at Le Mans for the second consecutive year
One year on from Aston Martin’s first victory in the GT1 class in 2007 – which was the first Le Mans win since the company triumphed overall in 1959 – the 009 DBR9 of David Brabham, Antonio Garcia and Darren Turner has claimed another GT1 win at the La Sarthe circuit.
Just like last year, the 009 car – this time resplendent in the iconic Gulf livery – took the class victory at Le Mans, for sports cars based closely on their road-going equivalents.
The race was one of the closest in history, in all the classes. The 009 car took the lead within the first three hours of the endurance classic, but it was shadowed constantly by its Corvette rival. Intermittent rain and safety car periods made the duel closer still: at one point halfway through the race 009 and its pursuer were separated by less than four seconds. Even at the finish, the two cars were less than five minutes apart – having covered more than 4,500 kilometres.
The suspense remained right up until the end of an epic race. More rain fell within an hour of the finish at 3pm on Sunday, making every decision crucial. A wrong tyre choice, or the smallest mistake from any of the drivers, would have cost the coveted victory.
As it was, all the drivers as well as the car were flawless throughout the 24 hours. Brabham, Garcia and Turner represented the perfect blend of youth and experience, each bringing their own area of expertise to the challenges of the 14-kilometre circuit.
Brabham, who started and finished the race, commented: “I’ve competed at Le Mans 15 times, but this is the closest race I’ve ever experienced. That’s exactly how I thought it would be from the start of the year, and of course it makes our second win here even more satisfying. The finish was particularly tense; we really didn’t know how it was going to work out up until the very last lap. I’ve never driven a race where I’ve had to push so hard from the very start to the very end: I think it’s been a great show for everyone.”
Antonio Garcia, a new recruit to the Aston Martin Racing team this year who qualified the 009 car in fourth and soaked up the pressure from the Corvette when it was at its closest, commented: “It was actually a perfect event for us, but there were some stressful moments. When I got the message in the middle of the night that the Corvette was right behind me, I was a bit worried at first but then I realised that we had the pace to pull away, so from then on it was a bit easier. Mechanically the car has been perfect: very quick, and very easy to drive.”
Darren Turner – who has been an Aston Martin Racing driver since the programme started in 2005 – drove two crucial stints that were key to the victory: one quadruple stint during the night, and the penultimate stint in hazardously wet and dry conditions. “Lots of people say that winning is easier the second time round, but I’m not sure that’s true,” he said. “Every victory is tough but this one was something else. The fact that we managed to achieve it against such strong opposition is a huge tribute to the entire team. Conditions were far from easy, but thanks to a great car and a great team we were able to do it.”
The second factory Aston Martin DBR9, 007, finished fourth in class thanks to an excellent drive from Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Andrea Piccini and Karl Wendlinger. The 007 car was running in a strong third overall when it encountered an alternator problem just after 5am on Sunday morning. Some excellent pit work from the Aston Martin Racing team meant that the car was out again in just 15 minutes, and then ran faultlessly to the finish.
Adding to Aston Martin’s satisfaction over the weekend was a brilliant performance from the new Charouz Racing System LMP1 prototype powered by the same V12 engine that is at the heart of the DBR9. An impressive qualifying performance from Stefan Mücke saw it start from sixth overall on the grid on its Le Mans debut: the fastest of all the petrol cars. An accident earlier in the race meant that it lost half an hour in the pits for repairs, but the car still finished ninth in the general classification and it could have been close to the top six without the accident.
The privateer DBR9 of Team Modena finished eighth in the GT1 class, despite a couple of setbacks including a puncture.
David Richards, Chairman of Aston Martin, commented: “For me, Le Mans is the greatest motor race in the world and to win it for the second consecutive year is a brilliant endorsement of a fantastic team effort – particularly in the iconic colours of Gulf.”
Dr Ulrich Bez, the Chief Executive of Aston Martin added: “I am very proud that in the space of just three weeks we have taken two major class wins in two of the most important 24-hour races: the Nürburgring 24 Hours and now the Le Mans 24 Hours for the second time. It’s been an incredible day for everybody, and one that we will remember for a very long time.”