Aston Martin Racing has the opportunity to claim its first ever World Endurance Championship titles this weekend at the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Danish drivers Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen are currently leading the GT drivers’ standings with 12 points in hand to the second placed Ferrari pairing, while the manufacturers title is also up for grabs.
Before Saturday’s race, Thiim spoke to The Checkered Flag.co.uk to assess his car’s chances of winning one of the most prestigious titles in this form of racing.
“It’s been a nervous couple of days so we’ve just been thinking, setting everything in our minds for this weekend,” said Thiim.
“The championship is on the line, so we don’t want to make any mistakes. Our plan is to just run through every scenario before the race so we are ready for whatever happens during the six hours.”
“As we ticked off the meetings until the end of the year, and as we built up more good points finishes, we thought more often about what was at stake. Equally though it’s a great position to be in because we did our job in the eight rounds before this and now we have a shot to win the title.”
“The team has done a stunning job. Without them we wouldn’t be in this position where we can win the drivers’ and manufacturers championships on the same weekend so it’s a very good place to be.”
Thiim and Sorensen started their year constrained by the lack of pace coming from the new Dunlop tyres Aston elected to run in 2016.
However, with time has come increased development and with development has emerged a more competitive package. The GTE-Pro Vantage has so far accrued five podium finishes this season, with one of those being a victory at the 6 Hours of COTA.
The fluctuating form of its rival manufacturers has also helped Aston Martin reach the position it’s currently in.
Ferrari dropped a massive haul of points with a double retirement at Le Mans, while Ford struggled for pace at the two North American rounds. Add to that the to-ing and fro-ing of the GTE balance of performance and you are left with a year of ‘what could have beens’ leading up to the Bahrain finale.
Now, everything is on the line. At the tail end of one of the toughest GTE-Pro championships in memory, Thiim is confident that Aston has the right tyres at the right circuit to deliver the result it has worked towards since WEC’s inception in 2012.
“This year has been up and down because of the new tyre war in GTE-Pro,” he said.
“At the two east Asian rounds, we couldn’t get the most out of the Dunlop tyres but here the tarmac and progressively cooling temperatures are beneficial to us. I think we have the upper hand in terms of the longer runs because of this.”
“I think it must be down to the tyres this weekend, unless they [Ford] are downplaying it [20kg balance of performance penalty] more than they should because the weight shouldn’t have a big impact. In Fuji and Shanghai they were almost two seconds a lap quicker than us but now here they are two seconds a lap slower and I don’t think 20kg can do that much to the overall performance.”
Free practice gave visual evidence for that advantage, with Thiim setting the third quickest time of any GTE-Pro driver on Thursday.
In fact, the top four quickest drivers at the end of the first day had all been behind the wheel of an Aston Martin Vantage.
Qualifying saw AMR lock out the front row of the class grid, with Thiim and Sorensen to start second in tomorrow’s race behind team-mates Darren Turner and Jonny Adam.
But even if Thiim is unable to clinch the title in Bahrain, he will be back with Aston Martin next season to help spearhead its 2017 GTE effort.
“It’s amazing to be a part of the WEC family and I’ve had a fantastic first full year with Aston Martin,” he said.
“Having the WEC experience is a luxury for me, being able to do what I love without having to pay for it makes me a very lucky guy. I’m still contracted with Aston Martin beyond the end of this season so hopefully I can look forward to another brilliant term.”
“However, next year I’d also like to do more stuff outside WEC as well because only having nine race weekends in 2016 as opposed to 26 the year before is a pretty big change. For now though, I am fully focused on getting the job done this weekend.”
The WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain gets underway on Saturday, November 19 at 16:00 local time.