The 60th anniversary edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring (17 March) will provide an appropriately illustrious backdrop for both the competitive debut of the Aston Martin Vantage GTE and the first ever round of the new-for-2012 FIA World Endurance Championship. Florida’s Sebring International Raceway will host the 12-hour epic, with Aston Martin Racing’s sights firmly trained on a strong GTE Pro class result.
Carrying the iconic Gulf colours, the factory team’s V8-powered Vantage GTE will arrive in Sebring off the back of a three-day test at the Road Atlanta circuit in neighbouring Georgia. The team was able to cover significant mileage in preparation for the 12 hour race, while works drivers Darren Turner (GBR), Stefan Mücke (D) and Adrian Fernandez (MX) used the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the Vantage GTE as Aston Martin Racing makes its much-anticipated return to production car-based motorsport.
John Gaw, Managing Director and Team Principal of Aston Martin Racing, said: “Everyone in the team is eager to get back into competition. Indeed, many were at Sebring when Aston Martin Racing won on its debut with the DBR9 back in 2005. The GTE category is highly competitive and with over 20 cars on the grid at Sebring and many top class manufacturers it is going to be a terrific fight. We are realistic about our chances on our debut, but we always compete to win and from pre-season testing we know we have a competitive car. For us a top five finish this weekend would be a terrific result, and we know there is more to come from the Vantage GTE as the season progresses.”
Based on the Vantage road car – and sharing its bonded aluminium structure and basic engine and suspension designs – the Vantage GTE is the culmination of Aston Martin Racing’s seven years of experience at the forefront of international motorsport. During that time, the team achieved back-to-back class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2007 and 2008 with the DBR9 GT1 racer, as well as winning the 2009 Le Mans Series with its LMP1-class DBR1-2 prototype.
The 12 Hours of Sebring has become recognised as one of motorsport’s most celebrated endurance races having first been held in 1952 at the former US Army Air Force base in central Florida. Aston Martin Racing enjoyed its first taste of victory at the demanding circuit as its V12-powered DBR9 stormed to class victory on its competitive debut in 2005, narrowly missing out on an overall podium.
Darren Turner was part of the winning line up that weekend and is looking forward to returning to Sebring: “We’ve just completed a very positive three-day test at Road Atlanta with the new Vantage GTE. I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised with initial performance and reliability, which bodes well for Sebring and the season ahead. It’s always great to race in the USA as I love the circuits; they are always very challenging and usually don’t leave any room for error. Sebring in particular is one of my favourite circuits as it’s very old school and bumpy!
“After racing in the FIA GT1 World Championship for the last two years it’s great to be starting another year with the new FIA World Endurance Championship. Le Mans is always the jewel in the crown so to have that race as part of a world championship is amazing. It’s going to be a very exciting year.”
Team-mate Stefan Mücke continued: “The car ran really well in testing and we all have a good feeling with it. I’m looking forward to returning to Sebring. It will only be my second time at the circuit, but in 2010 I scored an overall podium with Aston Martin Racing. The track is probably the most demanding for the car and driver of the whole season, so the first challenge is simply to complete the full 12 hours.”
Adrian Fernandez added: “The Sebring race is always a special event for me and to compete in the 60th anniversary running makes it even more special. I have logged thousands of miles here over the years so I know this circuit well. I am also really optimistic after our test at Road Atlanta last week. I have driven many cars but never a GT so this was a totally new experience for me. I was able to do a lot of miles and I went from being nine-tenths of a second off my team-mates’ times to one-tenth on the third day. Obviously, I had tremendous help from Stefan and Darren. They have a lot experience in these cars and finished second in the FIA GT1 World Championship last year, so they are really helping my learning curve. It may be a little bit early to say, but our feeling is that we will be strong and, hopefully, challenging for wins in the #97 Lowe’s Vantage GTE.”
Aston Martin Racing looks forward to welcoming the press to a ‘Meet and Greet’ session at its hospitality unit at the circuit on Friday 16th, between 1400 and 1430hrs. Pre-race practice gets underway at 1000hrs (EST) on Thursday 15th, with two further practice sessions preceding qualifying at 1535hrs on Friday. The race itself starts at 1030hrs on Saturday 17th and will run for 12 hours. It will be streamed live on www.fiawec.com. Keep up to date with Aston Martin Racing’s progress on Facebook at www.facebook.com/astonmartinracing, and Twitter at www.twitter.com/amr_official.