A victory last time out in Mexico City put Aston Martin Racing’s Darren Turner at the top of the GTE drivers’ standings heading into today’s FIA WEC Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas.
The Brit has a three-point lead in the championship over fellow AMR drivers Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim, following his first series victory since Sao Paolo 2014.
“It’s definitely nice that we’ve got some space in the championship, and we’re leading manufacturers, teams and drivers’ championships,” he told Sportscar365..
“When we looked at the program at the beginning of the year, moved to Dunlop and the fact it was going to be a bit of a development year, if you had said then that after Mexico we would be in that position, I think we would all be surprised.
“We are surprised to be there.”
If he’s to win the drivers’ championship this year, Turner will have to get some strong finishes in the last four races of the season.
While he’s not expecting the Texan round to bring as good of a result as Mexico, the Englishman is confident for the remaining three races.
Even so, Turner and Stefan Muecke did take the GTE-Pro class victory at COTA in 2014, so a win might not be too far out of reach.
“It’s interesting now, in the last four races,” Turner said. “This circuit might not necessarily be the one we’ll get our best result on, but it’s making sure we still maximize what points we can get.
“Last year, we didn’t run that well here. Obviously [we have] a different aero package we’ve got now on the car and an upgrade on the ’15 spec car.
“Even if we’re not exactly up front with the BoP changes we’ve had, we can still be in a position to pick up some reasonably good points. Hopefully when we get out to Fuji, we’ll be in a stronger position going into the last three races.”
There has been a slight change to the lineup this weekend in the No. 97 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE, in that Fernando Rees is subbing in for Richie Stanaway as Turner’s co-driver.
However, Turner isn’t expecting this to change procedures too much, with the only change being Rees’ seat insert.
“Our driver change procedure is different to accommodate that,” he said. “I’m actually using Richie’s seat.”
In addition, the penalty given to Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for unbuckling the seatbelt before coming to a stop in the pit box at Nürburgring has led to a change in strategy for the other teams.
“As far as I was aware, that was the norm, year in, year out, for the championship,” Turner admitted. “Now it’s obviously not the norm.
“It has meant that everyone has had to change their procedures to do their belts once the car comes to a stop.”
He may be leading the championship now, but it hasn’t been a problem-free season for Turner so far. However, he argues that all the GTE-Pro teams have had a bad luck at some point in the year.
“No one has really got into a bit of a role and starting to hammer in good results, race in, race out,” he said. “Everyone’s had issues technically or just some bad luck as well.
“It’s kept the championship nice and tight, which is good, but now it’s the serious side of the championship. With the four remaining races, it’s heads down and try and maximize everything.
“Everyone was surprised with [Ford’s] pace at Le Mans. It was definitely a two-tier championship at that point, which was disappointing for the likes of us, Corvette and Porsche.
“In the other races it’s been a bit closer, certainly since Le Mans. I was probably more surprised that they haven’t had more technical issues with the new engines that they’re running and the turbos.”
For the remainder of the season, Turner sees the No. 66 Ford of Olivier Pla and Muecke as his main competition.
“There is still a good package and I’m sure that in the last three or four races, they’re still going to be the fast guys out there.”
However, he is still sure of his chances in the Aston, especially if next month’s Fuji race stays dry.
“Fuji is sort of one of those circuits where the weather conditions can be quite variable,” he said. “It’s not like you go there expecting it to be roasting hot, you go there expecting it to be mixed and probably rain.
“It would be nice if we could have a dry race because we’re still finding our feet with the Dunlop wets.
“We’re making good progress with the dry tire, which is very much part of the result that we saw at Mexico, and we need more time working with Dunlop to make sure we get a strong package in the wet.
“If it rains in Fuji, it might mean we will have less of an opportunity, but we’ll just make the most of whatever is thrown at us.”