It was great to lead the Shanghai 6 Hours round of the FIA World Endurance Championship with Aston Martin Racing, and we were really encouraged by our performance over the whole weekend. Unfortunately, Maxime Martin and I were denied a podium for our #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE at the last gasp, but we go into the winter extremely positive about our pace.
The weather was bad all weekend in China. And to be fair, just like we saw last time out at Fuji, when the weather turns sour our car really comes alive. The two free practice sessions on Friday were both in the rain, and we felt confident from the start that we were going to be competitive. We were really positive after finishing both sessions third in the GTE class.
We knew conditions were going to be bad on Sunday, so we wanted to get as good a qualifying position on Saturday as possible to make sure we were out of range of any possible incidents. Saturday was dry, and in the morning free practice session we were just trying stuff on the #97 car, without going for a qualifying simulation like the sister #95 car did. Maxime and I were just trying to run through our programme.
Qualifying was really strong for us and we put a good result together to qualify third in class. Qualifying has always been a good asset for our car, so it didn’t surprise us that we were high up the grid. But even so, we had our eye on Sunday for the whole weekend.
Maxime took the start of the race, when we had quite a few red flags because of the terrible conditions, so we weren’t even sure if the race was going to get going. It was all about keeping our nerve. We wanted to stay as far up the front as possible, because the forecast said it was only going to get worse. So we ran a strategy of maximum mileage every stint, so that we’d stay out longer and potentially have one pitstop fewer than the rest should the race be stopped.
After what was effectively a double-stint for Maxime, I got in to do the same. We were the first to switch on to the intermediate tyre as the conditions improved a bit. One benefit of Maxime doing a maximum stint was that when he pitted it was exactly the right time to cross over onto the intermediates, and he called it perfectly. We started taking massive amounts of time out of our rivals and that allowed me to lead for a fair chunk of the race. It was a shame the safety car came, because that allowed everyone a free pit stop and put paid to our strategy.
Maxime got in for the run to the flag. The characteristics of Shanghai are that whether you’re on slicks or full wets, tyre degradation is high because it’s such an abrasive circuit. Those 10 to 15 laps by which we offset our strategy meant that we just didn’t have enough tyre. It was cold, almost pitch dark, and Maxime was virtually on slicks by the end such was their wear rate. It was always going to be a tough ask, and he lost second place to one Porsche, and then third to the other on the penultimate lap.
So we finished fourth, but I’m really happy for the team that we got the win with the other car of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, who were on a different strategy. One of our cars was going to end up winning whatever happened – we had the two fastest cars in the race, and that was really positive and important to come away having maximised our potential. The whole crew was really buoyed by that.
It’s been a nice year with Aston Martin Racing, and to finish with them getting a win is great. I’m really proud to be part of the whole process, and I’m sure we’re not far off the first top result for the #97 car – but we’ll have to wait until the Sebring 12 Hours in March!
Souce. Alex Lynn