Darren Turner’s chances of making a glorious return to the FIA World Endurance Championship in the inaugural 1000 Miles of Sebring race were scuppered by the over-enthusiasm of a rival, just as he and his co-drivers were staging a brilliant fight back in the works #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE.
The Briton re-joined his factory team-mates Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen for the US round of the 2018/19 FIA WEC Super Season at Sebring Raceway on March 15, and will now remain on the crew for the rest of the season including the Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
But despite Darren’s delight at being back on race duty, and having shown strong pace in practice on a track that he adores, fortune was not in the #95 car’s favour last weekend.
The car had the pace to qualify well, but instead the 'DaneTrain' would start in P10 in the GTE Pro category after Thiim’s flying lap was ruined by an ill-timed red flag.
“We were really unlucky when the red flag happened and that put us out of position,” said Turner. “It definitely didn’t reflect the car’s pace.”
Undeterred by this and buoyed by the knowledge that a long and punishing race would offer plenty of opportunities, Thiim made a storming start and then handed over to Darren who established a firm fifth position by the end of the second hour.
And when the Briton climbed back in the car for his second stint at just after half distance, further strong stints by Sørensen and Thiim meant he would emerge from the pits second in class.
“The car was running really well and I was thoroughly enjoying driving it in race trim,” said Turner. “Nicki and Marco had great opening stints and things had begun to look promising. I was also happy with my first stint so when I began my second run we were right in the mix. It looked like we were fighting for a podium at the minimum. Then I got turned around by one of the Porsches at Turn 7…
“It was so frustrating,” he added. “That obviously cost us a lot of time recovering the car, and then unfortunately the team had to replace the damaged diffuser because it was losing performance and probably wouldn’t have lasted the race.”
After this all the team could do was push hard and wait for a Safety Car to give them an opportunity to get back into the fight. But when it finally came in the last 15 rain-soaked minutes of the race, it was too late for the recovering #95 to exploit and they were classified tenth in GTE Pro.
“It was very much a race of what could have been – and you don’t get many opportunities to finish well in a race at Sebring,” said Turner, who was already looking at the positives ahead of two of his season’s most important races at Spa and Le Mans.
“It’s been great coming back to the FIA WEC championship, working with the guys in the #95 and getting back up to speed, and I’ve really enjoyed driving the car,” he said.
“From a mechanical point of view our car ran faultlessly on one of the world’s toughest tracks, which is a massive plus ahead of Le Mans. And it is now showing the kind of potential that suggests it can fight for wins in any condition.
“The team has made great progress since the last time I drove the Vantage GTE at Le Mans last year. They have done a great job in pushing the car forward on development, which is exactly what you would expect from such a great world championship and Le Mans-winning team.”