In a dominant display of fuel economy, pit work and driver talent, Aston Martin Racing claimed the spoils of victory. Darren Turner, Frederic Makowiecki and Stefan Mucke powered to the chequered flag in the three-hour Blancpain Endurance Series race at Silverstone this weekend. With Le Mans regular Turner on the top step of the podium, he set a new precedent for the championship, being the first Englishman to take a Blancpain Endurance Series win – with the added bonus of being on home soil.
Whilst the No.97 Vantage had started the race from the front row, when the green flag dropped on the rolling start, Turner’s role at the front had changed to that of chaser. Lucas Ordonez in the Pro-Am GT Academy Nissan made a perfect getaway to move into the lead around the outside of Copse. As the Aston Martin and Nismo broke away from the remaining field, they played out a two-car tussle that saw them stay within one-second of each other, until the middle of their stints. Then as the duo dealt with the first raft of lapped traffic, Turner pounced to snatch the lead back. Confronted by a Gulf Racing McLaren, Ordonez elected to move to the right, whilst Turner jinked to the left, as the pair drove past either side of the distinct blue and orange livered MP4-12C. Although it put Turner on the outside for the next corner, he was able to carry the momentum through to move to the front as they approached the Aintree turn.
“Today, it was the first time we would do a full stint on a tank so we wanted to make sure it lasted.” Turner explained post race. “It was hard to keep up with Lucas for the first ten laps because he was very fast. Then we started to get through the traffic but sometimes it was in his favour and sometimes in mine.”
With the Nissan GTR dispatched, Turner set about carving out a lead, and as the race time reached one-hour, he’d created a gap of eight-seconds over Ordonez. At this point, pit-lane started to get busy, as teams from all classes started to bring their cars in for fuel, tyres and driver changes. However, showing an impressive amount of fuel economy, Turner stayed out to build on the Aston Martin Racing’s lead until one-hour and 10 minutes of the race was complete; making it one of the last cars to stop.
Building on Turner’s high paced first stint, Makowiecki rejoined the 3.6 mile Arena circuit with a margin of 15 seconds, this time over the No.13 Belgian Audi Club R8 of Christopher Mies, Frank Stippler and Edward Sandstrom . Whilst Makowiecki worked on extending the advantage at the front, the second placed Audi was challenged by the No.1 sister car of Stephane Ortelli, Laurens Vanthoor and Rene Rast . After tussling nose to tail for a handful of laps, Vanthoor was able to make the pass into second with just over half of the race complete. This allowed the Aston Margin Vantage to further extend it’s lead and by the time Makowiecki had headed to the pits to hand over to Stefan Mucke for the final stint, the margin was 23 seconds with 47 minutes remaining.
Continuing the unrelenting pace at the front, Mucke took what as a 17 second lead as he left the pits and stretched it out over the ensuing laps. With Sandstrom in the Belgian Club Audi 20 seconds behind, Mucke took a risk free approach to the closing stages to manage the margin until the finish line – where he collected the flag for Aston Martin’s debut win in the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series.
Behind him, Rast in the R8 Ultra LMS had broke free of the sister car being piloted by Mies, by 27 seconds. Unabated by lapped traffic, he brought the No.1 car home to the finish, 35 seconds clear of Mies, making it a double podium finish for the Belgian Audi Club Team.
In the battle for fourth place, the result would not be decided until a dramatic final lap showdown. Whilst the No.44 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Zampieri had held the place in the closing minutes of the race, a late charge by the Nicky Catsburg of Marc VDS, saw the pair nose to tail for the final few minutes. Whilst the duo played out a duel for the position, Steven Kane in the RJN Nissan GTR was catching them, to set up a three-way fight for fourth. Despite valiant defence from Zampieri, Dutchman Catsburg was able to get his way past in the final corners of the lap. But just when the BMW Z4 looked set to seal the placing, Kane sneaked past the pair of them to dive into fourth around the penultimate turn. “It was so close and I could see the two in front were really going for it.” Kane said in a press release. “Then they touched going into Brooklands and saw a chance to get past, so I took it! It was great to be in a position to do that – it was a massive step forward from Monza, and much more where we should be.”
In the Pro-AM class, Peter Pyzera added to Ordonez’s great start before handing over to Alex Buncombe for the final stint, who cruised the GT Academy Team Nissan to the line with a gap of one-lap in his pocket. Whilst several teams behind them were penalised with drive through penalties for exceeding the track limits, the Nismo GTR put on an accomplished display and steered clear of the race officials wrath to hand the trio of two Playstation game graduates and racing professional Buncombe their first class win of the 2013 season.
One team falling foul of the track limit rules was the Barwell Aston Martin of British GT Regulars, Mark Poole, Joe Osborne and Richard Abra. At the end of the first stint, Poole safely brought the No.180 Vantage to pit-lane to hand over to Osborne. As the former FIA GT4 Champion laid down some blistering laps, he was called back to the pits to server a drive through penalty. This sent them down the order, and set-up a storming comeback for both Osborne and Abra to claw their way back up the field. It wasn’t until less than 30 minutes to go that their second place finish was sealed, when Britcar winner Abra passed the Grasser Racing car of Gottfried Grasser to move into the runners-up spot.
The eventual Pro-Am third placed TDS Racing BMW of Henry Hassid and Ludovic Badey also had to muster a comeback of epic proportions, after collecting a puncture during the early stages of the race. The Z4 had been running in the top-five in class during the opening salvo of laps, but their unscheduled stop sent them to the back of the pack. It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes of the three-hour race that Badey was able to work his way past the Grasser Racing Lamborghini LP560 to take the podium spot and put the TDS trio at the top of the Championship standings.
A season’s best drive by Ahmad Al Harthy and Slovakian team mate Miro Konopka in the ARC Bratislava Porsche secured the pair their first ever Blancpain Endurance Series win in the Gentlemen Trophy class. It didn’t come without it’s dramas though. With just 20 minutes of the race remaining, and Al Harthy running in his second stint of the race, the Oman-based driver was confronted by a bunch of slow cars at Woodcote corner. Carrying top speed and with little options on where to go, Al Harthy dived to the left, took to the grass and ‘rally-crossed’ his way out of trouble.”The race was fantastic despite a real scare at Woodcote when I was on the grass and heading for the barrier in the late stages. But we got there and it is a fantastic result for the whole team.” The British GT and former Carrera Cup racer shared at the end of the race.
The French trio of Maurice Ricci, Gabriel Balthazard and Jerome Policand in the #10 SOFREV ASP Ferrari 458 Italia secured second place on the podium in a late dash to the finish. The Aston Martin of John Gaw and Phil Dryburgh had been set to take the runners-up spot, but with just a few minutes of the race remaining, Pollicand steered his way past the Vantage to beat the PGF-Kinfaun car to the line by a second.