Sunday 10 November, 2019, Shanghai, China. An Aston Martin Vantage GTE won its class for the third time in the 2019/2020 FIA World Endurance Championship season, as the British luxury sportscar brand finished first and third in the GTE Am class of the 4 Hours of Shanghai on Sunday. Meanwhile in GTE Pro, the works #97 Aston Martin of Alex Lynn (GB) and Maxime Martin (BEL) recorded their third successive podium of the season.
This was also the second consecutive victory for Aston Martin Racing’s partner team TF Sport, following their win in Japan last month. In Fuji, the works GTE Pro team had also dominated proceedings with a pole and a win with Denmark’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen in the #95 car. It was only through pure misfortune that they were prevented from replicating it in China, after another exemplary performance was curtailed by a left-rear puncture when they were leading comfortably. Up until that point, the ‘Dane Train’ had led almost nine consecutive hours of GTE Pro racing, or 85% of the Asian leg of the WEC season.
Having taken the lead at the start, Thiim resisted early pressure before dropping back to second as he managed his tyres. He then pitted before his rivals to hand over to Sørensen, undercutting the leading Porsche. From that point on the duo established a formidable 15s advantage.
Thiim was 22 laps into his 32-lap second stint, with 70 minutes to go, when he was alerted to the tyre problem as he passed the pits. The tyre gave way on the back straight and Thiim controlled the car brilliantly, pitting with minimum time lost. But the debris prompted a Full Course Yellow (FCY) compromising both Pro car strategies. Sørensen recovered to fourth position, one place behind team-mates Maxime Martin (BEL) and Alex Lynn (GB) in the #97, whose ‘Season 8’ podium streak remains intact.
“It’s really hard to take,” said Thiim. “When you pass the pits knowing you have a puncture, when you are in the lead, and when you make it two thirds of the way around the lap before it goes… We’ve been strong all weekend, and the Dane Train was in contention to win again, just as it did this time last year. At least we recovered and scored some good points. Now we go to Bahrain knowing we can win again.”
It was also a tale of what might have been for the #98 GTE Am squad of Paul Dalla Lana (CDN), Darren Turner (GB) and Ross Gunn (GB), who were once again taken out by a rival Porsche on the first lap, just as they took the lead. This time though there was only minor damage, and the incident triggered a brilliant fight back from Dalla Lana, who came from dead last and 45s back to fourth by the time he pitted and handed over to Turner. The three-time Le Mans winner took the lead mid-stint until his tyres faded in a battle with fellow works driver Jonny Adam (GB) in the TF Sport car. Gunn then brought the car home on the podium, for the second time this season, with a strong drive of his own. TF Sport dominated much of the GTE Am race, once the Porsche that hit Dalla Lana had been penalised, and Salih Yoluc (TUR) delivered a tremendous opening stint before handing over to Adam. Charlie Eastwood (IRL) then took it to the flag, ensuring the trio moved into a three-point championship lead, as did TF Sport.
Aston Martin Racing Managing Director John Gaw added, “This is bittersweet for us. The Aston Martin Vantage GTE won again thanks to another excellent performance by TF Sport. But forces outside our control prevented all three works cars from winning in Shanghai. Nicki and Marco were flawless today and they deserve to be leading the championship tonight, while the FCY couldn’t have come at a worse time for Alex and Max – but at least they maintain their podium streak for the season. Paul produced a brilliant recovery in the Am car and another podium ensures all three cars remain in the hunt in the championship.”
The fourth round of the FIA WEC takes place in Bahrain, 12-14 December.