Darren Turner took his first pole position in the European Le Mans Series on Saturday, showing a stunning turn of pace in the #99 Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Along with his Beechdean AMR team mates, Andrew Howard and Alex MacDowall, Turner then converted pole position into a podium finish, taking third place in Sunday’s ‘4 Hours of Le Castellet’ at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the South of France.
This result means that the #99 Aston Martin retains second place in the LM GTE driver’s and team’s championship, with just two races remaining.
“I was really pleased with qualifying and it was good to get my first European Le Mans Series pole position,” said Turner. “The car was absolutely perfect; so well balanced that I had the confidence to push hard and get a few good laps in.”
Andrew Howard was behind the wheel of the Aston Martin for the start of the race. Howard is the Bronze-classified driver on the #99 squad and on Sunday he had a few silver-rated drivers around him so he had a lot to do during the rather busy start that saw a lot of cars tripping over each other. He finished lap one in fifth place, down a few positions but most importantly, unscathed.
“The team ran Andrew long, as planned,” said Turner. “He did a great job to survive the start in one piece and then got his head down and got quicker and quicker through his run. He did exactly what we needed him to do and by the time the first pit stops came along we weren’t far off the lead.”
MacDowall was up next and he had a good run, gaining positions as the race ebbed and flowed as different categories of drivers took to the track. During this stint one of the Aston Martin’s bonnet catches worked loose so the bonnet was lifting slightly each time MacDowall powered down the long straight. When he pitted to hand the car over to Turner the team had its first chance to assess the problem and get it fixed.
Unfortunately a handful of extra seconds was all it took for the Aston Martin to then get blocked in by an LMP3 car in the pit lane, delaying the stop further before Turner could get on his way.
“I enjoyed my stint and I was happy with the times I could put in,” said Turner. “Obviously you have the new tyres under you at the start but I had to keep an eye on Rory Butcher in the Ferrari towards the end of my stint as he was on fresh rubber and on the attack.”
Turner kept Butcher at bay until he pitted to hand over to MacDowall for the run to the flag.
“I think all in all we lost around 15 seconds with that long pit stop,” said Turner. “That was probably the moment that cost us second place for sure and maybe even a win. The top three were within 20 seconds after four hours of racing. That’s how close the championship is.
“It’s still very close with two races to go. We need to up our game and be as strong as we were this weekend for the last two events. Maximum attack for maximum points is what we need to focus on.”
The next round of the European Le Mans Series will be held at Spa in Belgium on 25 September.