Right down to the wire

IT’S ALL TO FIGHT FOR AS THE WORLD EN­DURANCE CHAM­PI­ONSHIP AP­PROACHES ITS CLI­MAX

VANTAGE - - Bulletin Modern Motorsport - WORDS RICHARD MEADEN PHOTOGRAPHY DREW GIB­SON

WITH FOUR MORE ROUNDS of the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship com­pleted since our last up­date, and just one round re­main­ing (the 6 Hours of Bahrain) at the time of go­ing to press, Aston Martin Rac­ing was still in con­tention for GTE­class man­u­fac­turer and driver ti­tles.

It’s an im­pres­sive po­si­tion that be­lies the mixed for­tunes en­joyed/en­dured by the Ban­bury-based team at the penul­ti­mate round in Shang­hai, China. For the GTE AM squad of Paul Dalla Lana, Pe­dro Lamy and Mathias Lauda it was another per­fect week­end, the trio con­vert­ing their class pole po­si­tion into class vic­tory for the third time in three races, and their fifth win of the sea­son in the #98 Van­tage racer.

Sadly for the GTE PRO pair of Dar­ren Turner and Richie Stan­away, Shang­hai was a dis­as­ter, as the hap­less Stan­away found him­self un­able to avoid hit­ting a spin­ning LMP2 pro­to­type in the first cor­ner of the first lap. Their #97 Van­tage suf­fered heavy dam­age, which proved too ex­ten­sive for the car to be re­paired in time to re­join.

AMR’S other GTE PRO squad – the Dan­ish pair­ing of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen in the #95 car – faired bet­ter, fin­ish­ing in 4th place. Though they couldn’t live with the pace of the Ford GTS, they did enough to fin­ish ahead of their main cham­pi­onship ri­vals in the #71 Fer­rari. They flew to Bahrain hav­ing ex­tended their lead in the GTE PRO class.

Prior to Shang­hai, the WEC teams had com­pleted three long-haul trips, to the 6 Hours of Mex­ico, then just north of the bor­der to Texas for the 6 Hours of the Cir­cuit of the Americas, fol­lowed by the 6 Hours of Fuji in Ja­pan. This gru­elling sched­ule places im­mense pres­sure on all the teams as the sea­son reaches its cli­max.

Of the three AMR en­tries, it’s the #98 of Dalla Lana, Lamy and Lauda that has

con­sis­tently scored the most im­pres­sive re­sults, with the first and sec­ond el­e­ments of their mighty ‘Triple Triple’ com­ing in Texas and Fuji. Could they take that form and not only take another pole po­si­tion and race win, but clinch the GTE AM World Cham­pi­onship as well? As we went to press, fin­gers were tightly crossed.

Home fans will have felt frus­trated by the patchy re­sults from Turner and Stan­away in the #97 car, though in truth the V8 Van­tage GTE’S fluc­tu­at­ing pace can be at­trib­uted to ad­just­ments to the Bal­ance of Per­for­mance (BOP) and work­ing hard to de­velop tyres with new part­ner Dun­lop af­ter many sea­sons with Miche­lin. The BOP has been a bone of con­tention all sea­son in the GTE PRO cat­e­gory, as the FIA grap­ples with the task of equal­is­ing the per­for­mance of tur­bocharged cars such as the new Fer­rari 488 and Ford GTS with older nat­u­rally as­pi­rated cars such as the Aston and Porsche 911. Such is the level of frus­tra­tion, the sit­u­a­tion ac­tu­ally brought the head of Porsche Motorsport to tears at Le Mans.

Turner and Stan­away have also been un­lucky. Shang­hai’s first-cor­ner crash was es­pe­cially cruel, but a 6th place fin­ish in Fuji and a 5th in Texas are in stark con­trast to their dom­i­nant GTE PRO class win in Mex­ico. Highs and lows in­deed.

By con­trast the #95 car, fondly known as the ‘Dane Train’ due to its pair of Dan­ish driv­ers, has been con­sis­tent, putting in solid per­for­mances all sea­son, po­si­tion­ing them nicely for a ti­tle-win­ning per­for­mance in Bahrain. Fierce com­peti­tors both, Thiim and Sørensen were look­ing to seal their World Cham­pi­onship with another vic­tory.

The 2016 sea­son has al­ready yielded some sil­ver­ware for AMR, thanks to tremen­dous per­for­mances by the Beechdean AMR and TF Sport teams. Both se­cured cham­pi­onship ti­tles on the same week­end at the Por­tugese Es­to­ril cir­cuit. Beechdean’s V8 Van­tage GTE, driven by the all-bri­tish line-up of An­drew Howard, Alex Mac­dowall and Dar­ren Turner, scored a vi­tal win in the last round of the Euro­pean Le Mans Se­ries to take the ti­tle by just 5 points.

Mean­while, TF Sport took the Miche­lin GT3 Le Mans Cup in sim­i­lar fash­ion, its V12 Van­tage GT3 win­ning the two-hour race in the hands of Turk­ish-born Salih Youloc and Brit Euan Hankey. It was the per­fect end to a great sea­son for TF Sport and AMR, com­ing just a few weeks af­ter the team’s V12 Van­tage GT3 won the Bri­tish GT Cham­pi­onship in the hands of Jonny Adam and Derek John­ston.

Above and left Penul­ti­mate round of this year’s WEC saw teams head to Shang­hai; #95 car is fondly known as the ‘Dane Train’ for driver pair­ing of Thiim and Sørensen

Clock­wise from above

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