Darren Turner is European Le Mans Series GTE Champion! The Aston Martin works driver and his Beechdean AMR team mates, Andrew Howard and Alex MacDowall, needed to win the final round of the season at Estoril in Portugal today in order to claim the title and that is precisely what they did.
The ‘4 Hours of Estoril’ was an action-packed and incident-filled race and the weekend didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts when qualifying produced an eighth place grid position for the #99 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE.
“We ran on old tyres in the wet in free practice and our pace was good so we were feeling quite confident,” said Turner. “We put a new set of tyres on for qualifying and just couldn’t get the rears to come in. It was very frustrating not to be able to put a lap together and it really put us on the back foot.”
Eighth place in qualifying turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Alex MacDowall was behind the wheel for the start and as chaos reigned in front of him he was able to sit back, evaluate it and then blast through the field. He made great progress during the opening stint and when the championship-leading JMW Ferrari hit trouble the Aston Martin took the lead.
The JMW Ferrari needed to finish in seventh place or higher to take the championship title. The Beechdean Aston Martin needed to win and for the Ferrari to fail to finish. The stars were aligned for Beechdean today and as the team pressed on, the Ferrari hit – or was hit by – all kinds of trouble.
“Andrew (Howard) jumped in next and drove his strongest stint of the year,” said Turner. “His pace was great and he maintained a healthy lead throughout his run. I then got in, just as the JMW Ferrari was hit by an LMP3 car, which resulted in the Safety Car coming out.
“The restart was chaos as I was surrounded by LMP2 and LMP3 cars, all having their own battles,” he continued. “Our lead was reduced to zero too so I had Rui Aguas’ Ferrari on my tail for a while. Once I got clear of the traffic I was able to pull away and then I think he was hit by an LMP3 car so I just got my head down to build the buffer up again.”
Turner pitted at the end of his stint, handing the Aston Martin over to MacDowell with a healthy lead. He put in another mighty stint and crossed the line, taking the race win and the championship victory!
“That was an unbelievable result,” said Turner. “When you go into the last race of the season 20 points down, you are focusing on keeping the runner up spot in the championship, as it’s so critical when it comes to the 2017 Le Mans entries. To then take the win is a tremendous result and I’m very happy for Andrew Howard and the whole Beechdean AMR team.
“It was been a pleasure to race with these guys this year, especially when you consider that I started the season filling in for Jonny Adam,” concluded Turner. “The guys did a great job all year to prepare the car, which ran faultlessly throughout. That’s how you win championships. Aston Martin Racing can be very proud of the V8 Vantage GTE.”