Two of Aston Martin Racing’s WEC drivers are returning to Sebring this year, both previous winners, and both eager to race once again on the iconic Florida circuit.
Britons Darren Turner and Alex Lynn both have a successful history in the 12 Hours, but their narratives are different: Turner has seven previous Sebring starts and scored a class win in his second attempt back in 2005, while Lynn has only ever been here once, in 2017, but won the race overall.“It seemed so daunting back when I first came here,” Turner reflected. “But it’s become one of my top three circuits. The first year, with the Veloqx Prodrive Racing Ferrari in GT1, I was shocked. It was my first experience racing in America and I had no idea what I was doing — it’s so different from Europe.
“I was convinced it was too unsafe to race on because there’s no runoff and it’s so punishing,” Turner added, “I didn’t like it at first. But the second year, I came to the conclusion that it should never be changed. It’s so not perfect that it’s perfect!”
As well as a Ferrari 550, Turner has raced several Aston Martins at Sebring including the DBR9 (with which he won) and the Vantage GTE.
With the newer technology, the circuit, he says, is less of a ‘bone shaker’, but still as much of a challenge.
“The ride is better now, because the damper technology, the suspension, is better, we have better tires and aero,” he explained. “But, with those old-school, three-pedal layouts with sequential gears, we had more control. Put it in gear when you wanted, put the amount of slip you wanted, and if you really needed, you could put clutch in. As you got tire [degradation], that sort of thing, you could modulate.
“You can’t now, though,” he went on, “because with paddle shifts, it’s all automated. So as you get down into Turn 7, for instance, the cars skip around, you get less grip, but it still shifts, whereas in the older cars, you could settle everything down, give the car time to react to the shift.”
Lynn, meanwhile, on the other side of the AMR garage, returned to Sebring after winning in a Cadillac DPi two years ago in what was only the second race of IMSA’s current formula. Wayne Taylor Racing took a chance on Lynn that weekend, for what was his IMSA debut, and he delivered.
Partnering Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Lynn helped steer the American team to victory after a race-long fight with fellow Cadillac outfit Action Express, the winning margin just 13 seconds.
“I remember everything like it was yesterday,” Lynn said. “It’s still the biggest win of my career, and my only overall win in sports cars so far. It came on a big occasion, and you can understand how much it still means.
“I came away so impressed by the Wayne Taylor Racing crew. We did tests a few weeks before the race, which left me with quiet confidence, and they went on and called the strategy perfectly in the race.
“The car gave me confidence, because the Cadillac is such a good DPi platform, it’s so well balanced,” Lynn continues. “We topped the test, and between us we ran well through practice. We didn’t qualify well, but the way the race unfolded was perfect.
“We gradually climbed the order, and I remember that the race-defining difference was that we were able to go two or three laps longer than the Action Express Cadillac. That meant that during a caution, we short-filled the car for track position. I jumped in and battled with Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque during my double stint.
“We took risks through traffic, to maintain track position. It was frantic, but so much fun — the most intense race of my life. I remember feeling just so good before handing over to Jordan and Ricky to finish the job.
“They’re great people, so much fun, and while they may come across as very laid back, they work very hard behind the scenes. Which is why they win so often…”
Because of his memorable first outing, Lynn feels more confident racing here now, as part of the ultra-competitive GTE Pro class which now features five factory teams.
“I feel at home here, and the Aston works well here too. We’ve been quick in practice, and I think myself and Maxime [Martin] are in a good place.
“We have a good baseline because Aston Martin did a lot of testing here with the new Vantage before its debut. Tire management will be the key during the race, though, rather than performance.
“This will be the hottest ever race for the new Vantage, but it was hotter when we tested than it’s been this week, so we’re confident it will last.”
Issues in qualifying mean both cars will start toward the back of the Pro field, but, with eight hours of racing to come, much of it at night, there’s plenty of time for the British team’s Vantage AMRs to rise up the order as they aim for a second consecutive WEC class win.
“This race will be mega, the stage is set,” Turner concluded. “With the fans all packed in now, it feels like a huge event.
“I look back now at the old American Le Mans days, and see them as a lovely period. But WEC is so strong now. When I was here in GT1, there weren’t many competitive cars.
“IMSA now is great, and having WEC here this weekend makes the Sebring experience that much more special.”