Saturday in the Middle East the FIA World Endurance Championship will reach a significant milestone – the 6 Hours of Bahrain, the championship’s 50th race. Remarkably, there are still three drivers on the grid this weekend that have competed in every single race across the WEC’s six-year history. One of them is Aston Martin Racing’s Darren Turner, who caught up with RACER to look back on what the series has become since its inaugural round at Sebring in 2012 (pictured above).
“If you look at what the WEC is, where it is and what it’s grown from, it’s amazing,” said Turner, who won the Le Mans 24 Hours with AMR this year. “For any driver to be part of a world championship is special, and we’ve had six years of racing which has almost always been great. And because Le Mans is part of that, it’s become the championship to be in, especially for GT drivers with so many factory teams now, and more on the horizon.”
Despite its humble beginnings, with fluctuating grids and a real mixture of quality up and down the field, Turner (below) looks back on the first season fondly, the Aston Martin Racing team scoring the Vantage’s first win that year in China, along with Stefan Mucke.
“The first season in 2012 everyone turned up wide-eyed with their cars to battle for the first time at Sebring. That first race was a learning curve for everyone, understanding what the championship was. I remember not being negative, I was excited. and for us, it was a really fun season, which ended with our first win that year in Shanghai,” he said.
“Relief was the feeling, it was the last race of the year and we were desperate to get a win, and to at least get the Vantage on the scoreboard was great.”
Since then, the Vantage has taken a record number of wins across the two GTE classes, and in the process Turner has accumulated countless unforgettable memories – not all of them positive.
“For the whole team at Gaydon for Aston Martin and Banbury for Aston Martin Racing it’s been quite a journey – the car has won at almost every circuit the WEC has been to, and I guess the highlight was the Le Mans win this year. We finally got that win with the car, it was special. I’ve enjoyed nearly every minute of it.”
“As ever there’s disappointments along the way, and for us there’s been heartbreak. Looking back at Le Mans in 2013, and with Allan (Simonsen, who succumbed to injuries after an incident early in the race), it was something that no team should go through. We’ve had that – we’ve had the lows, but the most incredible highs and some of the best battles in motorsport, too.”
Speaking specifically about other fond memories, Turner told RACER that the trips to Brazil from 2012-14 are highlights, as well as this year’s big Le Mans win (below).
“At Shanghai in 2012, we felt relief, then at Le Mans this year it was relief again!” he said. “We’ve been so close with the Vantage so many times, so it was such a weight off our shoulders to get that victory. It was also the hardest race at Le Mans we’ve ever had. It was close on lap times between the whole Pro field, then during that last stint with Jonny [Adam] chasing the Corvette was magical, I won’t forget it – I won’t forget the stress. But it was a brilliant end to a race, and for all the guys who helped designed the racecar, it was a great reward.
“After the race we had a few beers, enjoyed the celebration, then most of the team ended up in Le Mans center, which happens whether you win or not. But the big difference between that and when we won in ’07 and ’08 with the GT1, is that by Wednesday and Thursday the next week, you were over it, and were looking to the next Le Mans. This year, it was weeks of euphoria – it took a long time to come down from that feeling. That’s because for the team, ’17 was more of an accomplishment than the previous wins, because before we were only fighting Corvette – this time it was so much harder.
“There are so many other memories from the WEC too; every time we went to Brazil for instance, it was great. I don’t think there’s every been a [security] problem when the sports car circus has turned up. All I remember is the party… but to be honest, after the win in 2014, I don’t remember much of the party! My hotel room wasn’t in a good state the next day.
“It was Mark Webber who had a shunt at the end of that race in the Porsche, so it was under the safety car. We were due for a splash, and due to that period we could run to the flag and take the win. So it was a good weekend, a thriller.
“Another year at Interlagos, we came second to [Gianmaria] Bruni and [Toni] Vilander in the AF Corse Ferrari and it was door-to-door, one of those races I won’t ever forget.
“Then Mexico last year, that was great too – the rain came down and Richie [Stanaway] came out on slicks and we ended up taking the win there, and that was the first time I took the lead in the championship.
“But, that’s in the past; now, we’re here in Bahrain. We can’t win the championship, but we want to give the car that’s been with us for the 50 races, the Vantage, a good send off tomorrow.”