Dogged drive earns AMR's Danish crew race win in Mexico

Monday, September 04, 2017

If you were to cast your mind back to this time last year you would be correct in identifying performance similarities between then and now for the Aston Martin Racing squad in the World Endurance Championship.

As with both this season and last, the two GTE Pro entries have up until now had to be contented with picking up the scraps as the faster, newer GTE Pro machinery from Ford, Ferrari and now Porsche as each disappeared into the distance at each of the preceding rounds to Mexico.

Then, and for the first of the 2017 'fly away' races of the 2017 season the fifth (including LM24) consecutive Balance of Performance adjustment made by the FIA this time targeted all the GTE Pro platforms and with the Mexican circuit being at altitude it was that that helped turn the pendulum back towards the V8 Vantage again.

With the Porsche 911's and the Ford GT's seemly struggling for a constant performance window the #95 Nicki Thiim/Marco Sorensen car qualified in second place to the ever so slightly faster #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon - its highest position to date this year with its sister #97 slightly further back in P5.

A clean start from the whole grid yesterday allowed for some early passing and jockeying for position before the 6Hrs of Mexico began to settle into its cyclic rhythm of racing. The #98 GTE Am car of Pedro Lamy was one such early mover, picking off the pole setting #77 Dempsey Proton entry within the first couple of laps.

Whilst Sorensen was content to sit on the rare bumper of the #71 Ferrari for the opening stint, team mate Darren Turner in the #97 would begin the suffer the effects an undiagnosed and continuing brake issue that would quickly see that car in and out of the pit lane and garage and effectively out of the race within the first hour of racing. The car would periodically rejoin the race but would end the up being unclassified from the results despite the best of efforts from the mechanics and engineers.

Just after that first hour, a bold determined move from Sorensen saw the #95 muscle its way past the #71 for the class lead before going onto to establishing a slight lead going into their next round of full service pit stops. Likewise, the #98 Lamy car had established itself a lead of nearly 25 seconds as he eventually swapped over with Mathias Lauda.

A shorter time in pit lane however would re-establish the lead for the #71 car in GTE Pro.

For the next two hours of racing the #95 and #71 cars appeared to be tethered by some elastic as the gap between then closed before it widened before closing again - great GT racing of the highest order from all concerned!

Just before the half way mark and for a reason not quite established yet, the opening stint from Lauda was marginally slow enough each lap to have allowed the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche to have caught and passed the #98 by the time Lauda had himself handed the car to Bronze driver Paul Dalla Lana for his his first stint of the race. Whether or not there was an issue with the car or its Dunlop tyres remains unclear.

Speaking with us at the half way mark, Thiim was confident that the then 7 second deficit to the #71 would be made up through better fuel and tyre management also believing that rain was imminent before the end of the 6 hours.

Dalla Lana was obviously starting to push himself and his car just a little too far as track limit warning and final warnings were issued by Race Control. With the #77 car now over a minute ahead the #98 was becoming in danger of being caught by the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche as well!

With two hours remaining the #51 AF Corse Ferrari was shown limping around the track with apparent gearbox/electrical issues - worrying for the #71 but inspirational for Thiim as he pounded round closing the gap again prior to handing the reigns back to Sorensen. As the two had again pitted on differing laps Sorensen was again able to overtake the #71 for position as he had the benefit of warmer tyres going into the sequence of slower corners after Turn 1.

At the 90 minute mark the most decisive moment (perhaps) of the race occurred as the first Full Course Yellow was thrown by Race Control due to a baseball ball being spotted just off the racing line at Turn 4!! That allowed the #95 to dive back into the pits for another full service with the race under yellows leaving it with just one more planned stop before the chequered flag - the Ferrari however elected to stay out and would might have to pit under green!

At the top of the final hour another brief FCY ultimately allow both the #71 and #95 to make their final stops under yellow but importantly, and in order to retain the lead the #71 did not change tyres unlike the Aston as Rigon and Thiim would duel it out to the end.

Any aspirations of a higher finish evaporated for the #98 at the final hour mark as it was awarded a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane during its last stop - at best it would be P2 despite all of their early efforts for the higher step.

Forty five minutes remained and the AF Corse crew would have been shell shocked to read that a 10 second time penalty would be awarded against its #71 car for failing to reduce its speed quick enough during the last FCY period - as the car didn't need to stop again that penalty time would be added to its race time and with the #95 loitering just three seconds back that meant they had already lost the class lead.

The final 30 minutes were left with everyone having one eye on the sky as dark clouds circum- navigated the circuit, teams were warning their drivers of imminent torrential rain but luckily for all that did not appear during the remainder of the race leaving Thiim to finally taking the flag having tried his utmost to overtake the #71 on track right to the last.

This was a monumental win for not just the crew but also for the team having not been 'allowed' through their allotted technical governance to race the other marques until now. Indeed it was this race last year that catapulted the AMR team up through the GTE pro ranks and allowed the #95 to ultimately claim the class title by the end of the year.

The WEC circus now quickly uproots and moves due North to the Circuit of the Americas in Hurricane Harvey affected Texas for the next round of the WEC where the team hope that the momentum from this very well deserved victory for the #95 and the P2 for the #98 car takes their championship aspirations still further.

Photo credits - WEC / AMR

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