Le Mans, France – Aston Martin Racing’s pair of V8-powered Vantage GTEs will start from second and third on the grid in their respective classes following the last of three qualifying sessions ahead of the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #97 Vantage GTE secured second position in the fiercely competitive GTE Pro category with a time of 3m 55.870s – two seconds quicker than last year’s pole position time – while the #99 car qualified third in the GTE Am class having set a best time of 3m 58.725s around the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.
Factory driver Darren Turner (GB) recorded the #97 machine’s quickest lap on Thursday evening (June 14) during the second of the three sessions. He and teammates Stefan Mücke (D) and Adrian Fernandez (MX) will start the 24-hour race with hopes of securing a class podium for the new-for-2012 Vantage GTE on its Le Mans debut. Danish racer Allan Simonsen piloted the #99 car – which is being run in partnership with Aston Martin Racing’s long-standing partner team Young Driver AMR – to its encouraging grid position during the very first qualifying session. Along with teammates and countrymen Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard, Simonsen will also target the podium in the GTE Am class.
Turner, competing at Le Mans for the tenth time in his career, said: “Our grid position is really good and I’m very pleased for the whole team, but I’m also quite surprised by the pace of the GTE field. I expected the pole position time to be around the three minute 58 second mark following the test session, but three cars – including us – got into the 55s. The pace is a lot quicker than I had anticipated. The car was very good and I know we could have found a bit more time with a traffic-free run, but I’m sure that’s true of everybody.
“We spent much of the last session focusing on race balance and we made a lot of progress. We decided to trim some downforce from the car to give us more speed down the long Mulsanne straight and that seems to have worked well, but we must be mindful that this will have an effect on the car in corners. The pace of the GTE field will be really hot in the race, so it’s encouraging to know that we have the speed in the car to run with the pack.”
Simonsen added: “I’m very happy to be starting the race from third in class, but at the end of the day a 24-hour race isn’t so dependant on where you start. We have good speed in the car and I think we could have gone even quicker in qualifying, but this sets us up for a strong race. We have our sights set on the podium, but I’m confident that we can do even better than that.”
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, was encouraged by the performance of both cars: “Second and third are terrific qualifying results. We knew coming to Le Mans this year that the latest evolution of the Vantage GTE had real potential and these results prove that. It would have been nice to be on pole, but in a 24-hour race these first and second row positions are great places to start. Looking at the sector times I don’t think that we had traffic free laps with either car, so the team can be satisfied with the outcome.
“We achieved what we had set out to with both cars, and in fact chose not to run the #99 Vantage GTE in the final session so as to not take any unnecessary risks. Given the strength of our driver line-ups and the speed of the cars, I think we’re on course for really strong results.
“We spent a lot of time working on longer stints on the tires and given that we’ve had no technical issues with either car all week, we can be really optimistic for the race.”
Aston Martin Racing is competing in the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in line with its return to production-derived motorsport – the discipline that earned the marque back-to-back class victories at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008 – for the 2012 season. The 24 Hours of Le Mans also counts as the third round of the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship, which Aston Martin Racing is contesting in full. The Vantage GTE competition car is based on the Aston Martin V8 Vantage road car, sharing its bonded aluminium structure and basic engine and suspension designs.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway at 3:00 pm CET on Saturday (June 16) with a rolling start. Keep up to date with the 24-hour race on Aston Martin’s official website at www.astonmartin.com/racing, or on its social media platforms at www.twitter.com/amr_official and www.facebook.com/astonmartinracing.