set for a podium finish as darkness descended upon the Eifel Mountains, and another superb second stint from Gleason followed.
For the Pennsylvania-domiciled racer, this was his first experience of ‘The Green Hell’ in complete darkness, when hazards are obscured by the blackness of night, the intensity increases and senses are heightened.
The glow and smoke from trackside camp fires and firework displays, on-track incidents, debris and yellow-flag caution periods were only a few of the distractions and threats to Gleason and Rotek’s charge.
However, it was ultimately a terminal engine issue as O’Young continued the team’s recovery drive that put paid to a monumental effort just before 5.00 on Sunday morning (22 June), to the bitter disappointment of Gleason, his teammates and the entire Rotek Racing operation.
Speaking after Rotek Racing’s retirement from the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Gleason said: “I was due to get back in the car not long after the news of our retirement filtered through to me. I awoke to the news, having been sleeping in the trailer, and felt absolutely devastated for everybody involved, as it had been a fantastic effort to get on pole position and then recover from the earlier fuel pump issue. Everything was going to plan and I was excited about getting back behind the wheel with the sun rising, and I genuinely believed the SP4T class win was achievable.
“I felt really pumped after my first stint! It was great fun out there and a fantastic feeling to lead on the Nordschleife with so many fans lining the circuit, but it was also crazy to see so many incidents out there. At one point I nearly collided with a McLaren doing 5mph when I was topping 160mph. He was unsighted and, thankfully, I missed him by the narrowest of margins. Had I hit him, I would have been dead, without a doubt!”
Gleason added: “I jumped back in the car for the first full night stint, having only ever completed one lap of the circuit in darkness. It was intense, to say the least, and there are so many close calls while having to deal with various new distractions. Once I settled in, I was happy and there were no indications of the problems that were to come. Nevertheless, the retirement hasn’t ruined the experience, as it was incredible and something I’m really keen to repeat!”