Perseverance pays off TF Sport at the Red Bull Ring

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Round 3 of the European Le Mans Series from the Red Bull Ring in Austria at the weekend had all the hallmarks for an extremely competitive GTE race, a race which unfortunately left the two Aston Martin Racing runners struggling to compete.

Early Free Practice times during the weekend had suggested a tight race between the two AMR Vantage's of Beechdean AMR and TF Sport and at least the Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR however Qualifying times would indicate the first signs of a struggling performance criteria against those of their rivals, a situation that had already left both Astons at the rear of the grid for Sunday's four hour race.

Both AMR teams elected to start with their respective Bronze drivers so Salih Yoluc would be starting in the #90 TF Sport car just ahead of Andrew Howard in his #99 Beechdean AMR car for the first 45-60 minutes or so of the race.

First indicators were good as Yoluc was soon challenging the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari for P3 in class whilst Howard was clearly baulked and hampered going into Turn 1by the LMP3 cars that started on the grid behind them (after having applied penalties post qualifying). It was just a few laps later however, before we saw both cars start to drop back to positions on track relative to their respective starting positions albeit with some of the other GTE cars running a higher grade of driver than they.

The race turned out to be a short and frustrating race for Howard as he pitted after just 45 minutes, exiting the car with a body language that suggested the he was not happy with the performance of either himself nor the car as he handed over to Darren Turner. Meanwhile, TF Sport would keep Yoluc within the car till the end of his 1 hour(ish) running limit before handed over to Euan Hankey.

For a time, the only active racing for the AMR cars was between themselves as Hankey and Turner jostled over fifth position immediately after their stops, competition with the GTE field only arose as the other GTE runners pitted and swapped to the Bronze drivers during the second phase of the race.

The performance deficit incurred by the two V8 Vantage GTE's since the last round in Monza was becoming all too apparent, being slow out of the corners with the seemingly inability of putting down any of its power down in a timely fashion with the Ferrari's and Porsche being able to show a clean pair of heels every time - so frustrating!

At the half hour mark, the strategy being run by each of the AMR teams split still further with the #99 car, having already double stinted its tyres again changing driver to Ross Gunn whilst Hankey stayed aboard the #90 for another hour stint. With both having the benefit of fresh rubber the #77 Proton car became 'fair game' but even then their lap times of all three Ferrari's were far superior.

A brief moment of rejoicing came about as the front running Ferrari's pitted, temporally elevating the #90 car to P2 overall in class but then that was relatively short lived as they soon re-passed Hankey for position but at least Hankey was holding onto P4 - just and for a moment it looked like Gunn would also be able to get passed the #51 for fifth but Bertolini soon hammered in a number of quicker laps to form a manageable gap again.

With an hour to run the first and only Full Course Yellow was issued for various stranded P2 and P3 cars around the track allowing all the GTE's the final pit stop to take place under yellow. Finally, Hankey handed the #90 car over to AMR works driver Nicki Thiim with a full tank and new Dunlop tyres to boot in order to push for a result. Gunn meanwhile stayed aboard the #99 Beechdean but again was double stinting their tyres in a last gasp attempt to bridge the gap to the #51 Ferrari.

A pit lane interview with Salih Yoluc confirmed a stable Vantage racing platform but just with it being not where they wanted to be in terms of track performance due to BoP (what was changed we are not quite sure) but in terms of speed, the best times for Howard and Yoluc would end up being still be a second down to the best of remaining Bronze drivers in GTE come the end of the race!

Due to the shorter pit stop time of the #99, Thiim soon found that Gunn was the first car on his agenda for P4 in class. The #66 and #55 Ferrrari 488's were still arguing for the class lead before an altercation with an LMP3 car left the #66 JMW car being baulked allowing the green/white Spirit of Race car of Matt Griffin to make its escape out in front.

Tiny drops of rain at one corner gave a late scare to the remaining runners but nothing of any significance was to fall before the chequered flag as Thiim began to catch the struggling #51 Ferrari. With Roda only able to hold Thiim for a few laps, an over and under move by Thiim going into turn 2 at Remus, Thiim squeezed the #90 car past on the inside of the Ferrari to take and ultimately hold onto P3 until the end of the race - just!

In the words of the TF Sport team, their third position felt like a win and in terms of combatting a negative BoP against a highly competitive opposition that was exactly what it was! Congratulations to them all.

The result from the Red Bull Ring certainly closes up the gaps in the Series with TF Sport still leading the class but by just 6 points from JMW whilst Beechdean AMR now share third position with both #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari and the Proton Competition Porsche.

The European Le Mans Series now moves to the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France for Round 4 at the end of August.

Photo credits - ELMS / TF Sport / Beechdean AMR
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