The best time of year


By Darren Turner

We’re getting into the best part of the season for sports car drivers now, when it seems that every race you do is epic. It’s my favourite time of the year as the World Endurance Championship has got underway and we’re already into the build-up for Le Mans.

That said, round one of the WEC didn’t go exactly to plan. All three GTE Pro Aston Martins were very strong in the practice sessions and qualifying, but we made a small mistake with the 97 car, which meant that part of the set-up from the final wet free practice session was carried over into the dry qualifying session. Despite this it was still close so it showed that the Aston Martins are as strong as ever at Silverstone.

Nicki Thiim was dynamite at the start of the race so I settled into second, ahead of the big scrap for third. Coming up to the first hour it was looking fairly good for us as a team but then we had two full course yellows in close succession, either side of our pitstop, so that really messed up our strategy as we lost track position. That ultimately cost us any chance of the win and it all happened because we stopped under green and others were able to stop a lap later under yellow.

It’s one of those sets of circumstances that just goes against you. You can bitch and cry about it, but a safety car could have done more damage, or the yellows could have come out a lap earlier and we would have been singing and dancing. The full course yellows are the least disruptive solution; it just gets tricky when everyone is close to the pitstop window, but these things usually level out over the course of the season so let’s see what happens in round two.

I’ve just come back from VLN 2 where we raced on the Nordschleife for the first time since the tragedy that happened in VLN 1. We have new speed limits now at three areas of the track, which is one of a series of temporary measures to get us back racing at the Nürburgring. I think there are two sides to this. I really hate the idea of racing introducing speed limits as it goes against everything we do. I do agree though that something had to be done in the short term to enable us to race in VLN 2 and the Nürburgring 24 Hours and give the organisers time to consider measures that can be taken to let us race flat out there again in the future.

I would imagine that every manufacturer has been out testing between the races to make their speed-limiter system as efficient as possible. On paper it seems like an easy thing to do but in reality it has been difficult for the engineers to give the drivers a system that is reliable, repeatable and consistent with the regulations. Like most manufacturers we were up and down a runway last week trying to gather that data before returning to the ‘Ring for VLN 2.

When it came to the race Stefan Mücke did a great job and qualified third in very mixed conditions. It can be a real lottery there sometimes, so it’s nice to be at the sharp end on days like that. I was in for the start and I was happy to just make it round the first lap as I was on wets on a rapidly drying track. I pitted straight away for slicks and then got stuck in to a good battle with one of the Audis and the Bentleys. I can’t help but have a good time on that track and this time was no different.

I then started to have a downshifting issue which we later found out was a stone that had got lodged in the steering wheel mechanism. This has never happened before in any of our cars with the same steering wheel, ever. That cost us quite a bit of time in the pits and then later in the race Stefan ended up in an unfortunate position after leaving the pits on slicks just before it started drizzling. A few minutes later the heavens opened and as he was carefully trying to get back to the pits there was an incident ahead and he just couldn’t avoid it without having any grip. With the amount of time left in the race at that point it wasn’t worth trying to repair the car so that was the end of the day for us.

We’ll be back for the Nürburgring 24 Hours in a few weeks. We’ve got pretty good race pace but we could do with stronger acceleration. Without that you can get caught up in traffic that you would rather not be caught up in and it can make it harder to get a clear run. I think we have the ingredients to be a top 10 car again and then we just need luck. It’s a different race to any other; you need Lady Luck on your side there more than anywhere else.

Before that, though, we have round two of the WEC at Spa this weekend. Rob Bell is joining us in the 97 Aston Martin in preparation for Le Mans. It’s always good to have Rob in the car as he’s a true team player and he’s fast. The key thing for Spa is to prepare for Le Mans and to bag some points. We already have a deficit to close to the 51 Ferrari so we will be doing our utmost to be on the podium and if we could make it to the top step this time then that would be fantastic!

Next month: Le Mans! Happy days.

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