Class win for Aston Martin at the Nürburgring

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Aston Martin Motorsport's return to the Nurburgring Nordschleife for the second round of the 2011 VLN championship was again marked by freakishly warm and sunny weather, apart from a brief rainshower in the middle of the Friday test session. The team was fielding the usual modified V12 Vantages, driven by Chris Porritt, Richard Meaden and Pete (#126 "Kermit"), Wolfgang Schuhbauer, Horst von Saurma and Mathew Marsh (#122 "Woody"). In addition, the team entered a GT4 V8 Vantage piloted by Darren Turner and Mark Hacking (#118 "Smurf"), with Chris Porritt also driving this car to help set a benchmark time.

After making significant damper set up changes to correct some car instability issues identified on Friday, Saturday mornign qualifying saw the car complete its fast ever laps of the Nordschleife in near-perfect conditions. First Richard dipped under the nine minute barrier, and then Pete was able to slightly better that with an 8:57.202, both laps being slightly compromised by traffic. "I'm pretty sure the car could get into the low 8:50s with a clear lap and a draft down the main straight, and this is great progress!" Pete smiled afterwards. That lap put the car forty-seventh overall on the grid of two hundred and eight starters, but importantly second in class behind the Farnbacher Ferrari F458.

Richard Meaden would take the first stint in Kermit with the race starting at mid-day in rising temperatures. A scorching couple of first laps amongst the front runners saw an impressive 8:56.645 from Richard, but a few laps later, a complete side window flew off from a Porsche ahead and tore off the right hand end plate from Kermit's rear wing, compromising high speed rear grip. The lap times dropped a little in sympathy, but at the pit stop it was determined not to be worth a change to a spare wing and the main wing elements were secure. Pete set off not knowing exactly what to expect: "I anticipated there would be a loss of rear downforce but to be honest, it was manageable with a few tweaks of the line at critical places like Flugplatz or Klostertal."

A more significant symptom showed itself on Pete's second lap, the paddle-shift gear change apparently beginning to misbehave. "This is a new system on the car, and whilst it is bullet-proof on the V8, on Kermit the airflow management is entirely different and the system was getting hot." Under those conditions, the system became more and more reluctant to close the clutch on upshifts, losing significant time on corner exits. Again, a modification of driving style had to be adopted, avoiding gearshifts wherever possible, taking second gear corners in third, or third gear corners in fourth. The immense torque of the 6 litre V12 was up to the challenge however, and Pete was able to get down to a 9:01.392 lap despite these handicaps before handing over the Chris for the final stint. "There were the usual yellow flags around the track and at Schwedenkreuz on my second last lap, an Astra went off, giving me a "Days of Thunder" moment, driving blind through a cloud of dust across the track at around a hundred and fifty miles an hour! Those moments are pretty memorable!"

In the meantime, Wolfgang had endured another scary moment as Woody picked up a rear left puncture at Pflanzgarten, a very fast right hander. Wolfgang did exceptionally well to keep the car out of the barrier and back to the pit lane, enabling the car to continue unscathed. Mark in Smurf was however not so lucky. Exiting the twists and turns of Hatzenbach, an over-enthusiastic move by another car resulted in a big impact on the right rear tyre, forcing Mark to stop a short distance later at Adenauer Forst. Nevertheless Smurf showed impressive pace in the early laps with Chris at the wheel and gave Darren and Mark valuable Nordschleife experience for future events.

Back with Kermit in the final laps, once again the team was obliged to make a final "splash and dash" pit stop, the pace of the car meaning that two fuel stops is simply not enough over a four hour race. Chris roared out of the pits in 22nd place overall (an incredible achievement given the very fast pace of the field) and leading the class from Woody. The Farnbacher Ferrari had endured an early crash, losing a lot of time with two long pitstops on lap 5 and lap 17, and finally crashing out on the last lap. Still, this can happen even to the best! As Chris negotiated a backmarker in Hatzenbach on his final lap, he was compromised on the dirty side of the track and forced over the kerb, spinning the car into the barrier and breaking the steering. Getting the car to the end of the race seemed impossible, the wayward front left steering the car in unwanted directions. Kicking the wheel straight and one point, Chris was able to cross the line at thirty fifth position overall, maintaining first in class, much to the relief of the team! Woody completed the class podium result in forty-first place overall, a great recovery after that early puncture.

The race was eventually won by the GT3 Mercedes Benz SLS of Chris Mamerow and Armin Hahne.
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