In my last Motor Sport column I think I was about to head off to Spa for round two of the FIA World Endurance Championship. That race has become the final rehearsal for Le Mans in recent years and the teams will add third drivers and try out anything they have up their sleeves for the biggest race of the year.
I’m really pleased that Rob Bell is joining us in the #97 Aston Martin for Le Mans. He’s an old friend and a fast driver and I think he’s a great choice – especially judging by his win at Silverstone last weekend!
We showed some promise at Spa. Qualifying was very tight and the Ferrari had to go for a third run to beat us on aggregate, otherwise we would have been on the front row. It didn’t actually matter in the end as Stefan had a storming first lap and was able to take the lead. He was getting his head down and opening up a gap when we got one of those radio messages you never want to hear.
“I have a puncture alarm. Is it real?” You’ll have to just imagine my Stefan impression!
I was standing with the engineers when the call came through and they quickly analysed the situation and told Stefan to pit as he really did have a puncture. All of this happened halfway through his first stint so that threw our strategy out the window.
During the race we also suffered at certain points with inconsistencies in the performance of our tyres. We’ve seen this a few times now and we’re still trying to understand the cause so that we can find a solution.
All in all, Spa was one of those weekends where, even though we picked up some points, it didn’t feel very special as a strong podium finish was on the cards. On the flip side it was great to see the #99 sister car come away with their first win.
Next up for me was the Nürburgring 24 Hours. It was very different this year after the tragedy of VLN 1 and it was the first race I have ever competed in where speed limits are enforced! I have to say I was very impressed with how the technical team at Aston Martin Racing got on top of the difficulties this presents in such a short time. Obviously you don’t want to give an inch to your competitors but you don’t want to pick up a penalty for speeding either so it’s like walking on a very tricky tightrope!
We were in a fairly strong position, running in the top eight, as we came to the halfway point but unfortunately oil had gone down on the circuit and Stefan was one of four cars that all went off at the same place at the same time. Amazingly he was able to get the car back for the guys to complete repairs and get us back on circuit and I’m sure we only lost an hour when most teams would have probably have retired the car.
We slogged on and came home in a credible 16th place. What was noticeable was how the competition has moved on. It was very interesting to see the pace of some of the cars as they got towards the end of the race and how much faster they were able to go when needed.
Now the focus is very much back to the WEC and the third round at Le Mans with the upcoming test this weekend. This is going to be my 13th Le Mans and the years have flown by! It doesn’t feel that long ago when I had my first experience in the Ferrari 550 but the beauty of Le Mans is that I still have as much excitement and anticipation as I did back then. Without a doubt it is the highlight of the season.
We’ve been very strong in the last two years but on both occasions we’ve had small issues with the car that have ultimately cost us possible wins. I know over the winter the guys have worked very hard on making sure our reliability over 24 hours has improved and no doubt our speed will be competitive so who knows what will happen.
I had to rush back from the Nürburgring for a very special delivery. I am now the proud father of a little boy and between him and his big sister they have got me in training for the sleep deprivation you have to deal with at Le Mans!