Some of the best GT racing so far in the World Endurance Championship

Monday, August 20, 2018

Despite some very conspicuous differences in performance across the GTE field in the World Endurance Championship to date, yesterdays third round of the 'super-season' from Silverstone produced some of the best inter-class battles in recent times where almost any of the marques and teams could have won.

Previous races at both Spa and Le Mans had seen both Aston Martin Racing and BMW's new for 2018 GTE cars at a serious performance disadvantage to the more established Ferrari's, Porsches and Fords that not only left a sour taste in our mouths but also painted a 'them and us' picture on track.

Thanks to the gap in the timetable between rounds allowing for some significant amounts of backroom development and further understanding into the racing characteristics of their new Vantage (plus a positive BoP adjustment from the championship for Silverstone to boot), Aston Martin Racing's two GTE Pro enjoyed their best pre race performance of the season not only to be one of the quickest during Free Practice but also to Qualify one of these new cars just marginally off pole.

It was clear to see that this early positive lift in the performance of the new car at the meeting in only its third ever event had a monumental effect in both moral and attitude amongst the team and drivers, energy that in turn manifested itself during the race as the normal trials and tribulations of motor racing presented themselves to them.

With track temperature being at its coolest of the season so far and the abrasive rate of the resurfaced track being of concern it was Marco Sorensen (#95) and Alex Lynn (#97) to take the start of something of a chaotic opening lap of the race that allowed both Pro cars to benefit from an error by the pole setting Ford to run for. short while one and two at the the head of the GTE field.

Conversely, the start wouldn't be too much of a good thing for Paul Dalla Lana aboard his #98 GTE Am car as he was struck from behind, loosing its rear defuser going into T2 for the first time as the Spirit of Race Ferrari hadn't noticed a stalling LMP2 ahead. In another competitive class such as GTE Am that could well have been 'curtains' for the team as re-ermeging back onto track after repairs they were already a lap down.

Salih Yoluc meanwhile had managed to evade all the contact and spinning ahead of him to emerge from the carnage second in class - a position that he would hold and take to the leading Porsche for the whole of his first hour stint.

For the next hour the new Vantage cars showed just how much performance gain had been found from within as the more dominant Ferrari's and Porsches struggled to hold onto the tail of either car let alone pass them - the car was stronger and faster coming out of a corner but the others were more nimble through the turns which in turn developed for some great racing. The only times either AMR Pro car was passed by one of its competitors for position was immediately after an LMP car had just passed them leaving the AMR car compromised mid corner after having had to scrub off speed to avoid contact.

Yoluc handed over to Charlie Eastwood who in turn handed back to Yoluc but still the Project one Porsche lay ahead of them in class - sometimes just by a few millimetres and others by a few more seconds buts still the #90 TF Sport crew continued to pile on the pressure onto those ahead.

By the end of one third distance (two hours) the race had settled down into a more predictable pattern with the #95 having a great scrap with the #92 Porsche for fourth - the pace of the two Ford GT's had again too hot for many to handle as both cars scarped into the distance but the next hour would be a game changer for some.

With Thiim just having refuelled for a second stint aboard his #95 Dane Train, first debris and then a spinning LMP1 produced the first Full Course Yellow of the race before debris flying off the #71 Ferrari as a result of driving too fast with a puncture produced a Safety Car to collect the debris from the track. Technical issues for the pole setting Ford would also see them delayed in the pits.

Will many cars already having been investigated for speed offences under the earlier FCY this Safety Car period would later claim its own list offenders.

Coming up to the two thirds distance technical issues for the #95 car with Sorensen aboard sadly saw him having to slow on track in an attempt to reset the software mid flow before having to pit from a very decent P3 position for some further investigation. Loosing over half a dozen laps the team sent Sorensen on his way in the hope that the team had fixed the issue but alas no, the car had to return just a lap later.

The team could have parked the car for the day quite easily as there was no chance of any decent points but they chose to fight their problems within the car together, in public and with the pressures of an active race track as lessons learned this time may just help them out another time. You can only respect them for that!!

It was now down to Lynn and Maxime Martin to fly the AMR flag in the GTE Pro class at their home event.

Over in GTE Am it and with just under two hours to go and another FCY later it was finally time for TF Sport to unleash their new weapon - Jonny Adam who spent the next few laps looking at the rear of the Project One Porsche to decide that he didn't like it and would overtake it with a simple underpass move coming into Luffield for the lead in class.

As the race timer counted down into the final hour of the race it finally occurred to us the the #98 GTE Am car of then Mathias Lauda at the wheel had been stealthily plugging in slightly quicker lap times than the rest to move up to P4 in class by the time they made their final pits stop to hand over to Pedro Lamy for the race to the flag.

For TF Sport that moment in time spelled almost disaster for their race plans as they were awarded a 75 second stop and go penalty for Safety Car violation earlier in the race. Choosing to take that penalty almost immediately Adam brought the car into their pit box for the agonising wait but would also have to come back in again for the final service stop just a lap later.

By the time these penalties and pit stops had been completed everything left the #90 car P2 in class with the #98 car a handful of seconds behind in third - great a double podium in the making for AMR in Am we hoped.

Whilst the #90 would hold position to claim their second - second placed finish of the season yet another passing LMP car would leave the #98 car on a compromised line going into Copse for the very last time, a wide line that was enough for the Project One Porsche to reclaim the final podium position - so unfortunate for a driver line up and team who had worked so hard to recover from their disastrous start.

After some post race penalties the #97 car of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin secured the teams best finished to date with their new GTE in P4 with a race time just off the lead lap of the winning Ferrari. Whereas both Ferrari and Porsche had played another canny race in strategy and reliance upon outside interference, Silverstone had shown the AMR had indeed made significant improvements with their cars puts them back into the mix come the next round of the Championship at Fuji in two months time.

Great work from the TF Sport guys to secure their second podium of the year, commiserations to the crew of the #98 for what was almost a superb recovery drive as well as huge congratulations to all at Aston Martin Racing for all of their work put into the cars since Le Mans.

Silverstone produced a great GTE race in both classes for large amounts of the race time so the BoP isn't that far off. It would be nice to see BMW being allowed into the mix (particularly after seeing their new M8 GTE can win in the IMSA series on the same day as the WEC event) and that were to be so then the remainder of this transitional year will be a season to remember!!

Well done to all at AMR

Photo credits - AMR / WEC / Andrew Lofthouse 

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