Darren Turner’s second 24-hour race in as many weeks was one of landmark achievements for Aston Martin, but also the promise of what might have been, after he played a significant role in the maiden Nürburgring 24 Hour class victory and double debut-finish for the Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
The works Aston Martin Racing driver and three-times 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner entered last weekend’s ADAC TOTAL Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24) full of hope for victory in the SP8T class (for close-to-production vehicles). And while ultimately he was denied that opportunity, he was full of pride for his team-mates Alex Brundle, Peter Cate and Jamie Chadwick who did win the class.
The N24, which takes place on the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife, is a 160-car event featuring a multitude of classes. Regarded as the toughest endurance race on the planet, the SP8T class is one of the more important categories in which Aston Martin entered two brand new works Vantage GT4s.
Turner shared the #36 sterling green machine with Aston Martin High Performance test driver Chris Goodwin and German Auto Motor und Sport journalist Christian Gebhardt.
Turner qualified third in class, just behind the sister #37 car, with lap times largely defined by how many yellow flags are waving around the 15.5-mile circuit when you’re on it. The 2017 SP8 class winner then shot into the lead on the opening lap, but a mysterious noise that later turned out to be the air conditioning unit left him with a difficult choice to make... Pit to investigate or risk getting stranded on the Nordschleife with more than 23 hours still to go? He pitted.
Turner then drove the rest of the stint without cool air while the team came up with a solution.
“Other than that the car felt great to drive from the very beginning, and I love racing on the Nordschleife,” said Turner. “It’s such a cracking car to race. The GT4 is very easy to understand and it gives you lots of confidence, which is what you want and especially on a circuit like this one.”
Carrying on the good work where Turner left off, Goodwin and Gebhardt fought their way back into the lead and things were looking good in to the night as the Astons ran one-two. And then unfortunately Gebhardt made a small mistake with big consequences at Wehrseifen, that cost the #36 crew any chance of a podium.
“It was only a little incident for Christian, and it was an easy mistake to make,” said Turner. “There actually wasn’t that much damage, but by the time the guys had got the car back and replaced the parts, it was a good hour or so and that put paid to our hopes of a win.
“We slowly clawed our way back up to fourth and that’s the best we could have done without other people having issues with reliability or incident.”
The #36’s loss was the #37 car’s gain as it inherited a lead that it would not surrender to the flag, meaning that on the Vantage GT4’s debut, Aston Martin recorded a famous one-four finish in class.
“The biggest result is that both cars made it to the flag," said Turner. "Especially that the #37 car was able to get into the lead in the first half of the race and then just hold it there and stay out of trouble. That was a great achievement for everyone at Aston Martin.
“It was an action-packed race and it was bloody good to watch. There was probably more excitement on the circuit than we’ve had in the last couple of years, so it was great to be involved in the race and I'm very happy that we were able to get both cars to the flag.
“A lot of knowledge has been gained for everyone at the team and everyone back at Aston Martin Racing as well, and now we can just keep making it better through improvements and fine-tuning.”
One small consolation was that Turner was able to record the fastest lap of the class on the Sunday morning, in spite of rejoining the fray after the traditionally quiet and ideal lapping period of early dawn.
“I was asleep when Happy Hour was going on, and when I got in the car in the morning there were a lot of incidents happening on track. There didn’t seem to be many laps that didn’t have a yellow or a slow zone, and I just had the one clear lap which is when I set the time.
“Overall it was immensely fun driving with Chris and Christian, and I really enjoyed the weekend, but mostly I’m delighted for the team to get the win with Alex, Pete and Jamie.”