No joy for the three Aston Martins around the bumps of Sebring at the WEC opener

Sunday, March 19, 2023


There was to be no fairy-tale return 1-2 for the Aston Martin Racing powered contingent as the World Endurance Championship reconvened for Season 11 at the Sebring International Raceway on Friday.

With the thirty seven full season strong Hypercar, LMP2 and GTE Am crews already having spent last weekend at the circuit testing as part of the Championship’s Official Prologue, the TF Sport, D’Station Racing and Northwest AMR crews all took an early step forward between those ‘housekeeping’ sessions that were the Prologue Test to that of Qualifying that would place the three AMR Vantage GTE cars in the front to midst of the fourteen strong GTE Am Class come the 1000 Miles of Sebring race.

In between the Prologue and the race week itself, we also heard from the Northwest team that Axcil Jefferies would be their silver grade driver alongside their bronze of Paul Dalla Lana and platinum of Nicki Thiim after the Zimbabwean racer had participated within the Prologue test against Thomas Merril in back-to-back comparative running.

The GTE Am Qualifying times were again set by their respective bronze ranked driver with Ahmad Al Harthy setting a time worthy of a P3 start with their #25 ORT with TF Sport AMR that he shared with Michael Dinan and Charlie Eastwood, with Dalla Lana from eighth and Satoshi Hoshino place his #777 D’Station Racing Vantage just behind in ninth on the grid.

At the start of Fridays race, it would be Dinan who would start the #25 car with Dalla Lana in the #98 and Tomonobu Fujii as usual within the #777 car.

Clean opening laps quickly saw the first safety intervention period as the #83 Ferrari spun into the tyre wall of turn one and rolled – thankfully without injury to the driver but would mean the end of their own race and race time lost behind the Safety Car whilst the circuit workers to make the necessary repairs to the safety fencing.

The first roll of the team’s strategy dice was also rolled at this stage as both most of the GTE grid elected to pit, including the #25 and #98 cars but the #777 stayed out to accept the lead role in class.

Ninety minute into the race however, and suspected side to side contact with the #7 Toyota left Dinan’s race in tatters with a rapidly deflating tyre at the far the far end of the circuit to the WEC pit lane. Pushing just that little bit too hard would see the flailing carcass cause more damage to the #25 which would see them quickly return to pit lane for further works and effectively ruled themselves out of contention in the early stages of an eight-hour race.

With many shorter periods of Full Course Yellow’s being shown, mainly for debris on track and with routine stint lengths taking effect upon the running orders, it would the turn of the #98 to assume the lead role of the Aston Martin’s second in class before Dalla Lana was also forced to pit, handing the #98 over to Jefferies for his first racing taste of the WEC.

The #777 was running a great opening gambit to the race as first Fujii had taken the class lead and Hoshino had held steady before he too handed his car over to the also WEC debuting Casper Stevenson for his first GTE racing laps.

More FCY’s, and this time for the leading Iron Dames Porsche as the #85 car went wide and ripped off their entire undertray and defuser before disaster was to hit the #98 car as contact between Dalla Lana and the #86 car lead to a rear puncture of their own and again, another long drive back to pit lane.

At the halfway stage, the #777 was running strong in third but the #25 were ten two laps down to the class leader and shortly, the #98 would be three laps down to the Corvette – all thanks to their own puncture and resulting issues in the earlier stages.

As the race progressed, the performance of the #777 D’Station also began to drop off – first off, the lead lap as the Corvette passed them just before pitting and also as their tyre options became limited to what was left in stock as we had to wait until just about three-quarter distance before we saw all three Pro drivers back within their cars.

With the shadows around the circuit lengthening as the end to the eight hour of racing approached, the lack of pace and luck showed its hand to the three Aston Martin’s as each struggled to maintain a running position that supported the level of effort so far used by each to eventually take the chequered flag again at the lower end of the finishing order with only the #25 ORT with TF Sport #777 D’Station Racing crews securing the last of the available Championship points on offer.

The Championship will now move back across the Atlantic to its next round at Portimao in just over three weeks’ time.

Photo credits – Teams / D Gibson / A Lofthouse


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