Darren Turner recorded his third class-podium finish in four years in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, on Sunday. The Briton, along with the rest of the Garage 59 team he raced with, delivered a successful debut for the new Aston Martin Vantage GT8R which finished third in the SP8T class.
On his tenth assault on the ADAC Total 24 Hours, run on the fearsome 12.9-mile Nordschleife circuit situated deep in the Eifel forest in Germany, Turner faced some of the most difficult weather conditions a driver must endure. Moreover, in a race disrupted by a lengthy red-flag period overnight when the rain simply got too bad to continue, the team had to overcome a steep learning process with the new car and unfamiliar Michelin wet tyres.
But works Aston Martin Racing driver Turner and his team-mates Jonny Adam, Alexander West and Chris Goodwin didn’t put a wheel wrong throughout the eventful race and were unlucky not to be in a position to compete for the class victory.
“The car ran like clockwork, and the team’s strategy was spot on,” said Turner. “There were no extra pitstops for things other than pitting to put the right tyres on. The car was perfect all the way through and each of the drivers put in really good stints considering the conditions they faced.
“We were unlucky when the red flag came out because we had just done a pitstop to change over from Chris to Jonny and the class leading BMW hadn’t stopped at that point, so us and the Mercedes we were racing lost a lap to the eventual winner.”
Turner, the most experienced driver on the crew, was selected to start from P4 in class, as the team focussed on ironing out new-car wrinkles and set-up during qualifying. It didn’t take him long to progress from there however and by mid-stint he was running second.
“The conditions were horrible, and I was mindful that we hadn’t got much experience of the car in terms of wet set-up or running the Michelin tyres for long periods of time,” explained Turner. “I really wanted to make sure the car was still in good shape when I brought it in at the end of the first stint.
“I just kept the car as safe as I could, but it was wild out there. Especially those first opening laps when everyone was jostling out of their natural position.
“But then I got into a rhythm and the pace was competitive. Early in the race we were still learning about the Michelin tyres. As the track improved, we got slower as the tyres got too hot. We adjusted that when Alex got in the car, and then from that point on we had a better understanding of the tyre and it went really well.”
After the first round of stops the car was established in third, but a red flag in the early evening when several cars aquaplaned off the track meant the race was halted until 0700 the following morning. When it restarted the Vantage was unable to gain any track position on the leader without misfortune striking and the team focussed on bringing the car home on the podium.
“The red flag was the right decision,” said Turner. “There were cars going off left, right and centre, and that was not because of a lack of talent or car performance, it was because there comes a point when the water level on the circuit exceeds that which the tread on the tyres can cope with. When you get to that point it’s a lottery.
“It was one of those uneventful races from our perspective, but the race itself was very eventful because of the really tricky conditions. Going around that circuit when the track temperature is very low, in the dark in heavy rain, it requires maximum focus. On a modern circuit the intensity is probably a little less, but at the Nordscheife, any small mistake and you are going in the barrier.
“Every driver did a great job to keep the car in one piece and we showed that it’s got great pace and we have a solid foundation to improve its performance for the next time the car races there.”
It wasn’t just a debut for the Vantage GT8R, but also for Aston Martin customer team Garage 59, which excelled in its first Nürburgring 24 Hours.
“I’ve really enjoyed the two races I’ve done with Garage 59, it’s been great fun. They have done an incredible job and they were on the ball all the way through the race with the strategy, always on the right tyres at the right time and it has been a really fun weekend with the guys.”