Le Mans, 3 June 2012 – Aston Martin Racing’s two-car 24 Hours of Le Mans campaign was boosted by a strong showing at the official pre-event test session. As many of the entrants descended upon the Circuit de la Sarthe for the only opportunity to test on the 8.5-mile circuit ahead of race week (11/17 June), Aston Martin Racing’s two V8-powered Vantage GTEs performed competitively and reliably.
Following two four-hour sessions on Sunday (3 June) the #97 Vantage GTE of factory drivers Darren Turner (GB), Stefan Mücke (D) and Adrian Fernandez (MX) finished the day fifth fastest in the GTE Pro category having topped the timesheets early in the first session. The #99 Vantage GTE, meanwhile – run in close partnership with long-standing partner team Young Driver AMR – ended the day as the fastest car in the GTE Am class having been driven by the all-Danish driver crew of Allan Simonsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen.
Throughout the test sessions, which were interrupted on occasion by red flag periods and brief rain showers, the Aston Martin Racing engineers and drivers worked through their car set-up programmes to dial the Vantage GTEs into the famous circuit, which is made up of public roads for the most part. Covering a total of 115 laps between them, both the #97 and #99 cars ran without any technical faults.
The team also used the test to familiarise Mücke and Fernandez with the French circuit aboard the #97 Vantage GTE; despite their vast motor racing experience, neither had driven a production-derived GT car at Le Mans prior to the test.
Following a productive day, Turner said: “The test went really well. We haven’t had any reliability issues with the car at all and we’ve run through the programme that we had planned for the day.
“I’m really happy with where the car is at right now, but inevitably there’s still more work to be done. We’re still looking for a slightly stronger race balance for the car, but we know that we’ve got time before the race to find that. We made really good progress today with the set-up and we weren’t dragged down any counter-productive avenues.”
Team-mate Mücke added: “I haven’t driven a GT car at Le Mans before, so today was a good opportunity to learn. I got some clear laps early in the first session to see how a GT car performed around this track, and although it was quite different to a prototype, it was good fun.
“We had a very productive day. We learned a lot about the low-downforce configuration, which is different to the other circuits that we’ve been to before with the Vantage GTE. We weren’t looking much at lap times today because it was more important to get the car working well on this track. In 24 hours it can be hot and cold, wet and dry, so we focused on finding a set-up that is well-rounded for all conditions.”
Preparing for his fourth outing at Le Mans, Fernandez concluded: “We worked on making the car comfortable to drive, because that’s really important over a 24-hour race. The only problem I had is that I didn’t get enough consistent laps in a row. All of my runs were really one-lap runs because of rain, for example, so I just need more time in the car to get into a rhythm. I’m sure that come race weekend, though, I will be on the pace of Darren and Stefan.”
John Gaw, Team Principal at Aston Martin Racing, said: “The main thing is that we didn’t have any technical issues with either of our cars, despite completing 115 laps of this long circuit. We were focused on making the Vantage GTEs easy and safe to drive, but the fundamental pace of both cars has proven to be really strong.
“We weren’t chasing lap times today. We were instead working on set-up and I’m sure there is more speed to come from both cars. I think we’ll see that everyone will go faster in qualifying than they did in the test today, but I know that our engineers and drivers will continue to take steps forward in the days leading up to the race.
“Qualifying isn’t crucial in a 24-hour race, but there’s a lot of prestige associated with pole position so we’ll definitely be pushing hard with both cars.”
The #99 Vantage GTE is sure to be a big draw for the Danish fan contingent come race weekend. Having set the fastest time in the GTE Am class in both sessions, the all-Danish driver line-up of Simonsen, Nygaard and Poulsen – boasting a total of four Le Mans class podiums between them – is on course for a strong race performance.
Competing at Le Mans for the sixth time in his career, Simonsen was motivated by the showing throughout the test: “I’m really pleased to have been fastest in both sessions in the GTE Am class. I was able to go quicker than the pole position time for the class last year, which is promising. Our test programme went really well and the Vantage GTE is now feeling strong; there isn’t one single thing that stands out, it’s just a very good overall package.
“We can feel confident going into race week. I certainly think that we’ll be firmly in the battle for a class podium, if not more.”
Aston Martin Racing is making a return to the GT category at Le Mans for the first time since its back-to-back class victories in 2007 and 2008 with the V12-powered DBR9. The legendary GT1 racer will be back in action at La Sarthe as it participates in the Aston Martin Racing Festival of Le Mans in the hands of three customer teams. A total of 30 Aston Martin competition cars will compete in the exclusive support race, which runs for 45 minutes on the morning of the 24-hour endurance epic.
The 80th anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will get underway with a rolling start at 3pm (CET) on Saturday, 16 June. Keep up to date with Aston Martin’s progress on the official website at www.astonmartin.com/racing, or on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/astonmartinracing and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amr_official.