When all was looking good for Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Aston Martin Racing entered the week of the 2015 24Hours of Le Mans in buoyant mood having had a reasonably start to the World Endurance Championship in the GTE Pro class and an outright lead in the GTE Am class. The cars initial pace was there in abundance, the team just needed to harness this momentum and spread it over the length of a race in order to challenge the quick and reliable Ferrari's.

Having attended the official Test Day two weeks earlier and gone through their own programme of set up and driver/track requirements all was looking good for the storm that lay ahead.

The Free Practice session on Wednesday saw the #99 red and yellow Hanergy liveried car of Fernando Rees, Richie Stanaway and Alex MacDowall straight out of the racing blocks, jockeying for top position with its sister #97 Car of Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Bell as well as the #64 Corvette. The non familiarity of the eight and a half mile track from the #99 crew didn't hold them back in the slightest compared against the experience of their peers - and technically the #99 crew were all rookies with the car (then entered under the Craft Bamboo Racing banner) not participating in the 2014 race due to accident damage.

By the time the weather had put pay to suitable track conditions in FP1 the #99 and #97 cars would eventually finish top split only by the #64 Corvette. Down in GTE Am the #98 car of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda would continue with its class dominance finishing the session in top position in their class but surprisingly ahead of the teams #95 Young Driver AMR Pro car of Christoffer Nygaard, Nikki Thiim and Marcus Sorensen. The #96 car of Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall and Francesco Castellacci were struggling with set up and pace towards the foot of the table.

Come the first Qualifying Practice session Wednesday night it would again be the #99 Hanergy liveried sponsored car that would set the benchmark with the #97 Art car in close pursuit. With an incident involving one of the P2 cars damaging the barriers at the end of the Mulsanne Straight the session would not last its intended two hour duration due to a local law rather than a sporting regulation. At the end of the night the #99 would again lead the #97 in class on the timing screen split this time by the #51 Ferrari. In GTE Am the #98 car would again finish the session second overall to the provisional pole setting #99 car!

Qualifying Practice session 2 on Thursday evening suffered from repeated red flag interruption that limited everyone to sporadic running without the ability of establishing a routine. It would be the turn of the #97 car to finish on top in GTE Pro and with the #98 having to settle for P2 in their class. The #96 car would remain towards to the foot of the table but would improve on their times relative to their opposition so at least positive improvement was being made.

Despite favourable track conditions the third and final Qualifying Practice session Thursday night would see little improvement in the GTE lap times with the #99 cars fastest time from Wednesday night under only coming under threat from the #51 Bruni Ferrari. With the #95 Young Driver car being amongst those having off track excursions prompting yellow flags and slow zones, that interrupted running would again prevent any significant time improvement. With Stuart Hall at the wheel the #96 that car would at least post its fastest time yet.

With the final grid positions being determined using an aggregate of the cars best times over the three sessions the times entered would produce a starting grid of the following positions:-

P34   #99 Aston Martin Racing GTE Pro 3:54:928
P36   #98 Aston Martin Racing GTE Am 3:55:102
P37   #97 Aston Martin Racing GTE Pro 3:55:466
P39   #95 Aston Martin Racing GTE Pro 3:55:783
P54   #96 Aston Martin Racing GTE Am 4:01:146

With starting drivers being nominated it would be Stanaway, Lamy, Mucke, Thiim and Hall starting their respective cars in the main race.

Photo credits - Richard Leach

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