Building up to Le Mansby Web Editor on 28th May 2015
By Darren Turner
In my last Motor Sport column I was about to head off to Spa for round two of the FIA World Endurance Championship. That race has become the final rehearsal for Le Mans in recent years and the teams will add third drivers and try out anything they have up their sleeves for the biggest race of the year.
I’m really pleased that Rob Bell is joining us in the #97 Aston Martin for Le Mans. He’s an old friend, a fast driver and I think he’s a great choice – especially after his win at Silverstone last weekend in the Blancpain Endurance Series...
Turner's Le Mans results
Year, car, overall position, class position
2003 Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello: DNF, DNF
2004 Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello: 9th, 3rd
2005 Aston Martin DBR9: 9th, 3rd
2006 Aston Martin DBR9: 6th, 2nd
2007 Aston Martin DBR9: 5th, 1st
2008 Aston Martin DBR9: 13th, 1st
2009 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60: 13th, 11th
2010 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60: DNF, DNF
2011 Aston Martin AMR-One: DNF, DNF
2012 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: 19th, 3rd
2013 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: 17th, 3rd
2014 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: 35th, 6th
We showed some promise at Spa – qualifying was very tight and the Ferrari had to go for a third run to beat us on aggregate, otherwise we would have been on the front row. It didn’t actually matter in the end as my team-mate Stefan [Mücke] had a storming first lap and was able to take the lead. He got his head down and was opening up a gap when we got one of those radio messages you never want to hear.
“I have a puncture alarm, is it real?” You’ll have to just imagine my attempt at Stefan's accent!
I was standing with the engineers when the call came through and they quickly analysed the situation before telling Stefan to pit as he really did have a puncture. All of this happened halfway through his first stint so that threw our strategy out the window.
During the race we also suffered at certain points with inconsistencies in the performance of our tyres – we’ve seen this a few times now and we’re still trying to understand the cause so that we can find a solution.
All in all, Spa was one of those weekends where, even though we picked up some points, it didn’t feel very special as a strong podium finish was on the cards. On the flip side it was great to see the #99 sister car, with Alex MacDowall, Fernando Rees and Richie Stanaway driving, come away with their first class win.
Next up for me was the Nürburgring 24 Hours on May 14-17. It was very different this year after the tragedy of VLN 1 [where Jann Mardenborough's Nissan GT-R NISMO took off, vaulted the catch fencing and killed a spectator] and it was the first race I have ever competed in where speed limits are enforced. I have to say I was very impressed with how the technical team at Aston Martin Racing got on top of the difficulties this presents in such a short time. Obviously you don’t want to give an inch to your competitors, but you don’t want to pick up a penalty for speeding either so it’s like walking on a very tricky tightrope.
As we came up to the halfway point myself, Stefan, Pedro Lamy and Richie Stanaway were in a fairly strong position, running in the top eight, but unfortunately oil had gone down on the circuit and Stefan was one of four drivers that went off at the same place at the same time. Amazingly he was able to get the car back for the guys to complete repairs and get us back on circuit. I’m sure we only lost an hour when most teams would have probably have retired the car.
We slogged on and came home in a credible 16th place. What was noticeable, though, was how the competition has moved on. It was very interesting to see the pace of some of the cars as they got towards the end of the race and how much faster they were able to go when needed.
Now the focus is very much back to the WEC and the third round at Le Mans with the test this weekend. This is going to be my 13th Le Mans and the years have flown by. It doesn’t feel that long ago when I had my first experience in 2003 aboard a Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello with Kelvin Burt and Anthony Davidson as team-mates (below), but the beauty of Le Mans is that I still have as much excitement and anticipation as I did back then. Without a doubt it is the highlight of the season.
We’ve been very strong in the last two years, but on both occasions we’ve had small issues with the car that have ultimately cost us possible wins (we finished 3rd in 2013 and 6th in 2014). I know over the winter the guys have worked very hard on making sure our reliability over 24 hours has improved and no doubt our speed will be competitive so who knows what will happen.
I had to rush back from the Nürburgring for a very special delivery. I am now the proud father of a little boy and between him and his big sister, they have got me in training for the sleep deprivation you have to deal with at Le Mans!
A huge congratulations to the Turner family – Le Mans will be a breeze in comparison! Ed