AMR run out of luck at WEC Portimao 8Hr after early promises

Sunday, June 13, 2021

A new circuit and longer than usual race duration was what faced the thirty-two car grid of today’s second round of the World Endurance Championship from the Autodromo do Algarve in Portimao this weekend as the three Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GTE’s looked to improve upon their performances of Spa’s opening round.

Upon a weekend that should have been the original June date for the annual pilgrimage to the Circuit de La Sarthe, this and the next round at Monza is all that stands between the full season entries and the Le Mans 24Hr, an event that will now take place towards the end of August.

For this second round of the FIA WEC’s Season 9, only eight hours of racing would separate cars on the grid to an enhanced points haul of 1.5 times normal levels, so all was to race for.

Disappointing in Qualifying compared to the super-fast looking Porsche’s and Ferrari’s in GTE Am, the best performing Aston was the #98 Northwest AMR of Paul Dalla Lana, Marco Gomes and Augusto Farfus who would be starting Sunday’s race from P8 in class, closely followed by the TF Sport supported D’Station Racing entry of Satoshi Hoshino, Tomonobu Fujii and Andrew Watson in P9. 

The #33 TF Sport car of Ben Keating, Dylan Pereira and Felipe Fraga meanwhile was uncharacteristically lower down the order than expected in P11 after their fastest lap in Qualifying was deleted for track limits. They would also be racing in their brand-new AMR Vantage GTE after Keating destroyed their original chassis in a crash during the Prologue at Spa.

Come the start of the race, emphasis from all the teams on the grid was clearly about tyre preservation with the recently resurfaced track ‘eating’ through cars left hand side tyres during the three Free Practice sessions and with Qualifying times slower than their Free Practice times, there was a game being played.

Straight from the green flag, Fujii was off in his #777 car and had soon progressed to take the class lead inside the opening ten minutes – much like he did at his WEC audition at Spa at the beginning of May. Gomes would follow the Japanese driver as much as he could but Keating would never be able to progress much higher than P7 during his opening double stint.

Soon it became clear that all three Astons were running differing Goodyear tyre compounds to that of their mid and rear engine rivals and that helped at least helped the two leading Astons to look after them as other drivers complained of their tyres being destroyed within the opening stint.

Trouble first hit Aston Martins as early as the first half hour mark as a series of lock ups for the #777 car eventually led to a puncture with the necessary repairs and refuelling dropping him back down to P12. Next was Keating who earned himself an additional ten seconds at their next scheduled stop after tipping the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche’s into a spin at the hairpin. Incredibly and despite his puncture, Fujii later emerged back up to P2 in class as the other class runners pitted for their first stops before disaster later struck them at the end of the second hour.

Through no fault of his own, D’Station Racing team boss Satoshi Hoshino now aboard the #777 and #77 Porsche both got collected by the Glickenhaus as that car misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre around them, impacting damage what would later become terminal to both GTE Am cars. Losing over half an hour in the garage to effect radiator repairs, Hoshino would later retire the car by the side of the track as engine temperatures soared on his out-lap!

The #98 Northwest car had meanwhile cycled through all three of their drivers for Farfus to hold a then P3 position - but still could the #33 car not move forward in class despite Pereira now being at the wheel. Strange!!

A podium was looking distinctly possible now for the #98 car with over five hours now in the bag – running anywhere between P1 and P3 depending upon who pitted when. That was to unfortunately change as a Safety Car was called for a stranded LMP2 car just after the #98 car had pitted under green – meaning that all their rivals could later pit under yellow, saving themselves heaps of time in the process.

Circulating in P4 after the Safety Car, the damage had already been done as the #98 fell off the lead lap in class. With just an hour still to go, it was a case of self-preservation to maintain that position and claim as many championship points as possible.

At the end of a gruelling eight-hour sprint, the #98 did secure its P4 position whilst the #33 car would eventually come home in P8 and two laps down to the class winning Ferrari.

Incredibly unlucky and disappointing for the #777 D’Station racing crew after their untimely elimination and unlucky for the #98 for just not making it far enough to claim a justifiable podium position. For the #33 crew, sure there will be something of a review to see just what happened with their brand-new car at a track that their stable mates showed that they could easily race at.

The proof from that will come at the next round of the WEC from Monza in a month’3s time.

Photo credits – WEC / Teams

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