Battered and bruised - Aston Martin Racing takes Am class win at CoTA

Sunday, September 17, 2017

They say that "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" and that was precisely the case in Austin, Texas yesterday for the start of 6 hours of the Circuit of the America's.

With the timetable for the event having shifted back slightly for 2017, there would no longer be any racing into the (cooler) night as before with the race starting under the full intensity of the midday sun, leaving the teams to deal with the uncomfortable mid thirties ambient and high forties track temperatures.

For the Aston Martin Racing GTE Pro cars, the race would be the first upon Dunlop's revised hard rubber compound and although they didn't perform particularly well in the 'mad dash' qualifying runs of Friday it was hoped that they would come into their own during the much longer racing cycles during the race.

From Qualifying, the #95 GTE Pro car of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen would again be at the head of the field for the team starting from third on the grid behind the #71 AF Corse and #67 Ford. The Valero liveried #97 car of Darren Turner, Jonny Adam and Daniel Serra would start from P6 but importantly ahead of the two Porsche 911's who were also fielding new 'joker' rubber (from Michelin) for the event. Following own from their domineering performance throughout the three Free Practice sessions, the #98 GTE Am car of Paul Dalla-Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda would be starting their part of the grid from pole.

At the outset of the race things were looking rather good for Team AMR with Thiim already having snatched the GTE Pro class lead from the 488 Ferrari on the opening lap and with the #98 maintaining its grid position relative to its class but for Serra in the #97, the car would quickly fall down beyond the two Porsches to circulate only a few hundred metres in front of their AM class car.

Like Mexico, the team had decided to start the race with Paul Dalla-Lana behind the wheel thus allowing him to get one of his stints out of the way in the comparative cooler temperatures of the afternoon. Ten minutes in however, ex AMR GTE Am driver Francesco Castellacci passed the Canadian for position in a clean move at the final corner before he then came under the close attention of the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari. Although later on Dalla-Lana would contest the legality of the move, a slight mistake from him lead to an unavoidable rear impact between the #98 and the #61which left the #98 spinning out onto the track apron before being able to rejoin, fortunately having lost just one position - but there was damage.

Even before Dalla-Lana could catch his breathe from his own inter class battles, three battling LMP2's forced the #98 to take more collision avoiding action, loosing him yet more time on track - it was going to be one of those days at the office for the #98!

Meanwhile, Serra had at least found someone to battle with in the form of the the #66 Ford GT who had again found themselves towards the rear of the field but and just like the whole WEC season so far, the #97 just didn't seem to have anything left under the bonnet to pass the Ford by!

Whilst the #95 continued to frustrate the two AF Corse Ferrari's at the head of the GTE Pro field, Dalla-Lana had to bring his #98 car in for repairs to his rear defuser that was damaged in his earlier incident. Terrific work from the team saw that car in and out of the garage in under a minute and with a full service later would see Mathias Lauda take the car out. After a further quick visit to the pits for minor adjustments a few laps later however would see the #98 car plum last.

Over the next few hours the #95 Pro car of Thiim and Sorensen would continue to struggle to get back into contention with the two Ferrari's who were at times leading the class by nearly thirty seconds, a period during which would also see the two Porsche's come into the equation for the top three positions.

On a more positive note, the #98 was at least progressing itself up through its class to be P2 at the half way point of the race.

By this time all three drivers in the #97 car had been on track. Looking at the timing chart at the time the car wasn't massively slower than its sister car - maybe around a second a lap but that alone, lap after lap easily contributed to its then 60 seconds deficiency to the class leader on track. Was/is the three driver set up in the #97 its continued achilles heel as we can't believe that it has been carrying technical issues for race after race??

As the race entered its final hour the #95 was still the leading AMR is it continued to struggle to maintain its proximity on track to the leading Ferrari's and Porsche's 48 seconds ahead whilst the #97 was still a further one minute behind them but at least the #98 had recovered to retake the lead of the Am Class despite its multiple unscheduled stops as most of the GTE teams prepared themselves for their final - 'splash and dash' stops.

With half an hour remaining the AM Championship leading #77 Dempsey Proton car limped back into the garage with smoke emitting from under the engine compartment - if the #98 could maintain its position on track that result would have huge effect on their championship standings.

Despite a puncture for the class leading Ferrari inside the last ten minutes of the race, the #95 would eventually finish P4 after their long, hard and hot battle on track with the #97 car finishing (importantly for the Team Championship) ahead of the poorly BoP'd Ford GT's and the race penalised #91 Porsche in P5.

The note of the day however goes to the drivers and crew of the #98 GTE Am class who secured their second race win of the season beating its nearest class rival (the #61 Clearwater Ferrari) by nearly 50 seconds. That would be impressive in its own right but to consider that the car was spun around, had two unscheduled stops for car repairs and tinkering in addition to its normal racing woes is simply outstanding.

This result indeed lifts the #98 to the head of the GTE Am Team's Championship, ahead of the #77 Dempsey Proton team by just 4 points as all the teams set their sights of Fuji in a months time.

Well done everyone.

Photo credits - AMR / WEC / Dunlop

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