Continuing its successful return to production-derived GT motorsport Aston Martin Racing will contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans next week (16/17 June) with two Aston Martin Vantage GTEs, and it has its sights firmly set on podium finishes in both the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes.
The lead Vantage GTE – entered into the GTE Pro category – will be piloted by works drivers Darren Turner (GB), Stefan Mücke (D) and Adrian Fernandez (MX), while Aston Martin Racing’s long-established partner team Young Driver AMR will join forces with the factory outfit to run the second car in the GTE Am class.
Both cars – #97 and #99 respectively – performed competitively and reliably at the official pre-event test session last week, with each setting the pace in their respective classes for much of the morning session. The #99 went on to top the time sheets in the GTE Am class in each of the two sessions.
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, said:
“Preparation is key to success in an endurance race and we are very happy with the session we had at the Circuit de la Sarthe last Sunday (3rd June). We were able to complete 115 laps between the two cars without any technical issues, which gave the engineers and drivers plenty of time to work through their car set-up programs. We focused on making sure the cars are easy and comfortable to drive to reduce the scope for driving errors.
“Although we weren’t pursuing lap times during the test, we were encouraged by the speed shown by both cars. I’m confident that there is more still to come.
“Qualifying isn’t critical in a 24-hour race as it is in a sprint race, but at Le Mans there’s a lot of prestige associated with being fastest, so we’ll certainly push hard for pole position in both the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes. Given our track record in the GT category at Le Mans and the potential we have seen in the Vantage GTE so far this year we expect to be strong contenders for a podium finish in each GTE class come Sunday afternoon.”
Seasoned Le Mans racer and double GT1 category winner, Darren Turner, said:
“Having won the GT1 class with Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008, I have very fond memories of competing there. The pace in the GTE Pro class is going to be very, very fast this year and there’ll be some extremely close racing going on, but at Le Mans it’s all about getting to the finish.
“We know from the first two rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship that the Vantage GTE is inherently a competitive car. We got a couple of test sessions ahead of us in the days leading up to the race and we’ll use these to continue dialing the car into the circuit having already made encouraging progress in the pre-event test.”
Team-mate Stefan Mücke added:
“Reliability is so important at Le Mans, but so is consistency. We need to be able to find the right balance in the set-up of the car so that we can lap consistently in a wide range of conditions; hot and cold, wet and dry and so on.
“This will be my sixth time racing at Le Mans so I know the circuit well, but it is my first time in a GT car. However, the Vantage GTE has been very easy to get comfortable with so I’m feeling confident that we’re capable of scoring a good result.”
Adrian Fernandez, who made his GT racing debut with Aston Martin Racing at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, concluded:
“This will be the fourth time I’ve competed at Le Mans, but my first time in a GT car. It’s totally different to what I’m used to, but I made a lot of progress during the test session last week and come race weekend I’m confident that I will be on the pace of Darren and Stefan.
“We definitely have the potential to score a good result in the race. We need to make sure that the Vantage GTE performs reliably and is comfortable. If we get to the checkered flag without any major issues we will be on for a very strong result.”
Testing also went well for car #99, which showed competitive pace and consistency throughout the session, ending the day as the fastest car in the GTE Am class having been driven by the all-Danish driver crew of Allan Simonsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen.
Simonsen, who set the fastest lap of the day in testing, said:
“It’s great to be driving with Aston Martin Racing and to see everyone working so closely between the Pro and the Am cars. I’m very pleased with the time set in the test session, which is actually equal to my time last year to the dot.
“We were able to spend the day working through the test program and everything went really well. Kristian and Christoffer were also able to familiarize themselves with the track as they haven’t been here for a while.
“Whenever I go into a 24-hour race, I always say that to finish first, first you need to finish. It’s such a long race but I think we have the team, car and drivers to do a great job. If we can get through with no problems we can easily get on the podium, but we’ve all had podiums before so we want to win.”
Aston Martin Racing’s return to the GT category at Le Mans is its first since its back-to-back class victories in 2007 and 2008 with the V12-powered DBR9. The legendary GT1 racer will be back in action at La Sarthe as it participates in the Aston Martin Racing Festival of Le Mans in the hands of three customer teams. A total of 30 Aston Martin competition cars will compete in the exclusive support race, which runs for 45 minutes on the morning of the 24-hour endurance epic.
As a mark of respect for the late Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori, who both sadly passed away in recent weeks, both Vantage GTEs will run carrying commemorative plaques. The two drivers hold a special place in the history of Aston Martin’s track successes having driven the iconic Aston Martin DBR1 to outright victory at the 1959 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars driven by Aston Martin CEO Dr Ulrich Bez and Chairman David Richards in the Aston Martin Racing Festival of Le Mans support race will also carry the plaques.
The 80th anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will get under way with a rolling start at 3pm (CET) on Saturday, 16 June. Keep up-to-date with Aston Martin’s progress on the official website at www.astonmartin.com/racing, or on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/astonmartinracing and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amr_official . Live race commentary is also available over the internet via Radio LeMans - www.radiolemans.com