Aston Martin Racing second and third in Sebring thriller
The driving team of Pedro Lamy, Stéphane Sarrazin and Jason Bright brought Aston Martin number 009 home in second place, with a total of 337 laps, after a long battle with the class winning number four Corvette. After 12 hours of racing, the gap between the pair was 1min 28sec. The team’s sister car, number 007, driven by Tomas Enge, Darren Turner and Nicolas Kiesa, was involved in another transatlantic tussle with the second American Corvette entry that culminated in a nail biting battle to the chequered flag. Tomas Enge drove a double stint to finish the race third and keep the hard chasing Corvette behind.
The opening round of the 2006 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) started at 1045hrs in dry and sunny conditions. By midday the temperature of the 17-turn concrete circuit had reached 36°C. The Aston Martin Racing cars had qualified in first and second place but the early hot and slippery conditions proved tricky for both cars. With limited experience of their new Pirelli tyres, the team had to work hard and learn fast to keep up with the competition.
Darren Turner drove the first stint in the 007 car and held the GT1 lead for the first 20 laps. “I was happy with the start, we got away well and kept a nice pace for the first ten laps but by about lap 14 we really started to suffer with the rear of the car over-steering and by lap 20 I was more concerned with keeping it on track than keeping the opposition behind me.”
At the half way point, car number 009 led the team’s charge. After making adjustments to the set up of their DBR9, the driving crew of Lamy, Sarrazin and Bright reported improved balance and less of the oversteer that had caused problems earlier. Having completed 165 laps of the 3.7mile circuit, the 009 Aston Martin held third place in GT1, but slipped one lap behind the leader after being caught behind the safety car. DBR9 number 007 was fourth in GT1, but thirteen laps behind the leader after an incident on lap 121 forced a 20 minute repair stop. The car returned to the garage when the bonnet and part of the front wings, previously damaged in a spin, flew off as it negotiated a high speed section of the circuit.
Nine hours in, with 250 laps completed and headlamps blazing in the darkness, the team was second and third in GT1. A reliable and consistent performance from the number 009 DBR9, together with some mechanical problems for the Corvette ahead, helped move the red-nosed Aston Martin of Lamy, Sarrazin and Bright to second in class. After gaining a position in their own Corvette battle, the number 007 car of Enge, Turner and Kiesa was third.
In the closing stages of the race, the drivers of Aston Martin number 009 consolidated their second place, while in the 007 car Tomas Enge was locked in the battle with the number three Corvette. For the last ten laps the pair was separated by less than a second.
Team Principal, George Howard-Chappell: “A good race, particularly later on. I think the whole team worked really well. Things weren’t going well at the beginning but we kept our cool and the guys did fantastic jobs. We worked on the car a fair bit during the race, learned more about the tyres and I’m pleased with the final result.”
Prodrive Chairman, David Richards: “What can I say? Tomas’ final stint was just impeccable. Twenty minutes behind the wheel in those situations - he defied all logic staying out there in front and did a superb job, he really proved his talent. The car hasn’t missed a single beat. The pit stops have been stunning at every turn and the drivers have done a great, great job. We’ve still got a lot more development to do to get the maximum out of this car and these tyres but overall it’s a very positive result.”
Pirelli Motorsport Director, Paul Hembery: “We had two days preparation for this event. I think that to qualify on pole position and set the fastest lap of the race is a great result for Pirelli and the team and is a good building block for future races.”
Jason Bright: “A very big couple of days. It’s been a busy time learning the track and getting used to the car. But a great result to finish second after a pretty intense battle. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with these guys and I really hope I get to do a bit more of it.”
Tomas Enge: “It was pretty hard, a long day with a few problems, especially during the day when it was so hot. We started a bit slower than the others but then, in the night, suddenly we were doing the same times, the end of the race was on our side and we were able to fight for third position. It was great battle. I’m just happy for all the guys; they put so much hard work into it. I’m happy for Pirelli and especially Aston Martin Racing.”
Nicolas Kiesa: “Quite a lot of ups and down today! Things improved as soon as it got dark and I saw a chance for us to finish third. But as I have only two laps of night driving under my belt I said to Darren and Thomas that they’d better do it if we’re going to have any chance and they have both done an unbelievable job! It’s been a very steep learning curve for me this weekend. It’s the first time ever for me in a racing car with a roof and I think I’ve learned as much here as you’re supposed to in six months. But it’s a very good experience and to top it off we finished on the podium.”
Pedro Lamy: “Of course, I’m happy. We knew the Corvettes were a bit faster here, we wanted to win but we made no mistakes and just drove without any problems. It was a good result for the whole team. Everybody did a great job.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “I’m very happy we’re on the podium. We didn’t win but we know there are more improvements to come with the new tyres and we did a good job. The team was very strong; we made no mistakes and finished with a very positive result. At the beginning it was difficult and we had to change the set-up a bit to get a better balance. I’m very pleased with the way the car felt at the end, I think there’s more performance to come.”
Darren Turner: “What a finish! Thomas did a fantastic final two stints and to withstand that pressure for the last half hour was incredible. It was really close and he managed to get us back on the podium. It’s just unfortunate we had a few problems early on in the race. If we hadn’t, then who knows what we could have done. Maybe we could have repeated last year and had a win. But it was good close racing, we ran strongly all the way through, especially when the temperature dropped and the podium is a great way to finish off the day.”