Grange Ambassador, Darren Turner, enjoyed the perfect start to his Japanese GT racing career with an emphatic victory on his debut in the Super Taikyu series at Suzuka on Sunday.
The Aston Martin Racing works driver, competing with D’station Racing alongside team owner Satoshi Hoshino and Japanese driver Tsubasa Kondo, also delivered the first win for the British marque’s new Vantage GT3 customer race car in only its third competitive event.
“Someone was always going to do it at some stage, but it’s nice to have the honour,” said Turner. “The car has competed in a couple of races now, but this was its first race in championship conditions and it performed perfectly.”
Turner has played a major role in the development of the Vantage GT3 from its inception, and has participated in all three of its races so far: “We did VLN8 at the Nürburgring Nordschleife with the car last year, and then three of them competed in the Abu Dhabi 12 Hours in December.
“But this is the first time it has raced since its final homologation, so to start its 2019 programme with a win is a fantastic feeling.”
Amazingly Turner, despite his vast experience, had never raced at the legendary Suzuka Grand Prix circuit prior to last weekend, and admitted the track had been on his bucket list.
“I love racing in Japan, but getting the chance to race at Suzuka – a circuit that for one reason or another had always evaded me – was just fantastic,” explained Turner. “And the track was every bit as special as I had hoped it would be.”
Turner was delighted to find his groove quickly in the beautifully-presented #777 machine, which duly qualified on the front row of the grid, thanks to the combined efforts of Kondo and the Briton.
Kondo started the 5 Hour race for D’Station Racing and ran second until a full course yellow near the end of his first run prompted him to pit early and hand over to Hoshino – the team’s amateur driver – who then delivered an excellent stint. Having kept the Vantage GT3 in contention at the front, Hoshino gave the car back to Kondo in third position. The Japanese driver pressed on, and as he did so, the team’s two key rivals both suffered separate contact with back-markers at Spoon Curve during the third hour, meaning that Turner began his double-stint in the lead of the race.
Out in front and with fresh Pirelli tyres, Turner’s task was simple but crucial; build a gap to his rivals – which he did with consummate consistency. And having stopped mid-stint for a fresh set of rubber, Turner brought the car home to the finish nearly two minutes clear of the second-placed car.
“I had a good feeling the whole weekend,” he said, “and then to top it off with the win, and the first for the Vantage GT3; you can’t really ask for better than that. Both Kondo-san and Mr Hoshino did excellent jobs, and they made my role relatively straightforward.
“It was a real pleasure to race with them both.”
“The team has made me feel incredibly welcome,” added Turner. “Obviously there was a bit of a language barrier, but from the minute I got off the plane the team have done absolutely everything to look after me this week.
“They are a great team with a high level of preparation and I’m looking forward to racing with them again next month.”
Turner is scheduled to race with D’Station Racing in the second round of the Super Taikyu series at Sugo, on April 28.