An Italian delight as the Aston Martins prove their pace in ELMS thriller

Monday, July 08, 2024


The third round of the European Le Mans Series from Imola in Italy yesterday produced one of the best rounds in recent memory as the forty-three cars spread across four available classes battled for position until the very end.

With two Aston Martin Racing Vantage LMGT3 powered crews amongst the eleven strong class, both the #59 Racing Spirit of Leman and #97 Grid Motorsport by TF were never far from the pinnacle of the action thanks to their recent change in Balance of Performance that changed the cars power to weight ratio around the curvy and undulating Italian circuit.

Early indications were good as both the #59 car of Derek DeBoer, Casper Stevenson and Valentin Hasse-Clot and the #97 car of Martin Berry, Lorcan Hanafin and Jonny Adam featured towards the top of the timing screen during the earlier private testing which extended into both Free Practice and Bronze Driver sessions where DeBoer headed the class in the latter.

In Qualifying, both DeBoer and Berry each took a crack at breaking the Iron Dames hold onto the front row position, with the #59 car holding top slot briefly before having to settle for second best with the #97 starting in fifth in the heat of Saturday afternoon.

Another Sunday morning start had seen overnight rain and thankfully cooler and cloudier conditions at the start of the four-hour race with the American DeBoer gaining quick ground over the #85 Iron Dames Porsche to lead the class into the first corner of the opening lap.

That lead was however short lived as a wide line from the Aston Martin allowed the Porsche to easily pass after just ten minutes with the #97 having an early scare with a spinning prototype immediately in front of it which brought out the first (of many) caution periods.

In a change of strategy, the #59 was able to ‘pass’ the #85 car again within pit lane but this game of cat and mouse was turned around again just after the first hour as the #85 passed the #59 literally two seconds before another FCY was enforced. That would see the minimum drive of the bronze rated drivers done with either Stevenson (silver) climbing aboard the #59 or Adam (platinum) aboard the #97 car for the middle stint at least.

Further cautions, interruptions and pit stop strategy had allowed both the #59 and #97 cars to catch the #85 on track to follow each other around the circuit on limiter which was kind of comical to produce a class 1-2-3 all in three car lengths.

With little under an hour to go, all the LMGT3 cars made their final stops with Hasse-Clot and Hanafin aboard their respective cars in a class chase to the flag. Whilst the Porsche elected for no tyres and the #59 offside only, the longevity of their equipment as well as driver skill would answer the ultimate racing question.

Further cautions and two inadvertent contact with the rear of the Porsche from the Frenchman thankfully didn’t take the class leader off track or earn the #59 car any penalties from Race Control but the Porsche was looking capable of retaining the lead despite the pressure being offered from behind.

Into the final ten minutes and the #97 had been caught and passed by the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari dropping the Grid Motorsport by TF Aston down to fourth in class as finally, the #85 crossed the line first by just 0.7 of a second to claim the win with the #59 Spirit of Leman AMR in second.

The #97 would however come under the scrutiny of Race Control after the chequered flag as Hanafin’s off track excursions were judged as exceeding track limits despite his black and white flag warning. For that, the car would get a retrospective 35 second time penalty in lieu of a drive through penalty which would take the car down to P5 within the results.

Championship wise, Imola’s results did the two Aston Martin crews no harm whatsoever as a consecutive podium finish for the #59 crew elevated them up to second in the LMGT3 Drivers Championship table with the #97 crew now up to seventh as the Series looks ahead to its next round at Spa Francorchamps in August.

Photo credits – Team / Series / social media
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