Darren Turner began the 2021 racing season with his best finish as an Aston Martin works driver in the gruelling Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The Briton finished fifth in the IMSA GTD class for the Seattle-based Heart of Racing team, alongside fellow Aston Martin Racing driver Ross Gunn and the outfit’s regular crew Ian James and Roman De Angelis.
The team, in its second season running the Aston Martin Vantage GT3, led for several portions of the fiercely contested event. Running an alternative strategy to their rivals, they exploited every opportunity in pursuit of an ultimately elusive podium finish at the US endurance classic.
“I’m full of praise for the team Heart of Racing,” said Turner. “They did a great job, the drivers were well prepared and everyone nailed the job that they had to do.
“We knew we didn’t necessarily have the ultimate pace to compete with the class leaders, and that’s just the cards we were dealt in the run-up to the race. Sometimes the Balance of Performance falls in your favour and sometimes it doesn’t.
“But the team did a great job of thinking on their feet which meant we stayed on or near the lead lap for most of the race and well in the mix.”
Indeed, from the outset the HoR Aston Martin was a factor when the team opted not to pit during a caution in the second hour, allowing James to lead for a lengthy period before sunset.
Turner then took over from his fellow Englishman as darkness fell and was in the mix himself running as high as second and fighting among the front-runners.
“It was a great strategy by the guys on the wall and there were times when it was really hectic out there,” he explained. “It was proper dicing and a lot of wheel-to-wheel battling, which was great and really enjoyable.
“You’re in the car, you’ve got your rear-screen radar going off, and with five classes here this weekend there was a lot of traffic management going on. It does make it really challenging, but in a good way, that is the fun of multi-class racing.”
With 11 hours of the race to go, in the deep of the night, the team made a precautionary brake change which led to some minor complications and cost it a lap and some track position. But all four drivers got their heads down, and along with some more clever strategy, worked their way back to the lead lap.
“It was hard work, and my second and third stints were also quite lonely as I was running out of the pack,” explained Turner. “That presents its own challenge as it is critical to find a tow to maintain good lap times around Daytona.”
Turner’s last of three stints saw him bring the car back into the top five, aided by the class leaders colliding with a couple of hours to go, and setting up Gunn for a shot at the podium in the final stint.
A final caution allowed Heart of Racing another roll of the dice and gave the Englishman the lead. But Gunn needed some luck and another caution to make the strategy work. Instead, he was forced to pit along with his rivals for a splash of fuel with 50 minutes to go, and in a last bid to keep track position didn’t take new tyres.
“Ross’s last stint was tough because the team made a gamble,” said Turner. “We weren’t on a par with our podium rivals for pace, so the only way to gain track position was to try something different.
“IMSA doesn’t use tyre warmers, which means the out laps are always particularly slow. If you don’t have to get your tyres back up to temperature you can gain five or six seconds, which in certain circumstances would have been enough to have jumped a few positions but it just didn’t play out.”
Nevertheless Turner (whose best result at Daytona remains fourth overall back in 2008) and his team-mates came away satisfied that they had taken the maximum from the competitive package over the weekend.
“Fifth in any 24-hour race is a great result and sets the team up nicely for a very strong IMSA GTD campaign in 2021,” said Turner. “The Heart of Racing is a fantastic team, and I always really enjoy working and racing with them. They were faultless all weekend and I think we got all we could from the car this weekend.”