Party time for Aston Martin Racing in Mexico

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Anyone who watched the inaugural 6hours of Mexico on Saturday would have come away suitably refreshed that a new circuit could have such an impact on what is normally a well balanced prototype and GT field of racing.

The circuit's position relative to sea level and hence reduced oxygen levels had a larger than expected impact on most of the engines but particularly those with turbo's (so when compared to their class rivals) Aston Martin Racing's V8 normally aspirated engine was already 'best placed' within their new racing environment .

That point was evident virtually straight from the off, from the additional Free Practice session the teams were allotted for being this the first time the WEC 'circus' had visited the track through to qualifying when both AMR GTE Pro cars locked out the GTE grid with their sister #98 GTE Am car claiming pole in that class. The Ferrari's, Ford and surprisingly the Porsche's were all struggling somewhat in the thinner air.

Unfortunately for the #98 car a post qualifying scrutineering check determined that the car was 'less than 1mm outside the minimum ride height measurement" and despite discussions between the officials and the team and an offer to the team to re-adjust tyre pressures (which they rejected) meant that the #98 was cast to the back of the grid.

Come the 13.30hrs start of the race the cars set off on their two warm up laps under warm but darkening skies. The teams were aware that rain was probably on its way but they didn't know when nor its intensity. At the green light the 6Hours of Mexico was away. but after just the first few corners one of the Ford GT's had split the two Astons before Stanaway (starting in the #97) retook it for position before the end of the opening lap.

Problems soon came about for Pedro Lamy in the #98 car whilst he started climbing back through the GTE Am field having started at the back when he tagged the #83 Am Championship class leading Ferrari into a simple spin in the stadium complex - a move that would later be penalised with a drive through pushing them right back to last again.

Up front Nicki Thiim was starting to stretch the gap between himself and the third placed car to about 19 seconds  although Stanaway was never too far behind, shadowing his every move having already had a close call with a passing LMP1 Audi as they lapped the GTE field first time round.

Fifty minutes in came the first Full Course Caution of race for an incident with an LMP2 car which allowed all three AMR cars to pit for a full service and driver change whilst the race was under yellow.

With Darren Turner now in the #97 he started to pound in some quick laps to a point where the third placed Ford was over a minute behind him on the track! Memories of Spa when the new 488 Ferrari left the Astons for dead!!

Remarkably for the #98 and within half an hour of their drive through, they had re-caught the #83 Ferrari 458 and taken it for position on the track. Obviously the cars late switch to Michelin rubber post Nurburgring was helping to improve its track performance - next target was the Labre Competition Corvette just nine further seconds ahead.

Aston Martin got a little bit of early 'help' from the race stewards when they awarded the #51 Ferrari a drive through penalty for repeatedly ignoring track limits dropping themselves well back into the GTE pack.

On the two hour mark however, the #66 Ford GT was continuing its dreadful run in the race and avoidably nerfed the #98 into (fortunately) the safer barrier at turn 12 in the stadium complex damaging the car enough to warrant garage attention, loosing it at least 4 laps. The Ford would themselves be penalised for that but that wouldn't make up for the time/laps lost by the #98.

Just before halfway Race Control declared its a 'wet race' as the first drops of rain were detected around the circuit but with the expectancy of 'storms' to follow. With a second Full Course Yellow being put into force soon after again the there Astons pitted (for fuel and tyres only) under the yellow and such was their lead that they returned to the track in 1st and 2nd.

Another half an hour passed by with intermittent rain falling - by this time it was only the top three GTE Pro cars on the lead Pro lap - both the Ferrari's had lost a lap. Soon however, the rain became much harder and affected the whole circuit. Being in-between service stops both Pro AMR's elected to stay out on their wearing slicks as that was still their fastest option and would wait until their next due service before making a tyre choice.

Just before the four hour make Stanaway made a decisive move on the leading #95 with Thiim at the wheel taking the GTE pro lead outright under braking into turn one. Despite a drier line appearing as the rain slowed Thiim made the fateful mistake of putting a rear tyre onto a painted line as he braked into turn 6 whilst chasing the #97. That spun the car around rear ending it into the tyre wall loosing his rear splitter and rear wing!! Loosing additional time on the grass whilst trying to rejoining the track Thiim managed to make the pits where the simply replaced the rear wing, leaving the splitter before it returned to the track with Sorensen at the wheel in P5. Minutes later would see the #97 pit and Turner step in to take the car to the end.

With the rain still causing issues for both the drivers and the team it remained (until the end in fact) a balancing act in judgment to decide whether to persevere on slicks or risk changing to intermediates or wets. For AMR they stuck with the new and improved Dunlop slick.

Having been perhaps too conservative with the driver and pit stops both the Ferrari's had now caught up with the leading #97 to a point were the #51 was actively challenging Turner for the lead. Hard work and clever road craft managed to James Calado at bay before they needed to pit for fuel whilst bit further back would see a hard charging #95 car repeatedly take seconds out of the #71 Ferrari (then holding third).

The last forty minutes saw the #95 eventually take P3 from the #71 Ferrari before it pitted for its last time and returned to Thiim to chase the second placed Ferrari - Turner however would 'enjoy' a leisurely 27 second lead to the flag.

Come the chequered flag Darren Turner would claim his and the #97's first win of the season with Thiim crossing the line a further twenty odd seconds back in third. Whilst it is a great achievement for the team collectively, the Young Driver AMR squad would surely be disappointed of that single mistake that would end up costing them any opportunity to reclaim the class lead from their sister car.

There would be further disappointment in the AMR camp when the #98 would not classified as a finisher when they determined that Am driver Paul Dalla Lana had not met his minimum drive time - a simple mistake from the team for sure but rounded off an otherwise poor race for the #98 squad.

Coming away from Mexico the #95 now leads the GTE Pro Team Championship by a single point from AF Corse whilst Darren Turner now leads the GTE Drivers Championship from his former car mates Marco Soresen and Nicki Thiim. Aston Martin Racing now also lead the GTE Manufacturers Championship so from a corporate point of view Mexico has been a great success for AMR.

Over in GTE Am the non points score for the #98 leaves the three drivers mid table in the drivers championship and still a distant third in the Constructors Championship.

The WEC now moves north of the border to the Circuit of the America's for race day on the 17th September. Richie Stanaway will miss the event due to his prior commitments with Prodrive in the Aussie V8 series - he will be replaced with Fernando Rees where he also expect (but not yet confirmed) the return of the blue and yellow Valero livery on the #97!

Team AMR

Photo credits - AMR / Adrenal Media

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes