Having started from pole position, Aston Martin Racing led the fiercely competitive GT category at Laguna Seca, California, until the first refuelling stops. Competing on the third round of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the team’s #007 Vantage GTE had been on course for its best finish to date. However, it quickly became apparent that the time taken to refuel the Vantage GTE at pit stops – as a result of changes to ALMS fuelling restrictor regulations – would seriously harm the team’s chances of fighting to victory.
Factory driver Darren Turner (GB) had qualified the V8 machine on pole position, setting a time that was almost half a second clear of his nearest rival. Team-mate Stefan Mücke started the six-hour race behind the wheel of the Vantage GTE, maintaining the advantage for the opening stint of the race until the refuelling delays at the first pit stop dropped the car to ninth in class. Mücke set about fighting back through the field, setting fastest lap times among the GT class and rising back to fourth position over the course of the following hour.
A collision with another competitor, however, elicited a penalty for Mücke, which he served immediately before pitting to hand over to Turner. The Briton rejoined the fray in 11th position in class before reeling in the tenth-placed car at a rate of three seconds per lap. Having recovered to eighth, Turner made way for Adrian Fernandez (MX), who drove consistently in the final stint to deliver the result and prove the Vantage GTE’s durability over long distances.
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, said:
“Finishing eighth in class isn’t what we wanted having started from pole position, but it’s clear there is some work required to equalize refueling times of similar cars in the ALMS because these delays cost us the chance to fight for the Vantage GTE’s first win. It’s a shame because although we didn’t come here to score points, the ALMS is a terrific championship and a race win would have given the whole team a real boost.
“Nonetheless, we wanted to prove that the car is quick and reliable – as well as to continue our development program – and we’ve absolutely done that this weekend.
“This was our last outing before the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it’s clear we have made great progress in the last six months. The priority was to log a race finish while proving that we can compete with the world’s fastest GT cars for the entirety of an endurance race. I’m confident that we’ve achieved that, so the whole team is heading to La Sarthe next month in a very positive frame of mind.”
Aston Martin Racing competed at Laguna Seca – having also contested the second ALMS round at Long Beach, California, last month – in support of its FIA World Endurance Championship program in order to gain more competitive experience of its new-for-2012 Vantage GTE. The factory team will field a pair of the Gulf-liveried V8 racers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 16/17 June. After three years in the prototype category, Aston Martin Racing has returned to the production-derived discipline that earned it back-to-back victories at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008.
Away from the action on track, Aston Martin was saddened to learn of the death in Dallas on Thursday of racing legend and former Aston Martin race car driver Carroll Shelby. The 89-year-old ex-driver, team boss and car designer co-piloted the iconic Aston Martin DBR1 sports car to victory in the 1959 Le Mans Grand Prix of Endurance alongside Briton Roy Salvadori.
Aston Martin CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, paid tribute to Shelby:
“I knew Carroll personally, and admired his exceptional abilities as a driver and creator of classic sports cars. He played a huge part in what remains perhaps Aston Martin’s finest hour at Le Mans, and our thoughts go out to his family.”
As a mark of respect for Shelby, Aston Martin’s Vantage GTE raced at Laguna Seca with a black number square and a black strip across the windscreen.
Works drivers Turner and Mücke will now switch their attentions to the ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours next weekend (19/20 May), where they will compete in V12 Vantage GT3s as part of Aston Martin’s most ambitious campaign at the celebrated race to date.