Fuji, 14th October 2012 – Aston Martin Racing has finished third in the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the Six Hours of Fuji, extending its podium run to five in a row and maintaining its second position overall in the championship standings.
Having arrived in the Far East full of confidence after narrowly missing out on a maiden WEC victory in Bahrain, the team took advantage of a rare pre-race promoter test. During this session, it quickly became apparent that the Fuji Speedway’s track surface would play an influential role in the six-hour race.
The Gulf-liveried Vantage GTE is uniquely light on its tyres and, as a result, performs better on abrasive surfaces, such as that at the Bahrain International Circuit where the #97 car had been so competitive two weeks earlier. On the Fuji Speedway’s smooth Tarmac, however, the tyres struggled to find grip.
Despite this, works driver Stefan Mücke (D) proved that his committed driving style could still extract much of the Vantage GTE’s potential. Following three official pre-race free practice sessions, Mücke surpassed the team’s expectations in qualifying to place the car third on the GTE Pro grid. The team later lost this position when a stewards’ enquiry deemed that the German driver had exceeded track limits on his fastest lap, which resulted in a three-place grid penalty.
On race day, the green flag waved as more than 50,000 spectators watched on. Mücke started strongly, quickly passing the two GTE Am cars that his grid penalty had dropped him behind. Together, he and team-mate Darren Turner (GB) began hunting down the Vantage GTE’s competitors until, on lap 44, Turner closed in on the third place car. Successful in his overtaking attempt, Turner then pulled away and continued to match the pace of the class leaders.
Shortly after the halfway mark, however, the championship-leading LMP1 car lost control at the turn ten hairpin and careered into the side of the #97 Aston Martin. The safety car was deployed as a result and although the Vantage GTE was able to continue, the interruption separated Mücke from his GTE Pro rivals to hinder the team’s charge.
A brave change of tyre strategy by the team – along with a string of slick pit stops and an impressive two and a half hour stint by Turner – saw the Vantage GTE close to within ten seconds of second position and 20 seconds of the class leader. Despite these valiant attempts, the delays caused by the earlier impact could not be overcome and the chequered flag waved with the #97 Aston Martin in third position.
Darren Turner comments: “It’s been an up and down weekend, but it’s taught us a lot about the car and how to get the most out of it on different track surfaces. The crew was fantastic in adapting our strategy and performed some of the best pit stops we have ever seen.
“After the test and practice sessions, third place looked like the best we could get on this track, and that would be with a smooth run, so to still stand on the podium after the incident with the prototype was a fantastic achievement. We’re only one point ahead of the third-placed GTE Pro car in the championship standings now, so that’s going to make for an interesting season finale in Shanghai!”
Stefan Mücke adds: “We’ve learned a lot this weekend and, although it’s been a tough race, we can come away with a lot of positives. We were unfortunate to be involved in the incident with the LMP1 car because I think cost us the battle for second place.
“It was great to see how many fans came out to watch the race. The grandstands were full and the Japanese were so welcoming and enthusiastic. I look forward to racing here again sometime in the future.”
Aston Martin Racing’s Team Principal John Gaw comments: “One of the keys to the pace we have seen in the Vantage GTE this year is how lightly it uses its tyres. We now know it’s not so much the type of circuit, but the type of surface that has influenced our results. Fuji Speedway is smooth with low grip so, in contrast to Bahrain where we were fastest in every session, we were unable to find the pace that we wanted this weekend. We have work to do with Michelin to unlock the performance we want in these smooth, low grip conditions.
“The car was absolutely faultless and both drivers gave everything. Darren was able to eke more life out of the tyres due to his exceptionally smooth driving style, while Stefan did a great job in helping to get the best out of the car in practice. His slightly more aggressive style worked well in qualifying where he delivered a lap that exceeded our expectations.
“However, the stand out job this weekend was by the new crew, which improved pit stop times by five per cent compared to those at Interlagos earlier this year.
Aston Martin Racing is currently second in the WEC GTE Pro Championship with just one round remaining. The final round of the 2012 World Endurance Championship is the Six Hours of Shanghai, which takes place on Sunday 28th October 2012 on the Shanghai International Circuit.