Darren Turner recorded his 22nd career podium in the FIA World Endurance Championship when he and his Aston Martin Racing team-mates Paul Dalla Lana and Ross Gunn finished third in the GTE Am category of the 4 Hours of Shanghai.
The works driver, a two-time GTE class-winner at the Chinese Grand Prix venue, played a key role in the #98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE’s fightback through the field, after his car was once again punted out of contention on the first lap by a rival.
But given the resulting performance, and the time lost in the spin, the Briton was convinced that Sunday could have produced his first victory since switching over to the GTE Am class.
Having started the race second in GTE Am, Dalla Lana actually took the lead in Turn 1, but just as in Fuji last month he was turned around by a rival. This time it was the pole-winning Porsche.
“When you look back to qualifying and the way we had expected the race to unfold, there was definitely a victory on the cards,” said Turner. “But after the first lap you would say that a podium wasn’t even a possibility. We had such a strong race car that we made the absolute most out of what could have been a complete disaster.”
Fortunately, the Aston Martin was not damaged, though Dalla Lana had to wait for the field to pass him and then lost 45s straightening the car up again. Once running, the 2017 GTE Am world champion delivered a spellbinding stint to recover to fourth place before handing over to Turner.
“To Paul’s huge credit he really got his head down, and while he had a clear track he really hammered home the advantage we had in the car. And that got us back into contention.”
As the ‘Platinum’-rated Pro driver in the crew, Turner is afforded the least amount of track time in a four-hour WEC race. This means that he has to rely on experience, intuition and skill to suss out the car’s new-tyre behaviour and race characteristics.
“That always makes my stint a little bit tricky,” he explained. “With that in mind I was quite happy with how it went.”
From fourth, Turner moved up into the lead during the pitstops and found himself in a fight with his friend, fellow AMR works driver and TF Sport rival Jonny Adam, over first position. Which on much older tyres he was never likely to win.
“I shouldn’t have really raced Jonny because he was on a different strategy, but at the time I didn’t know that he was out of sync with me,” explained Turner. “I thought it was for position. The nature of Shanghai is that the tyre degradation is so high that an extra 10 laps make a huge difference. You are in a different race altogether.
“Overall though I was happy with my performance. It kept us in the ballpark with where we needed to be in the race.”
Turner handed the Aston Martin to Gunn for the final two stints with the aim of recovering to second place. But an ill-timed puncture for their team-mate Nicki Thiim in the #95 GTE Pro Vantage meant they had to compromise their strategy and settle for third when the race went to Full Course Yellow (FCY) with an hour to go.
“It left us with a difficult decision because we were on the limit with our fuel at that point,” said Turner. “If we had pitted during the FCY we would have needed a splash-and-dash for fuel at the end, or we could pit after the FCY, which is what we decided to do. But that cost us time under racing conditions. The way it worked out we ended up third.”
With a second and third from the first three races in the 2019/20 WEC campaign, Turner now lies fourth in the championship, an attainable 14.5 points behind the leaders TF Sport. But his Aston Martin rivals will have to carry 45kg of success ballast at the next race in Bahrain – 40 more than Turner’s car will carry.
“And”, says Turner, “That should put us in a strong position to catch them.”