Interlagos Recap - saving the best till last

Friday, December 05, 2014

Last weekend saw the final race of the 2014 World Endurance Championship at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace (formerly Interlagos) in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

With most of the various championships already claimed or only left with only a small mathematical possibility, Aston Martin Racing were left in the relatively comfortable position of only racing for the sheer 'hell of it'!

And they didn't let us down ……………..!!

With the final fling of the existing qualifying procedure it was again the #97 of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke who claimed GTE Pro bragging rights with pole position with the sister #99 car of home racer Fernando Rees and Darryl O'Young and Alex MacDowell in a very respectable P3 with their Craft Bamboo Vantage.

Back in GTE Am the season long 'battle' between the AMR cars would continue with Pedro Lamy claiming their respective pole in his #98 car just in front of championship winning Young Driver #95 car of Nikki Thiim.

With the race starting under a mostly clear skies and a very pleasant 25deg C air temperature the Aston Martin table was well and truly laid out by the end of lap 1 with the #97 Mucke car and #99 Rees car in P1 and P2 in Pro class and the #95 Thiim and #98 Lamy cars in the corresponding positions in GTE Am.

The GTE Pro Manufacturers title battle was between the Ferrari's of AF Corse of the Porsche's of Team Manthey but that was of no interest of AMR who cars were constantly able to increase the gap between themselves and the rest of the GTE field.

With improved longevity with the Michelin tyres with the circuits newly laid surface all the cars were comfortably able (compared to previous circuits) to restore there single stint duration back to that of their maximum fuel range of around an hour at full race speed. At the top of the first hour the #97 pitted for its first full service whilst the #95 and #98 Am cars were left out battling very spiritedly into turn 1 leaving the #95 having to cut the corner into turn 2 to avoid any possible collision - great racing by the two drivers but, just maybe a little too close to the line for the team and Race Control?

Next time round both Am cars were to dive into the pits together followed by the GTE Pro championship winning (designate) of the #51 AF Corse - such was the Am cars pace on track. This was immediately followed by the first full course yellow due to the G Drive Ligier binning it into turn 1 and with all the cars now at a maximum speed of 80kph under the FCY this allowed the #99 Craft Bamboo car to stop without loosing as much track time as normal with Fernando Rees having done a cracking first stint.

At the green flag the #99 had indeed acquired the GTE lead with the #97 back in fourth and 15 seconds in arrears. A few minutes later the #97 of Darren Turner was left spinning after a squabble with the #51 Ferrari for fourth - no apparent damage but would it face an investigation just like the #95/#98 incident a turn 1 was earlier?

As the race progressed the speed and strategy of the Ferrari's and Porsche's became more apparent with their superior fuel economy coming into play with Davide Rigon (Ferrari) finally being able to take the GTE lead off O'Young having stalked him down for a number of laps. Back in GTE Am Christoffer Nygaard had reclaimed their class lead in his #98 car with Kristian Poulsen in close proximity behind. At the top of the next hour Darren Turner would take a second stint in the car whilst Poulsen would hand over to David Heineier-Hansson in the #95 and Nygaard to Paul Dalla Lana in the #98.

Just after these stops later the #95 Young Driver car would be handed a drive through penalty by Race Control for their part in that incident with their sister #98 car into turn 1 - that would loose them over a minute in track time but would still leave them P3 in class.

Come the half way point of the race 'local' racer Fernando Rees was back in his #99 Craft Bamboo Pro car sitting menacingly on the rear bumper of the class leader Porsche of Fred Makowiecki but going into turn 2 alongside the Porsche Rees gets T-boned by the #91 as the Vantage came across its front (for position) sending both cars off into a spin with the #99 car hitting into the outside tyre wall loosing valuable time.

By the end of the next full service stops Mucke was back up to P1 and MacDowell down to P4 in GTE Pro and Nygaard and Heinemeier-Hansson P1 and P2 respectively in GTE Am.

Further drama wasn't far away as Heinemeier-Hansson locked up going into turn 1 just as one of the Manthey Porsche's overtook it leaving the #95 car almost a full lap to navigate with a destroyed front left tyre. At the subsequent TV interview DHH was obviously 'more than annoyed with himself' for his error!! With an impromptu driver change and full service stop that followed this incident the #95 would come out in P4 - its worst position of the year so far but within 10 minutes of returning to the circuit Poulsen was able to restore the car back onto the GTE Am podium!!

Into the last hour of the race and the season some attention was turning to the sky as the air temperature continued to drop and humidity increase - was the forecasted drizzle going to have a say on the conclusion of the race? We didn't really need the weather to intervene this year as the racing on track was intense enough already.

Getting in for their final stints Stefan Mucke was back at the helm of the #97 car at the head of the GTE field with Fernado Rees in the #99 again back in fifth. Pedro Lamy in the #98 was leading the GTE Am field with the Nikki Thiim #95 a lap down in P3.  With about 40mins remaining a drove through penalty for the (last GTE Pro placed) #91 Porsche was confirmed for the incident with the #99 going into turn - some retribution but wouldn't help the #99 back up the field at all.

Back in the pit Darren Turner is heard to confirm that the #97 car required a further 'splash and dash' for the final 20-30mins or so and that would obviously drop them down the field again come the end of the race. What the #97 needed was - like something they missed out on all season - was a little but of luck!

However, with only 27minutes remaining on the clock a huge collision between the #20 Porsche P1 of Mark Webber and the #90 Ferrari of Matteo Cressoni coming onto the spit straight would change everything. With debris strewn all over the track an immediate Safety Car was imposed that would continue until the race clock had expired.

That incident on track would mean that in GTE pro Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke would win only their second race of a somewhat disappointing season. Fernando Rees would bring his #99 home in fifth where, without the spin with the Porsche, the car and driver line had a real chance to bring their car home on the podium as well.

In GTE Am the #98 car of Lamy/Nygaard/Dalla Lana would claim the winning honours over their GTE Am Championship winning #95 sister car of Thiim/Heinemeir-Hansson/Poulen who would equal their worst result of the year by finishing in P2!!

This race was, after all, a very intense and exiting race. It was in my opinion one of the best team results of the season and wasn't too far away from being a clean sweep for Aston Martin Racing on the podium.

With information already released and the seasonal review of the FIA driver ratings, changes are inevitable within the Aston Martin driver line up for 2015 - we wait to see who comes along!!

Photo credits - Aston Martin Racing / WEC

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