“WEC: Turner – We need to maximise Le Mans”
ON the eve of the beginning of the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship, Aston Martin stalwart Darren Turner is keen to turn defeat at the hands of AF Corse Ferrari’s into victory – and where better to start than on home ground.
Speaking to TheMotorsportArchive.com at the Royal Automobile Club in London prior to the season opener in Silverstone, Turner spoke of his ambitions for the year ahead.
“The main thing is to be pushing from the very beginning and to try and maximise our points at Le Mans,” Darren Turner states matter-of-factly. “Once we’ve done that, then we can really work out the best strategy for the second half of the season. That’s the plan, but it’s probably similar to every other car on the grid really.”
The sprightly Turner is one of those few drivers’ in motorsport who happens to be in possession of an easily recognisable and seemingly permanent feature.
A veteran of DTM and the British Touring Car Championship, the two-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is most famous for his exploits in GT racing at the wheel.
Yet there are probably almost as many photographs of the Surrey native’s near permanent stubble than there are of him behind the wheel of his precious #97 Aston Martin Vantage machine.
This year, Turner comes to the FIA World Endurance Championship with a clear target. Despite taking two race victories last season, Turner and teammate Stefan Mücke finished a disappointing 5th in the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers.
With the 2015 season beginning at Silverstone this weekend, the Briton is certainly fired up and waiting for the challenge; however given its double-points status in the WEC, Turner believes the 24-hour French classic still holds the key to a successful season.
Indeed it was a difficult Le Mans race in 2014 that helped to scupper Turner and Mücke’s season and was yet another reminder that even though twenty-four hours is a long time, the GT battle is probably at the closest it has ever been.
“We had a fairly small reliability issue at that race which was fixed quickly on the pitstop,” explains the 40-year-old. “The way the GTE battle is and how close it is, even if you lose a minute or two minutes, it probably marks you out of the game and we lost ten minutes getting it fixed. That took us out of the equation and took us out of scoring some big points. You are always then on the backfoot for the second half of the season.”
The disappointment of the failure at Le Mans merely compounded the feeling of what could have ben come the season finale at Bahrain last year. “We had a good car for the whole season. Le Mans is the big turning point in anyone’s part of the championship, because of the double points. We had race win and the car showed its potential for being on pole, but we weren’t able to claw back the deficit that we lost in that first part of the season.”
None of that has changed of course. The Aston is still a very potent entry – as are their rivals – but with each new season comes a reset, as the field starts afresh at Silverstone this weekend.
The six-hour opener brings its own issues though – and not just the occasionally erratic April weather. According to Turner, driving for a manufacturer team and company situated mere minutes from the Northamptonshire circuit brings its own pressures, but not all are bad.
“We have got slightly more added pressure because [Silverstone] is our “home race”; it is very much a home race for Aston Martin Racing, because it is only down the road, so we have a lot of local support as well and that’s all at the first round of the championship,” said Turner.
At this stage in his career, Turner has raced at Silverstone almost too many times to remember; yet he feels at this level all that track time has ceased to be an advantage, as he explains. “The ‘home’ circuit knowledge doesn’t really mean anything at this level anymore. When you are young and you are first starting out, you know the British circuits really well, but then you do your first international circuit and you are at a bit of deficit to the local boys.”
Nowadays, experience does not just come on track anymore, as Turner – who heads up one of the UK’s leading simulator programmes, Base Performance Simulators – is well aware. “As you get more and more experienced over the years, and you race on more and more circuits – I’m as experienced at Le Mans as I am at Silverstone for instance – the extra knowledge I have is irrelevant to the other drivers. We’re all at a level where most of us know these circuits inside out.
“There is added pressure, but it is all positive pressure. We just need to get a good result – that’s the key to it and a good result would be a podium position and a great result would be a win.”
If anything, he is more than well aware of how competitive the battle for GTE honours can be and while he has experienced more than a few close battles in time, Turner believes there to be a healthy respect across the field. “There’s a good level of racing respect out there; you push and be aggressive, but it’s aggressive against the stopwatch as much as much as it is against the wheel-to-wheel,” notes Turner, keen to shut down any signs of complacency.
Even though the racing is close, Turner is aware that getting too close and receiving damage can only damage efforts. “It gets close and you trade paint, but it’s not like touring cars or anything like that where it is the norm, because we know the only way that the car are going to finish is if we keep them in one piece.
“Even if you lose a winglet, you’re losing lap time. You just can’t afford to do that. Endurance racing is all about keeping the car in one piece over long distance of time…” Indeed, it is an integral lesson of endurance racing that many drivers have had to learn the hard way over the years.
Before closing, Turner has one final thought about the year ahead in the GTE Pro category. “The racing is close and that’s the way it should be. It’s fun for the drivers, fun for the spectators – and probably not that much fun for the teams, but that’s part of racing.”
Turner doesn’t seem like a driver who is going to stop any time soon. Hungry for his third Le Mans class victory, the Briton still looks like a driver who is having plenty of fun.
The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship opens at Silverstone this weekend.