Darren Turner and Aston Martin Racing gave the brand new Vantage GT3 a dream debut on the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany last weekend.
On only the car’s second competitive outing, and its first matched against like-for-like GT3 machinery, Turner's team-mate and fellow works driver Maxime Martin set the fastest time in qualifying for the eighth round of the Nürburgring-based VLN Endurance Championship. The pair then went on to take a class victory, finishing fourth overall. The new car, based on the critically acclaimed Vantage V8 road car, will spearhead Aston Martin’s customer racing programme in 2019 and replaces the ultra-successful V12 Vantage GT3 Turner has raced for the past seven years. For the three-times Le Mans winner this was an opportunity to gain vital knowledge of the car while still in development, as well as provide the benefit of his unrivalled experience to the team in some of the most gruelling endurance racing conditions available.
“Because the Nordschleife is so tough on racing cars, with its bumps, kerbs and variety of corners and straights, the first time you race a new car here is about getting to the flag, but we achieved so much more than that so it was a really great result,” said Turner. “It was only a four-hour race, but around here that is still pretty hard on the car, so the fact that we had no reliability issues was a big tick!”
Not only did the car prove reliable, it also showed a high level of competitiveness. With Martin having recorded the overall pole time by six seconds on a damp but drying track, the Vantage was running to GT3 specification (although entered in the SPX class for unhomologated and special machinery), and more than held its own. The team was forced to start from the back of the grid as part of its rules-required performance handicap. Martin started the race and quickly battled into the top ten. All three of the car’s pit stops were also subject to a 20s additional time handicap, so when Turner took over the car at half distance for the final two hours of the race he had to fight his way back up from 14th.
This he did magnificently, charging in to the top five with 30 minutes to go and then pressuring his nearest rival to take fourth place on the penultimate lap. This performance also secured victory in the SPX class, which featured Audi’s new GT3 car. “Of course the massive positive for the car was being on pole position and then coming back through the field, but being as competitive as we were is hugely encouraging,” said Turner. “What a great start for the new GT3 car… everyone at Aston Martin Racing can be very proud of this! “The last time we raced at the Nordschleife was with the old GT3 in the N24. That car has been developed over many years and is probably as good as it is going to get. So we had a baseline that was competitive but also well dialled in. The new car is a quicker package already, and obviously we can still find more time and driveability from it as well.
“It’s hugely exciting to be mixing it from the word go. From that point of view it just shows how much hard work has gone into this car from everyone at Aston Martin and Aston Martin Racing to get it on the racetrack and be that competitive straight out of the box.”