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Rolex 24 at Daytona victory marks Turner's sixth major 24 hour triumph

British sportscar ace Darren Turner became part of an elite and exclusive band of racing drivers who have won their class at Le Mans and Daytona when he and his Heart of Racing team-mates – Roman De Angelis, Ian James and Marco Sørensen – were victorious in the GTD class of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona, last Sunday.

The victory, as in all of Turner’s greatest achievements, came at the wheel of an Aston Martin, and adds to a phenomenal legacy of success in GT racing that includes six class wins in major 24 Hour races. In total, Turner now holds three class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two class wins in the Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Rolex 24 triumph. Add to that GT1 class victories in the Sebring 12 Hours and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (both achieved with the famous DBS9) and it’s a tally few can match in the history of the sport.

Moreover, victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, finally achieved in the Aston Martin Vantage GT3, was one of the very few empty spaces left in the Turner trophy cabinet. According to Darren, receiving the winner’s prize of a Rolex Daytona watch was one of the sweetest moments of his career.

“This one feels very special to me,” said Turner. “I think I’m going to enjoy it for a long time. It’s an amazing event and such a fun one for the drivers. The way you get to spend so much time with the team, the happy atmosphere around the event, and even the track itself which is great to drive, all mean that it’s just a fantastic race to be part of.  

“That we finally got to win it with Aston Martin is also very special, the brand has been trying to get a victory there since 1964! I’m super proud of the Heart of Racing team, and also my team-mates Marco Sørensen and Roman De Angelis. I’m also so grateful to Ian James, who runs the team [and was also a team-mate], for both allowing me to be a part of this win and also for being super solid all weekend. To put in two stellar stints and then get changed into team kit and manage the team through the race is an incredible thing to do.”

The omens were good from the start of the ROAR test, which takes place the weekend before the Rolex 24 and incorporates qualifying, when Turner first sampled the car. He realised straight away that it was already in a sweet spot in terms of its pace and feeling behind the wheel.

“One of the nicest surprises was how well the car performed from the moment we began testing,” said Turner. “Last year, for example, we had a nervous car, especially on the entries to Turn 1 and Turn 5, and that saps your confidence. This year, with all the development that has gone into Vantage over the past season and the set-up work that the Heart of Racing team has put into it, the car has really progressed. In fact, I don’t think I have ever had a car that good into Turn 1 in my entire career.”

The #27 Vantage GT3 qualified seventh in the hands of De Angelis, who set a time that placed the car 11th overall in a GT line-up featuring an incredible 33 car-field. And while ultimately qualifying counts for little in a 24 Hour race, track position and keeping the car in striking distance towards the crucial last fifth of the race is supremely important.

James, who was required to complete four and a half hours driving time, started the race, and did exactly what he needed to do, which was stay in the GTD class top ten and on the lead lap, and crucially without picking up any damage. After a strong double-stint, he handed the car over to De Angelis, who climbed to fifth in class before making way for another impressive triple-stint from James. Sørensen was next in the car, and his stint allied to attrition around him, meant that as the race went into its overnight phase, the #27 wasn’t just a GTD class victory contender, but chasing the overall GT victory too. And that’s the way it stayed for the rest of the race.

“I didn’t actually get in the car until around 2330, which made for a fairly long day!” said Turner. “There’s a lot to adjust to as a driver coming in cold that deep into the race. Cold slick tyres, the condition of the car, and the track, and of course you’re joining a race that a lot of the drivers around you already have a least one stint’s experience of. Plus, I joined during a full course yellow, so I went straight into a re-start. So I was conservative through that first stint, but at the stage of the race it was all about protecting the car for the final hours.”

Turner completed his double-stint unscathed, and the drivers rotated through trouble-free until morning without a hitch as #27 steadily strengthened its position, by now at the front of the class. Tensions raised slightly when Sørensen lost the class lead when he had to stop on track and do an electrical re-set, before continuing without further issue. The only time in the race when the #27 looked remotely vulnerable. It also meant that when Turner got back in for his final single stint, he found himself chasing the leader.

“I was happy with that stint, the car felt so good even after 19 hours of racing hard,” said Turner, who closed the gap to the leading #57 Mercedes from 30 seconds to 12s. “I was glad to be able to make an impact.”

When the #57 retired, the #27 became the leader, though by now under pressure from another Aston Martin works driver Nicki Thiim in the Magnus Racing Vantage. That #44 Aston Martin chased home the #27 for the class win. It meant that while De Angelis and Sorensen kept their nerve for a famous victory, it was an extremely tense last couple of hours.

“For a 21-year-old, Roman has such a mature head on his shoulders. He is very good with his race-craft and he did a fantastic job. Then in the last stint Marco did what Marco does. He put in a really strong performance, especially in the final hour, and soaked up all the pressure when there were three yellow restarts.

“The stress of one of those is immense, let alone three back-to-back when you’re also defending the lead. But when you look back on the whole race, I’d have to say it was pretty much a textbook 24 Hour race really, in terms of strategy, drivers, pitstops, adapting, and we came away as Daytona winners… and that is pretty damn good.”

In the aftermath of the victory, even with all of Turner’s experience, it took a while for its enormity and importance to sink in – but one thing was clearly obvious to Darren; this prize was unique.

“Daytona is super-special because of the Rolex watch,” he said. “It might sound silly, and it is an amazing race, but the fact that there is a Daytona watch on the line for the winner makes it different for us drivers. We don’t have any other events in GT racing where there is a reward for the drivers like that. I have never done anything where there has been prize money. So, for us, the Rolex is a winner-takes-all prize in the class and that adds that extra bit of spice, which makes it really enjoyable.

“That watch will be a real treasure of mine forever. It will constantly remind me of an amazing weekend with the Heart of Racing team and Aston Martin. When I look back on it in the cold light of day, it's mega cool to have won it. In terms of pure enjoyment, and what it means to me, this has been one of the best races of my career.”


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