A dominating performance from the three AMR teams at the weather affected WEC Sebring opener

Saturday, March 19, 2022


Once again, the official Prologue test ahead of the opening round of the 2022 World Endurance Championship failed to give us a true insight into what we could have expected at the opening round of season 10 yesterday from the three Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GTE teams.

Having experienced some typical March weather at the Sebring International Raceway earlier in the week during the Prologue test, reports were to expect some more before the end of the eight-hour 1000 miles of Sebring opener.

Having been the man of the moment again during Qualifying, Ben Keating again placed his #33 TF Sport prepared AMR onto the front row of the GTE Am grid (beating some GTE Pro drivers in the process) with the #98 Northwest AMR of Paul Dalla Lana alongside him in second but an incredible 1.36 seconds down in time. Satoshi Hoshino completed the trio placing his #777 D’Station Racing Aston in fifth out of the twelve class runners.

Under clear blue skies and intense Floridian sunshine, the eight hour or 268 lap race kicked off with thankfully a clean start all round with Dalla Lana quickly assuming the class lead from Keating in the opening laps and with Tomonobu Fujii (starting the #777) also doing another one of his sensational starts to elevate their car up to third by the end of the first half hour of racing.

With the Astons now running with a slightly reduced full capacity to that of last year, it wasn’t surprising to see all pit before the hour as each car indicated a clear difference in race strategy to one another as Keating would run another triple stint aboard the #33 car to allow co-drivers Florian Latorre and Marco Sorenson to complete the remainder of the race.

Both the Northwest and D’Station cars meanwhile would cycle through each of their bronze and silver drivers in a mixed format as each gentleman driver needed to complete a minimum drive time 140 minutes. That allowed Championship debuting David Pittard and Charlie Fagg to show their stuff and between them all – they more than did in style.

Only losing track position at the forefront of the class, the #98 Northwest and #33 TF Sport AMRs showed their rivals a clean pair of heels with only the Project 1 and Dempsey Proton Porsches being able to mount any form of challenge as the race went forward. Hoshino meanwhile (one of the oldest drivers on the grid) was also running a smooth and consistent lap time pattern – only losing out on track to the mainly #85 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 to hold onto a top 5/6 position in class.

With air temperatures now hitting the 30-degree mark at the halfway stage, weather warnings for towards the end of the race became more probably as the AMR trio held onto a P1/2/4 position in class. By now we were becoming really surprised by the distinct lack of pace from the Ferrari contingent behind!

Then the first big incident of the race as a tangling Toyota Hypercar first contacted and spun out with a Porsche GTE Am car having first chopped off their bow out of the corner before recovering and then ploughing, head on into the tyre wall as damage to the car lifted the front off the ground and prevented it from steering. Smashing into the tyre wall and rolling, the race was immediately red flagged for safety as rescue crew rushed to the aid of the #7 car’s driver. Fortunately, he was OK but the circuit workers would need over half an hour to repair the damage to the tyre wall.

After the resumption of the race from behind the Safety Car, we saw former WEC GTE Pro Champion Nicki Thiim climb aboard the #98 Northwest car for his first racing laps in the GTE Am class as he soon eked out a 28 second lead as Latorre battled again with in Inception Racing Porsche for position in P2.

Just after Hoshino pitted for the final time having served his minimum, a Full Course Yellow came out for debris on track with just under two hours (of a now timed – not distance measured race). Marco Sorenson then got his chance to debut in the #33 car having taken over from Latorre and it wasn’t too long before he had closed the gap and passed to recover the cars long time P2 position in class behind Thiim.

Seventy minutes to go and another red flag – not for any incident this time but for weather inbound over the circuit as by law and not by Regulation, the race had to stop to allow all to seek cover as the dark clouds rumbled in. With 44 minutes to go, the race did restart again behind the Safety Car before it was soon stopped again with another red flag for the same reason.

With just twelve minutes of the race clock remaining the result was called by Race Control.

A class win for the #98 Northwest AMR of Paul Dalla Lana, David Pittard and Nicki Thiim with the #33 TF Sport of Ben Keating, Florian Latorre and Marco Sorenson in second. The #777 D’Station Racing AMR of Satoshi Hoshino, Tomonobu Fujii and Charlie Fagg in sixth.

What was more remarkable was that these results were mainly achieved via the laps put in by their respective Bronze and Silver ranked drivers with none of the Pro drivers getting in much more than an hour aboard their cars before the race ending red flag.

Next stop for the Championship – Spa Francorchamps in early May.

Photo credits – Adrenal Media / Teams
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