On its debut competitive outing, Aston Martin’s Vantage GTE scored its first class podium in the new FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at the 60th anniversary running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Covering 292 laps and over 1000 miles of the punishing 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway, the Aston Martin Racing machine finished 3rd in the WEC and 10th of the combined WEC and American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GTE Pro competitors.
Factory driver Stefan Mücke had qualified the #97 Vantage GTE in ninth position in its class on Friday with a lap that was 1.5 seconds faster than 2011’s pole time. Team-mate Darren Turner drove the first stint of the race, which got underway at 1030hrs on Saturday morning, and promptly battled his way up the order. After one hour and 20 minutes of intense action, Turner had fought his way into the overall GTE lead to prove the debutante’s potential among the more established GTE racers.
The Aston Martin Racing team and the Vantage GTE performed faultlessly over the first six hours of the race, at which point no fewer than seven GTE cars were on the lead lap. Despite the fierce level of competition in the class, the factory V8-powered Aston Martin was on course to score third in the GTE category and second among the WEC runners.
The only blot on an otherwise immaculate copybook was an incident around the seven hour mark that cost the Aston Martin Racing team 25 minutes. The left-rear wheel of the Vantage GTE broke free, leaving the #97 car stranded until it could be recovered to the paddock. Swift action from the Aston Martin Racing technicians saw the car repaired and back onto the circuit with the team’s hopes of a WEC podium still intact.
Between them, Mücke, Turner and Adrian Fernandez (MX) guided the Vantage GTE into the darkness and towards the chequered flag without any further significant faults or issues, at times close to the team’s qualifying performance in a superb display of the car’s impressive durability. A minor power steering issue in the very closing stages of the race caused the team to exercise caution in the final 15 minutes, but didn’t threaten the podium result.
John Gaw, Team Principal for Aston Martin Racing, praised the team’s performance: “Our objective on the car’s debut was to complete the race competitively and score maximum points for the WEC. Not only did we exceed our expectations on the both the qualifying and race pace of the car, but to record a podium result and score the associated 15 points for the team and drivers in the WEC is a terrific outcome. We plan now to stay at Sebring for an extended endurance test to both continue to develop the car and to push it to its limits at one of the toughest tracks in sportscar racing. We expect to continue to develop the Vantage GTE over the coming months and look forward to our next race at Long Beach next month in the ALMS.”
Turner was encouraged by the result as he looked ahead to the rest of the season: “This result is a great building block for the rest of the season. We hit the first target, which was to finish Sebring, and we did it with a podium result. We had some really good pace in the race and now we have two days of testing here next week to find even more speed and iron out the small issues. The main thing is that the guys did a fantastic job and we showed what the Vantage GTE can do.”
Mücke, meanwhile, was pleased with the car’s performance during the demanding 12 hours: “I’m very happy with how the Vantage GTE performed in the race, it was even better than we could have hoped for. Unfortunately we had the issue with the wheel, which cost us some time, but apart from that the car was really good. It’s quite amazing because we ran the car for the first time earlier this month and now we have completed a 12 hour race and scored a podium. The team did a great job to prepare a new car and I’m sure we’ll have more good results throughout the season.”
Fernandez, making his GT racing debut, was thrilled to exceed his own expectations: “My debut GT race went much better than I expected. The car was more competitive than we thought it would be in the race and I had fun fighting with many cars in our class. To finish the race was very important and my team-mates helped me improve a lot in the car – I was very happy with my pace. The more I drive the Vantage GTE the more comfortable I get in it.”
The Vantage GTE – which bears a close relation to Aston Martin’s road-going Vantage as the two cars share a bonded aluminium structure and fundamental engine and suspension designs – made its competitive debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring as part of Aston Martin Racing’s FIA World Endurance Championship programme in the hotly-contested GTE Pro class. The team’s next outing will come at the second American Le Mans Series round at Long Beach, California, on April 13/14.