The Aston Martin Vantage claimed a magnificent FIA World Endurance Championship GTE Am class double-podium finish, as well as another pole position, in one of the most gruelling 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps the series has ever produced, last Saturday.
The pole-sitting TF Sport Vantage GTE, driven by Ben Keating (USA), Henrique Chaves (POR) and works driver Marco Sorensen (DEN) was among the quickest GT cars in wet or dry conditions across the entire event and ultimately staged a recovery of epic proportions to finish a justified second. Just as impressive was the fightback from a drive-through penalty by NorthWest AMR team owner and 2017 World Champion Paul Dalla Lana (CDN), David Pittard (GBR) and works driver Nicki Thiim (DEN) to ensure the Sebring winners finished third and remain on top of the GTE Am class standings.
Aston Martin Racing’s three partner teams; TF Sport, NorthWest AMR and D’station Racing arrived at Spa as the in-form challengers, following a magnificent one-two finish for Vantage at the 1000 miles of Sebring, in March, and their crews were keen to keep the momentum going as the championship returned to Europe.
The weekend began well with Keating qualifying on the GTE-Am pole position for a second-straight WEC event, while Dalla Lana made it an all-Aston Martin front row. It was the 2017 world champion who made the superior start and snatched the lead on the opening lap of the race, but this wasn’t the end of the dual, which initially took place under sunny skies. Keating blasted back to the front with a spectacular ‘round the outside’ move at the daunting downhill Pouhon corner just 10 minutes in. Both cars then remained in the hunt for the top spot during the early stints, as did the D’station entry, driven by Tomonobu Fujii.
Dalla Lana dropped to eighth at the end of the first hour after serving a penalty for contact, and with rain falling heavily shortly afterwards – resulting in a series of incidents for rival cars – the race was stopped twice in quick succession. Many subsequent laps were then spent behind the safety car.
A pitstop just before the first red flag by TF Sport meant that, Pittard in the NorthWest AMR #98 car, and Chaves – now aboard the #33 TF Sport entry – had to push as hard as they dared from the lower reaches of the top 10 in the ever-changing track conditions, where a small error could mean instant elimination.
Both drove flawlessly though perfectly executed team strategies, meaning that with the final stops completed and 50 minutes to go, the fight for victory boiled down to a three-car battle that included two-time world champions Sørensen and Thiim, who both crossed the line within four seconds of the winning Porsche to make it four podium finishes from the opening two races of 2022 for the Vantage GTE.
D’station Racing qualified seventh and ran as high as second during the opening hour thanks to an impressive stint by Tomonobu Fujii (JPN), but the #777 Vantage’s race was ruined after Satoshi Hoshino (JPN) was spun around by a rival at the Bus Stop chicane in wet conditions in the third hour. Hoshino dropped off the lead lap as a result, and the seemingly endless number of safety-car periods and Full-Course Yellows prevented opportunities to recover. He and Charlie Fagg (GBR) produced sterling performances to pull the car up to seventh by the finish.
TF Sport also continued its preparations for the ADAC 24h Nürburgring, which takes place on 28-29 May, with the two three-hour Qualifying races in the Aston Martin Vantage GT3. With all its 24h drivers otherwise engaged, TF Sport called works drivers Charlie Eastwood (IRL) and Valentin Hasse-Clot (FRA) into action. They delivered strong performances on their first run in the Vantage GT3 – including an excellent charge to eighth in the second race – to keep the car in the mix ahead of the big event. Partner teams PROsport Racing and Dörr Motorsport both recorded double victories in their classes with the Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
In the British GT Championship, Newbridge Motorsport clinched its second consecutive overall GT4 class victory, in the Silverstone 500, thanks to excellent drives from Darren Turner and Matt Topham, the reigning British GT4 Pro-Am champions.
Huw Tasker, Head of AMR Partner Racing, said: “Vantage enjoyed an excellent weekend, and we were unlucky not to see a second Aston Martin victory in as many WEC races. But Spa always throws up unexpected variables and our partner teams did very well to manage the chaos in Belgium and secure podium results. TF Sport’s Nürburgring quest remains on track and the Vantage GT3 showed more encouraging form ahead of the 24-hour race later in the month. Finally, we must mention the excellent class wins for Dörr Motorsport and PROsport Racing in the Nürburgring 24h Qualifiers and Newbridge Motorsport’s win at Silverstone. The Vantage GT4 continues to prove it is the class of the field at present and we are very proud of this.”
The FIA WEC now moves on to its centrepiece race; the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France on 11-12 June, while the next action on the Nordschleife is the annual 24-hour race on 28-29 May.
Source. Aston Martin