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The ongoing development of Aston Martin Racing’s new V8-powered Vantage GTE took another significant step forward at Long Beach, California, over the weekend as the team scored a fine fifth in class at the second round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series (ALMS). A faultless and competitive performance from the Aston Martin Vantage-based racer – on just its second race outing – and factory drivers Darren Turner (GBR) and Adrian Fernandez (MX) saw the team narrowly miss out on an overall top-ten finish in the heavily manufacturer-backed series.
The two-hour street-circuit race was run under sunny skies, quite in contrast to the preceding sessions. Qualifying was abandoned after 15 minutes due to torrential rain with grid positions instead determined by championship points following the opening round of the series, the 12 Hours of Sebring, last month. Although Aston Martin Racing achieved a superb podium in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) category of the famous Floridian race, the team wasn’t registered to score ALMS points. The #007 Lowe’s Vantage GTE therefore started from the very back of the GTE field in 12th position – 27th overall – but battled through to fifth in class and 11th overall despite minimal dry running around the 1.968-mile circuit ahead of the race.
On top of such challenges, Turner had never before competed at Long Beach, while Fernandez was making just his second production-based race outing after his GTE debut at Sebring. The Briton started the race behind the wheel of the Gulf-liveried machine and quickly progressed through the field. A safety car interruption at the mid-point of the race gave the team the opportunity to switch drivers without losing ground to its rivals; Turner had already battled towards the top-half of the GTE field by the point of the driver change, with Fernandez now tasked with bringing the result home. At the Mexican’s local race – and in front of legions of dedicated fans – the GTE rookie overcame his minimal experience to match Turner’s lap times and pull off a daring overtaking manoeuvre with 15 minutes to run to climb to fifth in class.
John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing Team Principal, said: “We faced a huge challenge at the start of the race. As a result of the abandoned qualifying session and wet pre-race practice, we hadn’t managed much dry running at Long Beach and we started from the back of the field. Our drivers did an excellent job to prove just how competitive the Vantage GTE is, though, as they fought their way up the order. The pace of the car in what is effectively a sprint race is really very encouraging for the remainder of the WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“We learned an awful lot about the Vantage GTE over the course of the weekend while the drivers got lots of valuable seat-time in the new car. I’m delighted that the whole team put on such a strong show for Aston Martin Racing's countless North American fans and it's encouraging to think that we may well have challenged for an ALMS podium had qualifying not been abandoned.”
The car will now fly back to Europe ahead of the team’s next competitive outing at Spa-Francorchamps (5 May), the second WEC race of the season.