Dogged determination pays dividend at CoTA

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

With a summer break that seemed to last for an eternity Round 4 of the 2014 World Endurance Championship finally arrived at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas under the Lone Star Le Mans banner.

With a slightly change in the event format, this years WEC race was to be a 'into the night' by which would allow the TUSCC series to hold a round of their series on the same day as the WEC and hopefully improve attendances both on and off the circuit.

With some of the free practice sessions and indeed qualifying affected by rain the #97 of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke were pipped to the GTE Pro pole only by stroke of genius/luck in team strategy by the AF Corse pairing of Gimmi Bruni and Toni Villander as the circuit became less hospitable to quicker times. The #99 Craft Bamboo car of Fernando Rees/Darryl O'Young/Alex McDowall would be starting P5 in GTE Pro and behind both Manthey Porsche 911 RSR's.

In GTE Am the #95 Young Driver car of Kristian Poulsen/David Heinemeier-Hannson/Richie Stanaway (in for Nicki Thiim on Porsche Supercup duties) would be P2 in class behind the Prospeed Competition Porsche with the #98 Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Christoffer Nygaard car in back P7 in class.

Come race day and with the cars forming on the grid ready for the 5pm start in a very warm 31deg C air temperature a sudden but fortunately brief shower left the track being declared wet by Race Control allowing the cars to change (if they so chose to) from their qualifying tyres.

After stern words from Race Control to the GT field to catch the prototypes up on the warm up lap the race begin without major incident and with a brave move up the into Turn 1 Stefan Mucke was able to slot the #97 car ahead of the pole setting AF Corse. Further back an unidentified hiccup for Richie Stanaway in the #95 Young Driver car dropped him down whilst Pedro Lamy in the #98 was being reported by the corner workers as dropping fluid onto the track. Fortunately neither were to have long term repercussions.

Half an hour into the race the #97 was being relentlessly pursued by the Ferrari, a determined Stanaway took the GTE Am lead and was then catching Fernando Rees in the #99 Pro car whilst Lamy had to be on his toes to keep out of the way of duelling Audi and Porsche P1's who were having scant regard for the presence of the slower Vantage.

Come the end of the first hour most of the GTE field had made their first pit stop with Darren Turner getting into the #97, David Heinemeier-Hannson into the #95 Dane Train, Paul Dalla-Lana in the #98 yet Fernando Rees stays in the #99 car.

With about 70 minutes of the race elapsed upward glances to the sky were detecting the first glimpses of menacing clouds in the direction of Turn 11. Moments later Rees in the #99 makes an over optimistic move on the Tracey Krohn Ferrari GTE Am car causing the green Ferrari to spin out and earning himself an immediate investigation from Race Control.

Only 20 minutes later reports of rain at Turn 11 were confirmed with TV cameras showing at first only light rain before not to long that turning into a torrential downpour. At that moment it was only Turn 11 being affected and whilst the main straight was still dry and under blue skies all the teams were at a quandary as to their tyre strategy but as the rain storm enveloped the whole circuit and with slick shod cars going off at all points Race Control had no option but to red flag and suspend the race.

With the race clock continuing to count down all cars on track were directed to assemble on the starting grid and with some now stuck in a now closed pit lane all were put under Parc Ferme conditions.

Reaching his pit box a rather wet Darren Turner was somewhat abrupt with his description of the circuit conditions calling them monsoon like and somewhat critical of the fact that Race Control took so long to act. 

Having lost about 45 minutes to the weather teams were given a 15 minute warning of the restart behind the Safety Car as the rain had eased considerably from earlier. Those parked on the grid would suffer no race effect form the stoppage as all would be allowed to change to wets prior to the restart but those in the spit lane would loose a lap to the others under the restart procedures. It was simply a question a luck about where your car was at the moment the red flag was issued.

At the restart #97 was P1 in the Pro category just ahead of both Manthey Porsches with the #99 in P6 and in GTE Am the #95 and #98 was P5 and P6 respectively. With the sunlight now serious fading and having completed half dozen or so laps behind the Safety Car the race was allowed to resume under green flag with 3Hrs 19mins remaining. 

Straight from the off Turner gave his V8 Vantage plenty of gas was soon able to establish himself a 6 second lead in GTE Pro with decent gains also being made by the #95 and #98 cars. Despite the slight gap it was the turn of both the #91 and #92 P11 RSR's to chase down the Vantage. 

Despite some skilful car craft and vigorous defending from Turner the Porsches were able to pass the #97 probably only due to the state of the wet tyres on the AMR. After the next pitstop and driver change Stefan Mucke would exit the pits 15 seconds behind the Porsches.

It was time for the hunted to become the hunter!

On a slowly drying track and with fresh rubber Mucke was soon able to narrow the gap to just 5 seconds and by the fortune of a technical issue on the #91 Porsche and at the next pit stop the #97 would leap-frog into P2 in class.

Further back Darryl O'Young has a hairy moment with a spinning KCMG LMP2 - was there contact or was it self inflicted by the faster car? Come to think of it there was still no confirmation from Race Control of any action either way with the earlier Krohn incident?

With the #91 Porsche now out of the Pro equation and loosing time on track Turner starts to hound the back of the sister #92 Porsche and with only 45 minutes remaining a bansai (but I'm sure very calculated) move around the outside of Turn 1 leading into the racing line of Turn 2 sees the Aston retake the class lead. The hunter had just become the hunted again.

Despite both losing a lap due to being in the pit lane at the time of the red flag both the #95 and #98 GTE Am cars were able to progress up the leader board from their respective restart positions with some great determined stints particularly from Nygaard in the #98 and Stanaway in the #95. After the long term leading Proton Porsche suffered some late technical glitches in the closing stages of the race the #98 car would then move up to take the class honours with the #95 Young Driver car just over two tenths off in second behind. Another lap and I'm sure the positions would have been reversed.

Come the chequered flag a determined Turner would take the much needed class win in GTE Pro ahead of Patrick Pilet in the Porsche by just over half a second. A disappointing 22nd and 4 laps down would be the story of the day for the #99 Craft Bamboo car - a case of some periodic pace, periodic bad luck and the weather!

Next stop Fuji in three weeks time - hope it doesn't rain (again)!!

Photo Credits - Aston Martin Racing

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