All eyes now on the 24Hour prize at Le Mans

Monday, June 03, 2019

A gloriously warm June Sunday afternoon yesterday saw another Official Test draw to a close at the circuit de La Sarthe ahead of next weekends final round of the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship and the 87th running of the 24Hours of Le Mans.

An unprecedented sixty two cars spread across the championships four available classes took to the 8.5 mile circuit that is still made up of bespoke race track as well as public highway for yesterdays available eight hours of track time in their one and only chance to ready themselves for the main event that starts just next week.

For some of the drivers that made up the line ups behind the three Aston Martin Racing factory and TF Sport Partner GTE cars entered, things didn't exactly get off to a good start as technical issues grounded their usual 'air taxi' provider (TF Sports Mark Farmer) and his private jet after the conclusion of Saturday night's Blancpain GT Endurance Cup race from the Paul Ricard circuit down in the south of France. That unplanned event left many of them with either an overnight 900km trip by land or a flight later on Sunday morning.

Covering off an eventuality such as this, at least both teams had the remnants of their scheduled driver line up or indeed stand ins in order make full utilisation of the available track time. Whilst the #98 GTE Am car of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy was unaffected by the transfer drama, the two factory GTE Pro cars and the #90 TF Sport GTE Am entry had to see out the opening laps with just Darren Turner, Ross Gunn and Euan Hankey respectively until their cavalry arrived

With the benefit of full live timing again this year we could easily see that much of the mornings four hours worth of track time was spent on 'house keeping' duties - certainly for the two Pro cars - with the bedding in and swapping out of renewable component parts ahead of the race weekend itself.

Issues were quickly delivered to the team however as Marco Sorensen soon found his #95 car coming to a grinding halt through the Porsche Curves with a reported electrical issue after just twenty five laps of running between himself and Darren Turner. That car would be returned to the paddock for repairs but we would not see that car out again until the midst of the afternoon session - still, its better for this to happen now (and the team to learn from it) than in the race itself where that incident would have been an untimely retirement.

AMR factory reserve driver Ross Gunn got his first crack with the new 2019 V8 Vantage GTE around the full Le Mans circuit in person (undoubtedly having already completed hundreds of laps on the simulator) as the team took an insurance policy against any of the other six full time drivers being taken indisposed between now and the race. Gauging from the smiles upon his face he thoroughly enjoyed that opportunity.

As Aston Martin Racing would always report things, this test day was another opportunity to obtain knowledge and experience of running what is still a new race car in its 'first' season of competitive motorsport - albeit a very long first full season. For the three cars that AMR directly support (#95, #97 and #98), this test was another 244 laps or 2074 miles worth of data for the backroom engineers to peruse over looking for those fractions of seconds that could again make all the difference.

Laps times and allegations of 'sand bagging' is always the topic at the test day but looking at the times being posted yesterday to that at the same event in 2018 at at the start of this elongated Super-Season for the FIA WEC that was not the case for AMR.

Bearing in mind the 2018 Le Mans 24Hr Test Day was only the second race event for the two new turbo charged V8 Vantage GTE's their quickest time last year was a 3:57:488 compared to a lap time during the actual race weekend of 3:52:169. The quickest lap time entered during yesterdays test was a 3:54:583 - quicker but not suspiciously fast then slow like many of the others! Laps times for the two GTE Am cars hovered just short of the 4:00:00 margin but with the #98 car again being generally quicker than the #90 Salih Yoluc/Charlie Eastwood/Euan Hankey TF Sport car.

By the close of play early yesterday evening, all four AMR cars sat comfortably in the middle of the range of lap times (slowest to fastest) for both the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes with just under three seconds covering the Pro cars and four seconds covering the Am cars.

With both the Ford and BMW teams now confirmed as exiting the WEC (for the foreseeable future at least) at the throw of the chequered flag next Sunday afternoon, it will be safe to assume that they will be looking to go out on something of a high. Porsche have already secured the GTE Pro titles so that just leaves the honour of being referred to as a Le Mans GTE Pro winner to fight for but in GTE Am, the Championship is still open for at least four cars to vie for!

For many of the AMR crews this weekend coming will not include some days off as most are due to undertake further customer racing duties in either the British GT Championship or ADAC GT Masters.

Roll on next Wednesday and the first track sessions of 87th Le Mans 24

Photo credits - AMR / TF Sport / WEC

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