Having led its class in the early stages of the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Aston Martin Racing was forced to retire its Vantage GTE due to gearbox issues. The V8-powered racer proved its winning potential during the opening laps of the second FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) round by leading the GTE Pro category, but the team will now switch its focus to the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) qualifier at Laguna Seca, California, next weekend.
Factory driver Stefan MÃ¼cke (D) had qualified the #97 Vantage GTE in third position in class on Friday to set the team on course for a second consecutive WEC podium result. Beneath dark clouds and on a wet circuit, Darren Turner (GB) guided the Gulf-liveried car through the spray and quickly snatched the class lead on the opening lap of the race.
The car led the GTE field for the early laps, proving its class-leading pace on just its third competitive outing. Turner, however, began reporting gear selection issues, which ultimately proved to be terminal. With mid-race gearbox changes not permitted within the WEC regulations, the team was forced to withdraw the car.
Despite the retirement, Turner was encouraged by those early laps: â€œThe performance in qualifying showed that the pace of the car is very good and the first few laps of the race reinforced that. I was able to pull away from our GTE rivals, so I think we could have been in contention for the Vantage GTEâ€™s first win. The performance is definitely going in the right direction; we just have to get on top of the gearbox issues, which the team is working hard to do.
â€œLaguna Seca is a great circuit and hopefully we can get another good race beneath our belt. The target is to finish the race in a strong position â€“ without any issues â€“ to help our preparation for Le Mans.â€
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, added: â€œItâ€™s disappointing to have been forced to retire from the race because we were on course to fight for the victory. We qualified well and the pace of the Vantage GTE was strong, so we took the decision to fit a new gearbox ahead of the race to give us the best chance of winning. Unfortunately, a component within the new gearbox failed and we werenâ€™t able to continue.
â€œDarren did a superb job in very tricky conditions during the opening laps and we can be encouraged by the pace that we showed during that period. Weâ€™ll now continue our preparations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans as we ready the car for its next outing at Laguna Seca this weekend where, again, weâ€™ll be targeting a podium result in the GT class.â€
MÃ¼cke, Turner and Adrian Fernandez (MX) will travel to Laguna Seca to tackle the six-hour endurance race as the team continues to develop the Vantage GTE. The highly competitive series will give Aston Martin Racing an ideal benchmark by which to measure the carâ€™s performance level. Qualifying for the third ALMS round of 2012 starts at 5:00 pm PT on Friday, May 11, with the race starting at 1:30 pm PT the following day.
Aston Martin Racing is competing in the new-for-2012 FIA World Endurance Championship as it returns to the production-derived motorsport discipline that earnt the marque back-to-back Le Mans victories in 2007 and 2008. In addition, the team competed in the second ALMS round at Long Beach in April â€“ and will race at Laguna Seca next weekend â€“ to accelerate the development of the Vantage GTE ahead of a two-car campaign at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Follow Aston Martin Racingâ€™s progress at Laguna Seca on its official website at www.astonmartin.com/racing, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/astonmartinracing and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amr_official.