Same issues - differing outcomes for AMR runners at Le Castellet

Monday, August 28, 2017

The fourth round of the European Le Mans Series from the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France yesterday was always going to be a tough one for both of the Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GTE runners.

Featuring the same 'restrictive' Balance of Performance that hindered them at the previous round of the series at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, their starting positions for yesterdays race gave another accurate reflection of how much work the Beechdean AMR and TF Sport cars needed to do during the 4Hours of Le Castellet in order to achieve any decent result.

In a break to the driver running order from last time out Beechdean AMR elected to start with Ross Gunn, then Bronze driver Andrew Howard and Darren Turner before Gunn saw out the final hour or so of the race whilst TF Sport would again start with their Bronze driver Salih Yoluc before alternating between Eaun Hankey and Nicky Thiim respectively.

Under a clear blue sky and searing track temperatures the start of the race would at least appear clean and orderly. Despite starting from the rear of the grid Ross Gunn would see his position elevate courtesy of same great driving to third by the end of lap three and then up to P2 in class by the end of the first fifteen minutes of racing.

Yoluc meanwhile would be spun around by a LMP2 car lapping him causing slight front end damage to his #90 car which would hinder them as the race progressed but at least he did what he could to hang onto the back of the GTE field come the end of his stint.

At the end of Gunn's first stint the disparage in performance between the AMR's and the Ferrari 488's was becoming evident with the #55 Spirit of Race car already 14 seconds up the road to him. The first Full Course Yellow of the race (to recover a stranded car on track) was also the signal point for all, who hadn't already done so, to complete their first full service stop and due to the abrasive nature of the track each AMR would take tyres at each of their stops.

With Howard now in the #99 car, he went out defending what was a ten second advantage over the chasing #66 JMW Ferrari but it soon became evident that all was not well with the blue and white Vantage as was soon passed by the JMW as well as the #51 Ferrari. Hankey meanwhile, had at least recovered their position slightly to have passed the #77 Porsche for fifth and was actively chasing down the #99 for what was now fourth place.

Having endured what must have been his minimum stint time Howard pitted his car to swap to Turner - again the body language of Howard exiting the car portrayed an underlying issue as indeed did Hankey similarly confirm with the series pit lane reporter at the end of his first stint.

By the end of the second pitstop cycle the two AMR's at least found themselves P3 and P4 for the Beechdean and TF Sport car respectively with Nicky Thiim being the faster of the two. The leading #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari was by this time even further ahead of the remaining GTE field so barring any unfortunate eventuality for them it was a case of squabbling over the remaining podium positions for the rest!

With just about 90 minutes of the race time remaining Thiim took Turner for third. Still the #99 car didn't look as stable as the #90 did at the same place at the same time, always appearing to be understeering in and out of the corners. It would only be after Turner's stint that we would learn that frontal damage sustained to the #99 car during Howard's stint was causing the car to 'lift' on the straights with chronic understeer into the corners to boot - "almost undriveable" Turner would add after.

Entering the final hour it appeared to be damage limitation again for Gunn in the Beechdean whilst it was all to race for for Hankey who was by then back in the TF Sport car with his quest being made easier by the then second placed JMW car being awarded a plus 10 second pit stop penalty for a previous pit stop infringement at their final stop. This time some luck going AMR's way!

With just thirty minutes remaining and after having chased Jody Fannin's JMW Ferrari down, Hankey was able to pass the #66 car for second position in the GTE class. Two further, and in quick succession FCY's for yet more stricken LMP3 cars (a class that by then had descended into a bit of a hinderance for the remaining two classes with their constant driver errors) at least accounted for about ten minutes of that time allowing Hankey to take the chequered flag for P2 with a manageable margin to the #66 car.

For TF Sport this was a great result securing three more championship points than their nearest championship rivals (JMW) whilst for Beechdean it was a case of what might have been. Both cars raced for the majority of the race with damage that clearly affected the stability of the car on track and without their front end damage Gunn commented they would have been in a stronger position to race TF Sport for the spoils of the race but ………. thats motor racing for you!

The series now moves onto to Spa Francorchamps for their penultimate round of the season and with all full season GTE entries still having a mathematical chance of lifting the championship there is still everything to race for!

Photo credits - Jacob Ebrey / TF Sport / Beechdean AMR
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