A season that started with difficulty and disappointment for one of sports car racing’s most iconic brands eventually ended on a positive note as Aston Martin Racing clinched the GTE-Pro drivers’ title at the Six Hours of Bahrain.
As part of the title-winning No. 95 squad in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s top GT category, Nicki Thiim is delighted to put this achievement to his name.
However, there is one factor that the Danish driver thinks gave the aging Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTEs the edge in the highly-competitive GTE-Pro class this season.
“We wouldn’t be able to compete at all if we didn’t have BoP,” he told Sportscar365. “[The car] is an old lady. I know there will always be people complaining about [BoP] when it isn’t going their way, and then [when it is in their favor], they don’t say anything!
“I think we kept low this year. We knew in some places we would not be good, but we didn’t say anything, we just got the best out of it. That’s what you see with BoP in GT3 or GTE. It’s good that we have it.”
With a total of ten Balance of Performance adjustments throughout the nine-race season in GTE-Pro, all with the attempt to balance the field and reduce the difference in performance between the turbocharged Ford GT and Ferrari 488 GTE against the naturally-aspirated Aston Martin and Porsche 911 RSR, it would be fair to declare 2016 as a controversial year for BoP.
All in all, this has made for a strange year in the Aston Martin camp, which started with disappointment but soon improved from Nürburgring onwards.
“If you had asked me six months ago, I was not really confident,” Thiim admitted. “Also with Ford and Ferrari bringing new cars, we expected they would be really strong. With consistency, we brought it up to them.
“Of course, BoP was a big thing for this year, with a lot of changes both ways. Bahrain was a bit easier and of course we knew we had to finish the six hours – you saw what happened to the No. 98 and No. 97. It could have been us. You’re never sure before you’re finished.”
The sway in performance between the various brands in GTE-Pro has resulted in three wins each for the Aston Martins, Ferraris and Fords.
“In the beginning of the season, Ferrari was really strong,” Thiim said. “At Le Mans, we also didn’t have the pace but we finished the race and got the points for second place in the WEC, which was really good for us.
“We only had good pace in Mexico, COTA was the same for everyone I think, and then here in Bahrain. But again, I will not complain. Everyone had it. Ford also struggled a lot in some places. You just have to get the best out of it when you have the pace.
“We just knew we had to do something. We really started coming up with a lot of good things. It’s all about a big learning curve over the year, but I didn’t expect it would be so quick that we could compete in the second half of the season.”
While there have been several changes in Aston Martin’s driver lineups for its pair of GTE-Pro cars this year, with the likes of Jonny Adam and Fernando Rees coming in and out of the championship, as well as a mid-season car change for Darren Turner, Thiim and co-driver Marco Sorensen have in fact raced together at all nine of the events.
Thiim has high praise for his fellow Dane, someone with whom he has been able to build a strong relationship as co-driver.
“It’s really hard to find in motorsport, with all the egos running around, a person who really wants the best for you,” he said. “It’s like that with Marco. We stood together in good and bad. The team spirit is so important.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Thiim is expecting more of the same in his plans, with a particular focus to defend his title.
“I want to challenge myself all the time, and I did that this year making the change from Audi to Aston,” he said.
“Many didn’t agree with it, but I said I wanted a new challenge and I wanted to do a full season in WEC. Not even one year after I signed a deal with Aston, I’m champion and it’s amazing.
“I’m pretty sure I will be back. Who doesn’t want to defend his world championship title? I’ll be there, learn from mistakes that happened this year, and do even better next year. And of course, Le Mans. I must win in the [GTE-]Pro category!”