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Aston Martin Racing At Le Mans: The First 10 Years, Triumph & Tragedy

With time now to take a breath after the rigours of June we can catch up with some of the features from a packed month that we’d have much preferred to have brought you rather earlier.

First up is a look back at the 10th anniversary of Aston Martin Racing, and in particular a decade of AMR adventures at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

It has truly been ten years of triumph and tragedy, soaring highs and terrible lows.

2005:

  1. #59 Aston Martin DBR9 – Darren Turner, Stephane Sarrazin, David Brabham – 3rd in GT1, 9th overall, 333 laps
  2. #58 Aston Martin DBR9 – Peter Kox, Pedro Lamy, Tomas Enge – DNF 327 laps

2005 saw the Le Mans debut of the simply magnificent Aston Martin DBR9, produced by AMR as Prodrive’s competitive successor to their near all conquering version of the Ferrari 550 in the blossoming GT1 category.

Aston-Martin-10-years-08

The mountain to climb was topped by the dominant Corvettes but after a debut win at Sebring the Aston Boys were up for the challenge and it was mighty close between the new Astons and the new Corvette C6.Rs before very late race problems for both Astons left the Vettes to come home 1,2, the #59 car with a radiator leak, the #58 hitting trouble almost at the same moment with apparent fuel evaporation issues.

Aston-Martin-10-years-09

2006:

  1. #007 – Aston Martin DBR9 – Darren Turner, Tomas Enge, Andrea Piccini – 2nd in GT1, 6th overall, 350 laps
  2. #009 – Aston Martin DBR9 – Pedro Lamy, Stephane Sarrazin, Stephane Ortelli, 5th in GT1, 10th overall, 342 laps

Year two of Project DBR9 and it was a near carbon copy in some ways, an epic scrap with the Corvettes, and a late problem putting the leading Aston out of ultimate contention, #009 suffering clutch problems and gifting the win to the Corvettes again.

Aston-Martin-10-years-10

It was bitter gall for an effort that looked set to break the Chevy headlock on the class – second for the sister car was little consolation for the long faces in the AMR pits

2007:

  1. #009 Aston Martin DBR9 – Darren Turner, Rickard Rydell, David Brabham, Winner in GT1, 5th overall, 343 laps
  2. #007 – Aston Martin DBR9 – Johnny Herbert, Tomas Enge, Peter Kox – 4th in GT1, 9th overall, 337 laps

(The customer #008 AMR Larbre Aston Martin finished third in class)

Two factory cars again in 2007 and after two near misses this time they scored a bullseye, pace, racing luck and whilst the class as a whole showed great reliability, the #007 Aston kept out of the pits and clear of the opposition for a famous win, 48 years after the marque’s overall crown, this one felt just as good to all involved.

Aston-Martin-10-years-01

The biggest item left on the DBR9 todo list had a great big Feltham Green tick alongside it – now a Le Mans legend not an also ran.

2008:

  1. #009 Aston Martin DBR9 – Darren Turner, Antonio Garcia, David Brabham, Winner in GT1, 13th overall, 344 laps
  2. #007 Aston Martin DBR9 – Andrea Piccini, Heinz Harald Frentzen, Karl Wendlinger 4th in GT1, 16th overall, 339 laps

Few fancied the Astons chances in the final year of a four year run but the now Gulf liveried old chargers took the fight to the Vettes and with an absolutely faultless run took a second consecutive win with Turner and Brabham joining the team, and the DBR9 in ‘doing the double’.

Aston-Martin-10-years-02

It was a great way to close the GT1 era of epic battles with the Corvette boys, a feature of the great race that brought attention to somewhere other than the overall winners – a rare thing indeed.

2009:

  1. #007 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 – Tomas Enge, Stefan Mucke, Jan Charouz, 4th in LMP1, 4th overall, 373 laps
  2. #008 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 – Anthony Davidson, Jos Verstappen, Darren Turner – 11th in LMP1, 13th overall, 342 laps
  3. #009 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 – Stuart Hall, Harold Primat, Peter Kox, DNF, 252 laps

GT1 had faded away and Aston Martin fancied a crack at overall wins – WHilst their timing was a bit off, V12 petrol vs massively powerful turbo diesels was an uneven contest, the Lola chassied, AMR bodied LMP1 was a classic – Anyone who experienced one of the cars starting up from a pitstop will never forget the experience, and at full chat the thing was just marvellous.

Aston-Martin-10-years-03

2009 would see mixed fortunes for a trio of LMP1s with the #007 car coming home with the best result, and the best overall finish at Le Mans for AMR in their first decade coming as part of the package, 4th overall perhaps the worst possible place to finish, just off the podium but a fine result

2010:

  1. #007 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 – Harold Primat, Adrian Fernandez, Stefan Mucke – 5th in LMP1, 6th overall, 365 laps
  2. #009 Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 – Darren Turner, Sam Hancock, Juan Barazi – DNF – 368 laps

The Lola Aston Martins were back for another crack at it in 2010 and, against all the odds, with the extraordinary meltdown of the Peugeot attack, looked set to match the overall fourth place finish of the previous year.

Aston-Martin-10-years-04

That was until the final hour when the #009 car ground to a halt with a highly unusual V12 engine failure, the sister car would profit from its misfortune but would come home fifth. A fine result still but Aston Martin had hoped for more, and would soon roll the dice to see whether they could get it in 2011!

2011

  1. #007 Aston Martin AMR-One – Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner, Christian Klien – DNF 4 laps
  2. #009 Aston Martin AMR-One – Harold Primat, Adrian Fernandez, Andy Meyrick – DNF, 2 laps

Aston-Martin-10-years-05

2011 started with huge promise, Aston Martin gunning for an overall win with a brand new, and pretty radically different, LMP1 car. The inline turbo 6 though proved to be a massive step too far. Le Mans was an embarrassment to a team that had spent years building up a reputation as one of the most competitive on any grid – 6 laps completed between two cars at this level was the starting gun for big changes in Banbury, in terms of manpower, and in terms of the way in which programmes were planned and funded.

2012

  1. #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) Stefan Mücke, Adrián Fernández, Darren Turner, 3rd in LMGTE Pro, 19th overall, 332 laps
  2. #99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Am) Christoffer Nygaard, Kristian Poulsen, Allan Simonsen – DNF, 31 Laps

“Back to our GT racing roots” said David Richards as the factory GTE era began and John Gaw arrived too as MD.

Aston-Martin-10-years-06

One car in each of the GTE sub classes saw high hopes with the sonorous Vantage GTE – but there were problems with outright speed and that likely cost the Pro car a better result with just a single minor off for Stefan Mucke spoiling an otherwise perfect run.

2013

  1. #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) Stefan Mücke,Peter Dumbreck, Darren Turner – 3rd in LMGTE Pro 17th overall, 314 laps
  2. #96 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE AM) Roald Goethe, Jamie Campbell-Walter, Stuart Hall – 6th in LMGTE Am, 30th overall, 301 laps
  3. #99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) – Bruno Senna, Frédéric Makowiecki, Rob Bell – DNF, 248 laps
  4. #98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) Paul Dalla Lana, Bill Auberlen, Pedro Lamy – DNF, 22 Laps
  5. #95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Am) – Allan Simonsen, Kristian Poulsen, Christoffer Nygaard – DNF, 2 laps, (fatal accident)

Aston Martin’s Centenary year should have been a cause for celebration, and a hugely strong five car effort at Le Mans, including three Pro cars which had taken a BIG step forwar in pace, showed every prospect of adding major silverware to the marque’s history books.

It wasn’t to be – Lap three saw Allan Simonsen lose control of the #95 GTE Am Vantage and succumb immediately to the injuries caused by an impact with an armco barrier sitting directly in front of a substantial tree.

Allan_SimonsenBW

At the family’s request the remaining Vantages raced on but a pair of further dnfs and a fight to the finish in GTE Pro that saw the lead #97 Aston fall victim from some good luck from the factory Porsches left the AMR boys and girls leaving Le Sarthe with very heavy hearts

Aston-Martin-10-years-07

2014

  1. #95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Am) – Kristian Poulsen, Christoffer Nygaard Nikki Thiim, David Heinemeier Hansson – Winner in LMGTE Am, 19th overall, 334 laps
  2. #98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Am) Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Christoffer Nygaard – 6th in LMGTE Am, 26th overall, 329 laps
  3. #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) Stefan Mücke, Bruno Senna, Darren Turner – 6th in LMGTE Pro 35th overall, 310 Laps

(Withdrawn) #99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE (GTE Pro) – Bruno Senna,Darryl O’Young, Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowall

After one anniversary year, 2014 saw another, and whilst the run in to the race saw massive disappointment for the Craft Bamboo entered car after Fernando Rees joined a lengthening list of drivers coming to grief in the Porsche Curves, the remaining three cars all ran well, the #97 Pro car in the mix for a podium finish until power steering issues struck in the last quarter of the race.

Both Am cars led the race but to the delight of most onlookers the #95 Young Driver AMR entered ‘Dane Train’ took the win, Kristian Poulsen and co. blew away the dark clouds of 2013 with a win that the team dedicated to Allan Simonsen’s memory.

Aston-Martin-10-years-11

A third class win (and a seventh podium) in a decade of trying was a bright chapter to end the first ten years.

The 2014 podium was a unique one at AMR for another reason too – the first of the seven that didn’t feature Darren Turner on the driving squad, the factory stalwart an ever present since the very beginning.

Darren_Turner

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