On two continents, at two entirely different types of circuits, in two entirely different types of races, Turner Motorsport drivers prevailed in a dream weekend for team principal Will Turner and his Amesbury, Mass.-based squad.
In the more traditional TUDOR United SportsCar Championship setting of the 1.474-mile Lime Rock Park, Michael Marsal and Dane Cameron delivered Turner its first GT Daytona class win of the year, thoroughly a typically Turner strategic masterclass in the two-hour, 40-minute race.
Meanwhile more than 5,000 miles away, through the Ardennes forest and the 4.352 miles of natural terrain bliss that is Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Turner’s usual 2015 pro driver Markus Palttala played an integral role in Marc VDS Racing’s overall win in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, in a car he shared with Nick Catsburg and Lucas Luhr.
The opportunity for Cameron to return to the team he had taken the 2014 TUDOR GTD championship for presented itself as Palttala was scheduled for Spa.
Yet his homecoming nearly turned into a nightmare when a crash by Marsal in Friday’s first practice left the team scrambling to repair its No. 97 BMW Z4 GT3 to even make the grid.
“Somehow I thought going five mph faster than Dane into the Downhill was a brilliant idea,” Marsal told Sportscar365 Saturday morning, the deadpan and self-deprecation evident after his unforced error at the final, fastest turn on the track.
Marsal’s accident forced the team to examine whether it could be repaired on-site, but the decision was made to take it to a local repair shop to fix the right rear corner.
Not starting was not an option, Marsal said.
“This is my home track,” Marsal said post-race. “The first time I ever drove a racecar, here. First time I ever won a race, here. Yesterday, wound up in the wall for the first time here.
“It was tough, I think the back right side of the car was an inch shorter. We didn’t think it would get fixed. It was busted up pretty bad.
“When you have everyone, your mom and dad, everyone you love, and this is Turner’s home track, it’s tough. They worked all night working on the car, literally.”
Marsal started 10th and last in the GTD field since the car didn’t qualify. While cautious, he was smart and consistent throughout the course of his 67-lap, one-hour, five-minute stint before handing over to Cameron, who then had the task of bringing it home.
What Cameron didn’t necessarily know was whether he’d need another stop.
As the length of the full-course cautions grew for Stephen Simpson’s stalled car, then the heavy accident between Conor Daly and Christopher Haase, the option then emerged to see whether they could make it without pitting.
Some 95 laps later, running on fumes, Cameron had pulled it off after the latest stroke of genius from the team’s ace strategist, Don Salama, on the pit box.
Frankly, with the team out of championship contention and without having scored a top-five finish all season, there was nothing to lose.
“We were running mappings that we had never really run to see what it could save,” Cameron said. “I was also trying to try and lift the pedal as much as I could.”
“We got a bit of a gap, so I could focus on the numbers that I needed, and save fuel to where the guys in the stand were happy. It was making me pretty uncomfortable, but luckily we had saved enough during the first part of the stint to go as long as we did here at Lime Rock.”
With the first win of the weekend in the bag as of Saturday night ET time, focus for the Turner team shifted back to Spa, where Palttala was part of the lineup with Catsburg and Luhr.
Catsburg had driven brilliantly to put the No. 46 Marc VDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 into win position and keep the Bas Leinders-led team in win contention after its second car, the No. 45 car, had dropped out in the 19th hour.
Catsburg handed over to Palttala, who had to control the race from the lead over one of the new Audi R8 LMS cars in the final few hours. The trio held on from there, with Palttala watching the final laps from the pit wall as Catsburg brought the car to the checkered flag.
It made for a perfect weekend for Turner-affiliated drivers, as Palttala scored an emotional home race victory while also keeping abreast of the Lime Rock race from afar.
“Having Dane substitute for me was the best possible choice,” Palttala told Sportscar365. “He knows the team, track and car.
“Turner did what they always do, they gambled on strategy and it paid off. I’m extremely happy for them. Not only because they fixed the car from the Friday crash, but the whole year has been a struggle for them. They deserved it, and I was happy for Mike and all his input and development this year.”
As it was, Turner entered his home weekend with optimism, even in the face of what’s been a trying year attempting to defend its GTD crown.
“You can have the fastest drivers and the best car and have bad luck in two races and have it take you out of contention for the championship,” Turner told Sportscar365 on Friday.
“Or you could have a non-competitive car and not the best drivers, have great luck, and win a championship. I’m not saying we’ve done either but there are so many variables in the racing part.
“It’s a cyclical type sport. We never give up. That’s the thing you learn from this. Between the team and myself, we’ll keep pushing.”
John Dagys contributed to this report