Having started from pole position, Aston Martin Racing led the fiercely competitive GT category at Laguna Seca, Calif., until the first refueling stops. Competing in the third round of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the teamâ€™s #007 Loweâ€™s Vantage GTE had been on course for its best finish to date. However, it quickly became apparent that the time taken to refuel the Vantage GTE at pit stops â€“ as a result of changes to ALMSâ€™ fueling restrictor regulations â€“ would seriously harm the teamâ€™s chances of fighting for victory.
Factory driver Darren Turner (GB) had qualified the V8 machine on pole position, setting a time that was almost half a second clear of his nearest rival. Teammate Stefan MÃ¼cke started the six-hour race behind the wheel of the Vantage GTE, maintaining the advantage for the opening stint of the race until the refueling delays at the first pit stop dropped the car to ninth in class. MÃ¼cke set about fighting back through the field, setting fastest lap times among the GT class and rising back to fourth position over the course of the following hour.
A collision with another competitor, however, elicited a penalty for MÃ¼cke, which he served immediately before pitting to hand over to Turner. The Briton rejoined the fray in 11th position in class before reeling in the 10th-placed car at a rate of three seconds per lap. Having recovered to eighth, Turner made way for Adrian Fernandez (MX), who drove consistently in the final stint to deliver the result and prove the Vantage GTEâ€™s durability over long distances.
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, said: â€œFinishing eighth in class isnâ€™t what we wanted having started from pole position, but itâ€™s clear there is some work required to equalize refueling times of similar cars in the ALMS because these delays cost us the chance to fight for the Vantage GTEâ€™s first win. Itâ€™s a shame because although we didnâ€™t come here to score points, the ALMS is a terrific championship and a race win would have given the whole team a real boost.
â€œNonetheless, we wanted to prove that the car is quick and reliable â€“ as well as to continue our development program â€“ and weâ€™ve absolutely done that this weekend.
â€œThis was our last outing before the 24 Hours of Le Mans and itâ€™s clear we have made great progress in the last six months. The priority was to log a race finish while proving that we can compete with the worldâ€™s fastest GT cars for the entirety of an endurance race. Iâ€™m confident that weâ€™ve achieved that, so the whole team is heading to La Sarthe next month in a very positive frame of mind.â€
â€œOverall, a little disappointed after the pace we had in qualifying,â€ said Fernandez. â€œUnfortunately, Stefan had contact with one of the Ferraris. From what he told me, the Ferrari went wide and he went to the inside and they barely touched. The Ferrari spun and we were given a penalty and lost a lap. We couldnâ€™t recover from that one. We also had a problem with our fueling, not from our side but from the rules side on the size of the refueling nozzle, and we were 12 to 13 seconds slower than anyone. When Stefan pitted, he went from first to ninth.
â€œAt least we had a lot of good practice this week and I think we are ready for Le Mans. This is a tough track, particularly for a GT car, and I was pleased with my pace even though I wasnâ€™t fighting with anybody in the end. I was just trying to stay away from the guys fighting for positions. I am excited for Le Mans. We obviously want to win and, hopefully, everything will go our way.â€
Aston Martin Racing competed at Laguna Seca â€“ having also contested the second ALMS round at Long Beach, California, last month â€“ in support of its FIA World Endurance Championship program in order to gain more competitive experience of its new-for-2012 Vantage GTE. The factory team will field a pair of the Gulf-liveried V8 racers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 16/17 June. After three years in the prototype category, Aston Martin Racing has returned to the production-derived discipline in which it earned it back-to-back victories at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008.
Away from the action on track, Aston Martin was saddened to learn of the death on Thursday of racing legend and former Aston Martin race car driver Carroll Shelby. The 89-year-old ex-driver, team boss and car designer co-piloted the iconic Aston Martin DBR1 sports car to victory in the 1959 Le Mans Grand Prix of Endurance alongside Briton Roy Salvadori.
Aston Martin CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, paid tribute to Shelby: â€œI knew Carroll personally and admired his exceptional abilities as a driver and creator of classic sports cars. He played a huge part in what remains perhaps Aston Martinâ€™s finest hour at Le Mans, and our thoughts go out to his family.â€
As a mark of respect for Shelby, Aston Martinâ€™s Vantage GTE raced at Laguna Seca with a black number square and a black strip across the windscreen.
Works drivers Turner and MÃ¼cke will now switch their attentions to the ADAC Zurich Nurburgring 24 Hours next weekend (19/20 May), where they will compete in V12 Vantage GT3s as part of Aston Martinâ€™s most ambitious campaign at the celebrated race to date.