Sunday’s ‘4 Hours of Le Castellet’ delivered a large dose of frustration for Aston Martin Racing driver Darren Turner and the Beechdean AMR team. Early race pace in Round 4 of the European Le Mans Series signaled the opportunity for a podium finish but a mid-race mishap damaged performance and the #99 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE came home in fifth place.
The team had great pace at Paul Ricard last year, demonstrated by Darren’s pole position qualifying lap. However, with the majority of the competition testing there prior to the race the Beechdean boys were on the back foot in the first free practice session.
“We knew we would have some catching up to do in FP1 but on top of that this was the first time we have seen such huge tyre degradation over just a few laps. Part of that was down to the track temperatures on Friday afternoon - you could see everyone was suffering to some extent - but we were still on the back foot and frustrated as we couldn't get clear idea of direction for the car’s set up.”
In the cooler conditions on Saturday morning the team was able to work through a programme, which left Turner much happier with the balance of the car ahead of the qualifying session. He took sixth place, less than a tenth off the sister Aston Martin of TF Sport, but both Aston Martins were nearly a second off the time of the pole sitting Ferrari.
The team ran a new strategy for Le Castellet so it was Ross Gunn’s turn to take the start. The young racer made his way past the bronze drivers who had taken the start in the other cars and had a strong stint, pitting from second place at the end of the first hour. The team got lucky with a Full Course Yellow during that first stop but this was almost cancelled out when they needed a pull back in the pits as an LMP3 car was in the way.
Andrew Howard was next in the driving seat and his stint started well. Unfortunately a small incident saw Howard spin and sustain a bit of damage. At that point the consequences of this were not obvious and he was able to finish his run, although a drop off in times was becoming apparent. He finished his run and pitted to hand over to Turner.
“While I was waiting to jump in I was pumped as we were on for a podium,” said Turner. “I was really looking forward to my stint but after a lap I was struggling with front end grip, which deteriorated rapidly over the course of the hour. The only conclusion we had at this stage was that the aerodynamic performance had been damaged in Andrew’s incident, which meant the front tyres were being overworked and the performance dropped off significantly, putting us three seconds off the pace.”
When Turner pitted to hand the car to Gunn for the run to the flag the team removed the damaged dive planes, which improved the car’s performance and Gunn crossed the line in fifth place.
“We certainly had the opportunity to take second place and at this stage we need to understand what happened to the car’s performance during that period. From a driver’s point of view it’s frustrating as you are like a wounded animal. We need to regroup and look ahead to the next race at Spa.”
Round 5 of the European Le Mans Series takes place at Spa in Belgium on 24 August. That race will bring to a close Turner’s 5-week run of events: ELMS at Le Castellet, WEC in Mexico City, the Goodwood Revival, WEC in Austin, Texas and finally ELMS at Spa.