A painful one for the Aston Martin WEC runners to forget at Monza

Sunday, July 10, 2022


This weekend’s fourth round of the World Endurance Championship from Monza, Italy was always going to be a tough affair for the Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE runners after their previous successes at both Spa and (most recently) at the Le Mans 24 saw both the #33 TF Sport #98 Northwest AMR cars saddled with additional ballast.

Concerns regarding their overall performances were however almost dismissed after Qualifying when the #33’s Ben Keating so nearly claimed another GTE Am Class pole position, only to be beaten by a WEC record breaking Sarah Bovy in claiming the Championship’s first female pole position in her #85 Iron Dames Ferrari.

Qualifying pace over four to five laps was one thing, but six hours of racing was always going to be another – especially with that amount of success ballast already loaded aboard the cars for what was forecasted as being an extremely hot race so tyre/driver management and pit stop strategies would again be key for all concerned.

Getting underway at midday local time, the air temperature was already 29 degrees with a track temperature of forty seven degrees and climbing as Keating held track position relative to the #85 Iron Dames during the opening laps with the D’Station Racing’s Tomonobu Fujii having already started one of his now infamous WEC early charges through the pack from his P9 starting position in his #777 car to be ahead of the #98 Northwest car of Paul Dalla Lana before the first ten minutes had even elapsed.

Early issues soon came for the #98 came for Dalla Lana however as having dropped places so casually at the start, his need to recover led him to make contact with the #54 Ferrari after a distant lunge up the inside going into the Parabolica. That contact would spin the Ferrari but also earned the #98 their first unscheduled visit through the pit lane.

After a FCY yellow for that and a subsequent one for a ailing Hypercar, Keating assumed the lead of the Am class after the #85 car pitted early for fuel, whilst the #777 did another of their early driver changes to Satoshi Hoshino. However, whilst the undertook that manoeuvre, their speeding in the pit lane earned them a driver through penalty at just about the same time as the #98 car served theirs!!

Having completed a thirty-two-lap opening stint without any significant detriment in tyre performance, Keating went again for his usual double stint opener, managing his lead over the #85 car to a comfortable margin despite the increase in track temperature to 52 degrees.

After ninety minutes of running the #777 hit further trouble as contact from behind damaged their defuser whilst Hoshino also had (what turned out to be) a throttle pedal issue. Eventually managing to get back to pit lane, repairs would cost the crew a six-lap deficit by the time Hoshino re-emerged onto track.

Another FCY for another stranded Ferrari in the gravel came just after the two-hour mark as Keating finally passed control of the #33 car to Henrique Chaves for their middle stint of the race – emerging still in the lead as the #85 Ferrari did likewise.

The #777 D’Station Racing unfortunate trait of circuit discipline did sadly come back to haunt them again as they would also get another Drive through penalty for each offence of not respecting the FCY procedure and later, overtaking off the limits of the track and gaining an advantage, and another for track limits. These and their earlier technical issues meant that their Monza was already run.

Problems also came to the #33 soon after as Keating’s entry into pit lane was measured to be 20kph over the maximum speed of 60kph!! Whilst that transgression would have only gained them a drive through penalty, the magnitude of the breach earned Chaves a fifty second stop and hold.

Taking their punishment like a professional team that they are, Chaves was soon back out on track but had already lost the class lead to the #85 car. The next we saw of the #33 car was it pitching over the sausage kerbs at the entry to the Variante Della Roggia - flying through the air, onto its roof and then barrel roll into the barrier into a crumped heap with obvious concern to the welfare of Chaves.

An immediate Safety Car was called as Chaves was next seen standing next to his car with the body language which implied a “WTF” type of question but at least he was otherwise OK (something that was later substantiated by both the team and FIA WEC). That was also their race done though!

With another half an hour of racing being lost to that incident it was back to green running with still three hours remaining.

Dalla Lana was back aboard the #98 car to complete his minimum drive time and Charlie Fagg was out for the first time in the race in the #777 but again, the Canadian didn’t look comfortable in his car as as he again dropped positions until his ‘pain’ was removed as David Pittard stepped aboard.

Two hours remaining and Pittard had brought the #98 back up to P6 as he prepared to hand over to Nicki Thiim for the run to the flag as two touching Hypercars along the main straight brought out a fourth FCY.

Sadly, with the #777 tripping themselves up again despite early promise, the #98 Northwest car was also never in any position to push for any predominant finishing position as the Dane did what he could to come home a distant seventh by the end of the six hours. The #777 would ultimately finish in tenth for their troubles.

With the next round of the Championship in Japan in early September, the cars need to be packed and freighted off after this weekend. With the condition of the #33 now questionable, we understand that TF Sport has brought into play a Plan B for that car (which will probably be another chassis shipped to Japan directly from the UK).

With other shenanigans in the race at times reaching boiling point between some, we think that some of the class results from today’s race will remain provisional for the time being with the #77 Porsche certainly having narrowed the gap to the #33 crew after their class win today.

Photo credits – Andrew Lofthouse / Drew Gibson / Focuspackmedia / Nick Dungan
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