Darren Turner returned to the FIA World Endurance Championship for a brand new season on Sunday and began his latest campaign with a strong second place in the opening round – the 4 Hours of Silverstone – with the works #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE.
The Briton has raced in every season of the FIA WEC since its formation in 2012 and continues his 14th year as a works Aston Martin Racing driver. But this time around the three-times Le Mans winner is making his debut in the highly-competitive GTE Am class, teaming up with 2017 champion Paul Dalla Lana and Briton Ross Gunn. The competition in this class is fierce, with 11 cars entered and several strong professional drivers matched to a field of experienced and fast amateur (FIA Bronze-licensed) racers, and yet this trio headed into the season as one of the favourites. Along with the strength of the driver line-up, the new FIA WEC season marks the first time the latest Vantage GTE has been eligible to compete in the Am class. It proved competitive straight away, aided by a new suite of Michelin tyres for this season. "The Am entry is now the new Vantage GTE as opposed to the old V8 Vantage GTE we ran last season," explained Turner. "It means the car is very similar to the team's GTE Pro cars. The big change for all of us is the tyres that we are running this season. We have found something far more suitable to the car and that's a big step forward from Michelin. This kind of stepped progress is really encouraging. "We also now have three cars that can share data. Although there are some differences between Pro and Am, they are minor and the set-up work that is done between 95 and 97 we can now help with. "Also we can benefit from that information and try and maximise the time available to us during race weekends. So we can work towards a good set-up that works for Paul, Ross and myself and make a good, friendly car to drive. That is what we need, one that doesn't push you into mistakes."
Having qualified third in class with their focus very much set on race pace and strategy, Turner's co-driver Dalla Lana quickly worked his way into the lead in a compelling race-opening double-stint. "Paul drove a really strong stint and didn't make any mistakes,' said Turner. "The Vantage GTE is a big step up on its predecessor and you could see that Paul was growing in confidence with the car all weekend and by the race he was exceptional among the Bronze drivers." But in endurance racing things are rarely straightforward, and just as the race was going to plan ahead of the schedule driver change to Turner, a sharp rain shower hit the British Grand Prix venue. "I was getting ready to take over from Paul when it suddenly poured down," said Turner. "Because it was a short shower the team decided to go out on slicks, but the conditions were just too difficult and those of us that had chosen that strategy had to come back in for wet tyres." The car dropped to seventh, but Turner put in a fierce fightback through his double-stint, which included serving a drive-through penalty picked up before he got in the car, and raced his way back up to fourth position before handing over to Gunn. The youngster put in a similarly feisty stint, even though he was hit by another penalty, following some confusion under the Safety Car that was later judged by the stewards to have been incorrectly awarded, to fight up to second place by the flag. "After the confusion of the rain, I would have settled for a top five finish, so to get second was a nice surprise! What a difference a rain shower can make! "Overall it was a great start for the championship, and a solid foundation, which is what we need to secure our objective of being in contention at Le Mans at the end of the season. We are very happy with that."