Aston Martin Racing claimed a memorable victory in the GTE Pro class at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. After an entire day of racing, there was practically nothing to separate the #97 Aston Martin Vantage, the #63 Corvette C7.R and the #67 Ford GT in what will go down as one of the most exciting GT finishes in Le Mans history.
Aston Martin arrived at Le Mans with the oldest car in the field by some considerable margin, which debuted in the WEC back in 2012 and can trace its lineage back to the Vantage V8 GT2, which first competed in 2008. In fact, this Le Mans would be the Vantage’s last, with a brand-new car due to be launched for the 2018 season. Unlike last year, the rulemakers appeared to have struck the perfect balance of performance in GTE Pro, with cars from all 5 manufacturers racing at the front for extended periods of time. Even after 18 hours of racing, the top six were still on the same lap, swapping the lead back and forth through the pit stops.
The pair of GTE Pro Aston Martins made a great start to the race from the front row, moving to the front of the field. However, a puncture for Nicki Thiim in the #95 car cost it some valuable time in the pits and left the #97 car of Daniel Serra, Darren Turner and Johnny Adam to take on the mantle. The #97 stayed out of trouble throughout the evening and the early hours, before it began to be challenged by the #63 Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. It would become a battle that would go to the wire.
In the final pit stops, the Corvette changed drivers and tyres while Johnny Adam in the #97 machine stayed on board and only took fuel to cut the gap to second to just a handful of seconds. As the race came to a conclusion, the gap between first and second in class became narrower and narrower – with the #67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell laying in wait to pit up any pieces that might come his way.
With three laps of the race to go, Adam closed in on Jordan Taylor in the Corvette on the run down from Mulsanne Corner to Indianapolis and tried his luck on the inside into Arnage. Despite braking at the latest possible moment, Adam couldn’t make it stick and Taylor kept both his cool and the lead in GTE Pro. However, the Corvette and the Aston made minor side-to-side contact on the exit of the corner that may have resulted in what came next.
As the pair raced down to the Mulsanne Straight on the penultimate lap, it became clear that not all was right with Jordan Taylor’s car. He straight-lined the second chicane and then struggled to get the car turned in to the Porsche Curves. He battled bravely, but on the exit of the Ford Chicane Adam passed the ailing Corvette for the lead – to the delight of the massed ranks of fans, many of whom British.
The Aston Martin Racing team were evidently ecstatic after the first victory for an Aston Martin at Le Mans since 2010 in the venerable Vantage GTE’s last hurrah at the French classic: “I don’t have words to describe the feeling. It was my first time in Le Mans and to start on pole was already amazing, then setting the race lap record and finally wining on the last lap was incredible,” said rookie Daniel Serra. “It’s very difficult to put into words what it means to Aston Martin Racing and all of our partners,” said Aston Martin and it’s heritage has a strong history with this very special race and to deliver a Pro class win with the #97 is a credit to everybody involved whether here at the track or whatever part they play with this race team”.
Recent years at Le Mans haven’t been kind to the British team. On many occasions since 2010 the Astons have looked competitive, before running into difficulties during the race. In 2013, for instance, Frédéric Makowiecki, Bruno Senna and Darren Turner held a two-lap lead on Sunday morning before Makowiecki got out of shape coming out of the second Mulsanne chicane and smashed into the barriers. One year later, power steering failure put paid to an impressive charge by the #97 machine, while in 2015 Fernando Rees crashed out while leading in the #99 car in the early hours.
Source: Aston Martin Racing
Images (c) Aston Martin Racing / WEC-Magazin / Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk