For Fernando Rees, the dream of making his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 ended before it even began.
An accident in qualifying at the Porsche Curves knocked the No. 99 Craft-Bamboo Racing-entered Aston Martin Vantage V8 out of the GTE-Pro class in the middle of the week.
It cost Rees and co-drivers Alex MacDowall and Darryl O’Young a shot at the race, but it didn’t take them completely out of the race week.
The trio stuck around in their garage, observing out of the pit box and taking in Le Mans from the vantage point of their crew members.
But things are different a year later. Rees, MacDowall and new third driver Richie Stanaway enter Le Mans on the strength of their win last race at the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and will start from pole on Saturday courtesy of Stanaway’s flier on Wednesday.
“We try to not be stuck in the past,” Rees told Sportscar365. “We learned the lessons we needed and carried them with us.
“For sure we are in a different situation compared to last year. We have a much more stronger driver lineup. The crew is more motivated and together, in the spirit of the team. It changes a lot for the driver as well, when we sit inside the car.
“The mood, with how everyone is interacting, feels easier and lighter.”
Stanaway has been in-and-out of Aston Martin Racing over the last couple years, primarily in the No. 95 Young Driver AMR car. He is now fully integrated into the No. 99 car, run fully under the factory banner rather than the Craft-Bamboo umbrella as it was last year.
The Brazilian noted that the young Kiwi has already made a positive impact on the team alongside the two returning drivers.
“We needed a bit more speed compared to last year,” Rees said. “He’s a young driver but has good experience with the team, so it’s a great addition.”
Both come from an open-wheel background and have fully integrated into sports cars. Rees, 30, has been in sports cars since 2007, while Stanaway, only 23, has been maintained a dual open-wheel and sports car program since 2013.
“They’re always very fast. But as I made my transition it was about how the race weekend goes,” Rees explained. “It was direct competition. We are competing with each other.
“At the same time we want the other guy to be even better than me, so I can be better than him, so it must be built in a positive way. It’s different than single-seater, which is about personal ego, personal everything; everything is very personal.”
While the No. 99 car led the majority of the race at Spa, it took a penalty issued to the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia in the final hour for the Aston Martin to return to the lead.
“Leading over five hours in total in GTE-Pro, that’s difficult to achieve,” Rees said.
The No. 99 car is one of three pro entries for Aston Martin looking to give the brand its first Le Mans win in GTE-Pro since the class’ introduction in 2011. Thus far Corvette, Ferrari and Porsche have taken the class wins.
Otherwise, the No. 97 car (Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, Rob Bell) has had pace but not luck in recent years at Le Mans.
The No. 95 Young Driver AMR entry of Nicki Thiim, Christoffer Nygaard and Marco Sorenson looks for a GTE-Pro win to emulate its GTE-Am class win last year, albeit with an altered driver lineup.