Aston Martin Racing works driver Darren Turner enjoyed an impressive return to the Japanese domestic racing scene last weekend as he made his debut in the Autobacs Super GT series, ticking off another target on his career to-do list.
Driving for the D'station Racing team he competed with in the Super Taikyu series back in April, the Briton once again shared an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 with Tomonobu Fujii and the team's other regular driver Joao Paulo de Oliviera in the Fuji 500 Mile race. And while the trio would eventually finish 11th in the GT300 class they ran in the podium positions during Turner's stint, highlighting the potential of the car and the team to deliver more had misfortune not befallen them... Returning to the former Japanese Grand Prix venue for the first time since he raced there in the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship with the works team, Turner acclimatised quickly to the car and the environment, despite running just a handful of laps on used tyres in practice. And though he was aware of the scale of Japan's premier sportscar series, was still surprised by the event's sheer magnitude come race day. "It was amazing,' said Turner.
"There was a massive crowd of 60,000 people. In the GT300 class there were 29 cars competing and there were another 17 in the GT500 class. It's a really high level championship, and the racing standard was much better than I had expected." The D'station car qualified 10th in class during cooler conditions on Saturday, and in Super GT you must start the race with the tyres you qualify on. In the Vantage GT3's case that was a medium tyre which was not so well suited to the 53C degrees track temperature that greeted the field on race day. "De Oliveira started the race, but he pitted early from P8 to change to a tyre that better suited the conditions, and handed over to Fujii-San,' explained Turner. "And while that put us out of sync with some of the field, Fujii-San did a great job to give the car over to me in fourth position." Turner then continued the the team's forward progress and moved into third during his stint. "I was really pleased with my performance in the car," said Turner. "I did a single stint of 40 laps, but I had to acclimatise quickly. The first time I got to try the new Yokohama tyres was in the race, so I had to understand what they were capable of and then try and make them last as long as possible.
"Super GT is very much a 'tyre formula', and it depends on whether you are running customer tyres or whether you have 'confidential' rubber aligned to a tyre manufacturer. Some of the other cars in our class were double-stinting and you could tell that a lot of speed comes from tyre performance."
The team's luck changed when Turner handed the car back to de Oliviera, whose off-sync advantage was eradicated by a long Safety Car, and then contact with a GT500 car that was subsequently forced to retire.
"It's a shame because that cost us any chance of a good result," said Turner. "We'd run a good race and all three of us did a good job, but unfortunately the damage put paid to any chance of a strong result."
Undeterred, the experience has left Turner with a real desire to return to Japan in the future and get a result.
"What I've learned most about this series is that it's really important to be on the right tyre compounds to be competitive," concluded Turner. "It's critical.
"I've really enjoyed every aspect of racing in Japan with the D'station Racing Aston Martin this year, and though my running was fairly limited this weekend, I made the most of it. Hopefully I'll get to come back in the future because there is more to be achieved here and it's a really great series to race in."