Aston Martin Festival at Le Mans

Monday, June 22, 2015

This year was the second presentation of the now bi-annual Aston Martin Festival event that supports the 24Hr main race.

Having first started (in its present format) back in 2012 this years line up would at least see a small but still significant increase in grid numbers from the thirty one cars back in 2012 to thirty nine cars this year. Earlier indications had suggested numbers higher!

These entries were spread all across an eligibility list featuring GTE, GT1, GT2, GT3, GT4, N24 cars from Aston Martin Racing and LMP1 and an Invitational class for cars from Aston Martin Lagonda.

The Sporting Regulations for the event were reasonably simple - a maximum of two drivers per car, a mandatory 90 seconds pit stop mid race regardless of the number of drivers and racing according to the terms of the FIA International Sporting Code. The on track competition would then be based upon an hour long Free Practice session on Wednesday, a forty-five minute qualifying on Thursday before a forty five minute race on the Saturday morning prior to the main event.

British teams were obviously very prevalent in the paddock featuring three cars from Beechdean, three from 22GT Racing, a whole plethora from Stratton Motorsport, and others from Strata21, JWB Motorsport, Speedworks, Academy and Vantage Racing amongst others. Whilst the headline entries were reserved for the two RoFGo Collection GT2 and Lola LMP1 cars the highest attending accolade must have been reserved for the eight TRG-AMR cars that were transported over to France from their team base California - complete with 50' lorry trailer and rig!!

European entries also included two from Young Driver AMR, featuring one of only two track worthy Zagato's (their other entry - a DBR1 GT1 we believe was to fail scrutineering due to an out of date fuel tank), one from Sweden's ALFAB Racing and two from Aston Martin Belgium.

A notable exception to this years entry was the reclassification of 22GT Racings GT3 entry for Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer. Having damaged their own V12 Vantage GT3 car at the previous round of the British GT a replacement car from TF Sport was sourced, however this was a V12 GT3 car in Super GT specification (revised aero and a more powerful engine) and that would see the British duo moved from GT3 and into the Invitational GT3 class.

After Free Practice on Wednesday evening the Gulf Racing Lola AMR DB1-2 of Stuart Hall was predictably in a class of its own (literally) clocking a lap time of 3:45:346, a full sixteen seconds ahead of the next car of #11 22GT Racing's Super GT which in turn was six seconds faster than #21 Strata21 GT3 of Tom Onslow Cole and Paul White.

Beechdean's Andrew Howard (sharing with Liam Griffin for this event) was now also getting his first on track taste of his latest acquisition - a V8 GTE. The considerable change in driving style required between that and his usual GT3 was obvious and Howard would later agree in the paddock that his personal position on the driving learning curve for the GTE was still fairly 'low' with his GT3 car being seven seconds faster than him!!

With the driver line up now having sampled the 'delights' of the 8.5mile circuit, lap times during the 45 minute qualifying session on Thursday afternoon were to come down as the professional drivers honed their skills and their gentleman counter parts pushed their own limitations. Whilst Stuart Hall's Lola would again claim the top honours with an even quicker 3:38:533 it would be the #11 22GT Racing GT3 that would initially claim the provisional front row of the grid for the race over the #21 Strata21 car.

In a great gesture of sportsmanship TRG-AMR were permitted by the other teams to change a damaged chassis on one of their GT4 cars in order to allow their driver, Ben Keating to compete in the race.

Whilst the cars returned to their paddock it became known that the #11 car had been reported to the stewards for overtaking under a yellow flag on their fastest lap. In the absence of any visual evidence from the officials, together with in-car evidence to support their own claim the #11 car would ultimately be reassigned to P1 some hours later.

On Saturday morning the AM Festival grid would assembled under the shadow of the Ferris wheel just before the Ford Chiccane where they would line up in grid order for their single parade lap before their rolling start at 11:00hrs. Team crews gathered outside their allotted garage in pit lane with their tools equipment under the watchful eye's of a large crowd in the grandstands opposite.

The Lola AMR DB1-2 would be starting from pit lane and as when the starting grid reached the Porsche Curves on the first flying lap - so laid back was Stuart Hall was that he even had time for a call of nature!! In all the other cars it would be the turn of the car's fastest driver to start the race.

With a torturous delay as the grid manoeuvred itself through the Ford the Chiccane the thunderous roar of 37 cars moving at pace  across the start/finish line would signify the start of the race and it would be the #11 22GT Racing car maintaining its track position of the #21 Strata21into the first corner. Christina Neilsen in the TRG-AMR GT3 would make positions up along the start straight to slot in behind the Bilstein liveried Strata21.

Approaching the first chiccane on the Mulsanne Straight a moment for the #42 Matt Nichol-Jones Academy GT4 forced him to take evasive action whilst one the Stratton GT4's had a spin towards the rear of the pack. Liam Griffin would also make his GT2 (GTE) Beechdean Vantage very wide in order to keep Roald Goethe' similar car behind him going into the Porsche Curves.

Going into lap 2 Phil Dryburgh was having his work cut out trying to pass the #81 Kevin Buckler TRG-AMR GT3 car before a brave move by the Scot into Arnage saw the #2 Beechdean move up. Further ahead the #11 22GT Racing car with Jon Barnes at the wheel was beginning to pull away from the chasing Onslow Cole with a lead of over eight seconds.

As the other cars entered their forth lap a forlorn looking #44 car with Liam Talbot at the wheel came down pit lane with significant and race ending front left corner damage having hit the armco heavily. Its  sister AML GT12 car of Jason Harper was also having issues on track. A big moment for Jon Barnes into the Porsche Curves saw him loose a significant part of his race lead over the #21 with an 'usual' entry route that took him very wide and nearly into the barrier.

In GT4 an inter team squabble between the two Academy cars together with the #77 ALFAB would lead to some terrific racing down the Mulsanne Straight. However all would soon change.

The #12 22GT Racing GT4 car of Mika and Chris Brown would be seen ploughing heavily head first into the armco at the bottom of the Forest Esses thrusting the car back towards the track with significant front end damage - safety car! Replays showed the car understeering wide out of the Esses before the traction being applied forced the car into a 'tank slapper' from which it would not survive. Early concerns were for the condition of the Mika Brown as it took some time for him to exit the vehicle - he would later be seen back in pit lane, visibly shaken but thankfully non the worse (apparently) for the incident.

The poor performance of the Alpha Classic's Racing GT2 car would continue throughout the weekend with the car now back in the pit with race ending engine issues. A consolatory hug between Andrew Jarman and Hiroyuki Akane was all that could be offered.

As the Safety Car was deployed for the incident for the #12 the pit window opened and with significant damage and debris to be cleared most cars came in including the overall race leading #11 car. The issue was that only one Safety Car was being used and under the ACO rules the pit exit was closed until the next Safety Car chain had passed - with only one safety car that was over seven minutes and that delay resulted in nearly all the cars being imprisoned in pit lane!

With nearly two laps spent in pit lane the cars were finally released from the pits but still only behind the Safety Car. Sequence of events about when each car came in for its compulsory stop would change the overall race leader from the #11 to the #21 cars as the latter had pitted later.

It unfortunately soon transpired that the damage to the armco was the main issue for Race Control, the #12 had already been recovered but more time for track repairs was required. Therefore, it came as no surprise that a red flag was shown with 8minutes of the allotted race time still available. Fortunately the boos and gearing heard in pit lane was not for the outcome of the race nut merely for the appearance in pit lane of a certain National President!!

Class results were later confirmed as:-


#7 Andrew Howard / Liam Griffin Beechdean
#98 Roald Goethe Gulf Racing by RoFGo
#16 Hiroyuki Akane Apha Classics Racing


#21 Tom Onslow Cole / Paul White Strata21
#82 Christina Neilsen TRG-AMR
#81 Kevin Buckler / R Nimkoff TRG-AMR


#83 D Deboer / R Bramlage TRG-AMR
#42 M Nicholl-Jones / D Strandberg Academy Motorsport
#41 W Moore / A Barwick Academy Motorsport

Invitational GT3

#11 Jon Barnes / M Farmer 22GT Racing

The next Aston Martin Festival at Le Mans has been confirmed for 2016 so hopefully the grid and variety will increase still further.

Photo credits - Richard Leach

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