British sportscar driver Darren Turner opened his 2022 season account with a stirring fightback drive that produced his fifth top ten class finish in North America’s most important endurance race – the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Turner re-joined IMSA Sprint Cup champions The Heart of Racing for his sixth assault on the world famous IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship opener. And, alongside team-mates Ian James, Roman De Angelis and Tom Gamble he contributed to a race-long battle against the odds, ensuring the #27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 came home ninth in the GTD class.
While two separate technical issues removed the #27 crew from GTD victory contention before daybreak, Turner admitted afterwards that he’d derived immense satisfaction from working with the team to bring the car back into the top ten and make the finish in one world motorsport’s toughest events.
“It was a great feeling,” said Turner. “It was a shame to miss out on the opportunity to fight up front, but it felt really good to be a part of a fightback as a team. And in endurance racing, it’s always an achievement for the whole team when the car finishes a 24-hour race, especially one as tough as this.”
The #27 Vantage started from the back of the 61-car grid after issues in qualifying, but very quickly it worked its way through a packed field that included 35 GT cars, crucially maintaining its position on the lead lap through the early hours of the race.
“Because of the way they work the Full Course Yellows in IMSA,” explained Turner, “when the race is neutralised all the gaps are re-set, which means the racing stays close right up until the last hour. So the game-plan is always to get to sunrise on the lead lap so that you are in contention in the last couple of hours.”
Strong first stints from James, De Angelis and Daytona rookie Gamble “who did a fantastic job” meant that when Turner climbed aboard for his first racing laps in a Vantage GT3 since the 2021 Rolex 24, the car was in eighth position and well in contention. Over the next 90 minutes, the Briton was able to convert that into third in class through a combination of strategy, traffic management and hard driving. But it wasn’t easy, with air temperatures dropping below freezing and the track surface barely higher than that. Moreover, the car had developed a misfire…
“Ian had explained the situation over the radio in the opening stint,” said Turner. “We all experienced the same issue, and while I don’t know whether it was something that got worse, it was definitely bad when I was driving with it.”
Not long after Turner handed the car back to James, 10 hours into the race, the team was forced to make lengthy repairs, dropping it to 12th position and costing the crew 11 laps. Now the fightback was on.
When Turner returned to the car it had recovered to 11th, but with the cold temperatures and tricky conditions, much of his running was done behind the Safety Car.
“They don’t use tyre heaters in IMSA, which on a lovely summer’s day at somewhere like Road Atlanta, isn’t such a problem. But a January weekend in Daytona with temperatures around -1C, getting temperature in the tyre is very tricky. So when you leave the pits you want to just get on it and build up the temperature as quickly as possible.
“But on at least three of my stints during the weekend I came out of the pits straight into a Full Course Yellow, and it means you’re stuck in slow-moving train of cars without being able to put any real energy in the tyres. When it goes green again you are slightly on the back foot until you’ve scrubbed the tyres and got some temperature in them. It meant that with it was particularly easy to make a big mistake. Thankfully we didn’t.”
The race settled as morning came, and Turner’s stint recovered a couple more laps to the leader, but further drama was to follow when a left front damper failed on the Vantage, leading to another 10-lap stop. So for the last six hours of the race the focus switched to running as fast as possible without issue, taking advantage of any rivals’ problems. The strategy worked, given the tough nature of the race, and slowly but surely #27 rose back up the leader board.
Turner was given the honour of taking the final stint, which gave him a grandstand seat for a tremendously exciting final hour of racing across all five classes in the event.
“It’s actually really fun being in the car at that point,” said Turner. “The level of intensity goes up noticeably as people battle for on-track position. By this stage no-one is really giving a quarter even if they are not really in the race. But you’ve also got guys that are fighting for overall class wins, and it means you get an exclusive grandstand seat. It’s a great place to be.”
Turner and his team-mates were eventually classified ninth in class and 16th GT car across the line, but while the result might not match his fifth place in last year’s event, or a career-best fourth overall in 2008, the feeling of satisfaction was similar.
“It’s the first race of the season, and you’re straight into a big 24 hour race steeped in history,” said Turner. “It’s just a very in-at-the-deep-end type of way to start the year and that makes it really enjoyable.
“It is always so much fun to race in America, it’s just the way they go racing. It’s very entertaining for competitors, teams and of course the fans because the racing itself creates such a fantastic show. I always really enjoy my weekends with The Heart of Racing. They are a great team with a super crew of people. It was a real privilege to be a part of it all again.”