CHAMPS STRUGGLE BUT GTE AM CREW SETS THE PACE AS ASTON MARTIN RACING PREPARES FOR LE MANS
Mixed fortunes for WEC squad, and a roundup of the classic racing scene
IF PROOF WERE NEEDED as to the fickle form of race teams and drivers, reflect on the current reversal of fortune for Aston Martin Racing and its reigning World Endurance Championship-winning Danes Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen.
Bathed in glory at the end of last season after winning the final round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and with it the GTE PRO crown, the Danish duo and AMR were riding high coming into the 2017 season. Now, two races in and the situation couldn’t be more different, with the Ferrari 488s, Ford GTS and, to a lesser extent, Porsche 911s all demonstrating a pace advantage over the V8 Vantage GTE.
As ever with the mechanics of modern GT racing, the reasons for AMR’S disappointing start in WEC are numerous and complex. Yes, the Balance of Performance (BOP) is a factor in the relative pace of all the cars in the GTE categories, but more significant is the ongoing tyre war between Michelin (used by Ferrari and Ford) and AMR’S chosen supplier, Dunlop. Lest we forget, the V8 Vantage GTE is also the oldest car in the GTE field and finds itself fighting against Porsche’s all-new mid-engined 911, with the Ferraris and Fords really hitting their stride after being introduced last season.
Both Silverstone and Spa proved to be uphill battles for both of AMR’S GTE Pro entries, with both the #95 and #97 cars struggling for qualifying and race pace. At Silverstone the Danish-crewed #95 car finished in 6th position, one place ahead of the #97 car of Darren Turner and Jonny
Adam. At Spa the positions were reversed, the #97 car (with regulars Turner and Adam joined by Daniel Serra) finishing 7th and the #95 car (crewed by Thiim, Sørensen and Richie Stanaway) in 8th.
It’s a much more positive story for the #98 GTE Am Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, who have enjoyed a storming start to their 2017 championship campaign. Having started from class pole at Silverstone, the trio made a brilliant start, building a commanding lead by the three-hour mark. Frustratingly, a heavy accident for one of the LMP1 Toyotas meant a Safety Car caution period, which negated their advantage. Lamy fought hard to the end, the #98 Aston crossing the line in second position but with the knowledge they had the pace to take the win.
Carrying this confidence to Round 2 at Spa, Dalla Lana, Lamy and Lauda put on another sparkling display. Lamy put in an ultra-committed lap in qualifying to secure class pole, and the trio went on to take a flawless victory. They must be hoping they can maintain this form as they head to Le Mans in June.
Meanwhile in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and the British GT Championship, Aston Martin entries are enjoying further success. In the ELMS, TF Sport’s Vantage GTE #90 scored a resounding victory with the help of AMR driver Nicki Thiim, while Darren Turner helped reigning ELMS champions Beechdean AMR to a solid 3rd place, finishing just one second behind the 2nd-placed Porsche. In British GTS, the V12 Vantage GT3 also remains a force to be reckoned with, TF Sport taking P2 and P5 in Race 1 and P2 and P3 in Race 2 at Oulton Park’s season-opening doubleheader, with Macmillan AMR taking P3 at Rockingham for the second round.
Returning to AMR’S tough start to the WEC season, it’s important to keep the faith. Last season was hardly plain sailing, with the competitiveness of the Vantage GTE ebbing and flowing throughout the season. And with an adjustment in the BOP coming after Le Mans, things could yet improve for the GTE Pro crews.
It’s also worth remembering that Paul Dalla Lana and his crew are doing a stellar job in GTE Am, after coming so close to taking the title in 2016.
As for The Big One – the Le Mans 24 Hours – there’s a different BOP applied compared to the rest of the WEC rounds, so we could yet see closer competition between the GTE Pro cars than at Silverstone or Spa. With Le Mans just a month away at the time of writing, we’ll know soon enough. Fingers crossed.
AMR 2017 CALENDAR June 17 24 Hours of Le Mans July 16 Six Hours of Nürburgring Sept 3 Six Hours of Mexico Sept 16 Six Hours of Austin Oct 15 Six Hours of Shanghai Nov 18 Six Hours of Bahrain
From the top The Aston Martin Racing squad lines up for the second round of the 2017 WEC at Spa; Sørensen and Thiim have plenty to think about; the ‘Dane Train’ at speed