Right down to the wire
IT’S ALL TO FIGHT FOR AS THE WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP APPROACHES ITS CLIMAX
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.