Beechdean AMR showed podium pace as the British team made a full-time debut in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup at Imola last weekend.
Sadly, despite looking set for hugely impressive podium finishes with both its #95 and #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3s, two minor issues denied them the results that were richly deserved.
Featuring three Aston Martin works drivers; Maxime Martin, Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim aboard the #95 Vantage GT3, expectations were high as the team from High Wycombe, UK, arrived in Italy.
The trio combined to qualify eighth in the leading ‘Pro’ category, but with car’s set-up being made in favour of strong long-run pace for the race, Danish ace Nicki was able to make several decisive passing moves to climb to fourth by the end of the opening stint.
Countryman Marco took over and moved into the podium spots within two laps. The ‘Dane Train’ was up to second by the time the safety car was deployed to allow the wreckage of a major incident to be cleared away with little more than an hour left.
It was at this point that a split-second decision removed the car from victory contention. Instead of pitting at the earliest opportunity for the final driver change, Marco was instructed to stay on-track for an extra lap to avoid a congested pitlane.
With the safety car driving slower than expected, the early stoppers were able to rejoin the tail of the field before Marco had reached the pits on the next lap. The result was that when the car returned to the track – now with Maxime at the wheel – it was 20th overall.
A mighty recovery drive by the Belgian ace brought a 12th-place finish – both overall and in Pro – on a day when the pace of the car showed that much more was possible.
The sister #97 entry, entered in the series’ all-new ‘Gold’ category – in which two Gold-rated pros can share with a single Bronze-graded driver – showed immense promise throughout the weekend, only to see its hopes dashed just beyond the race’s half-distance mark.
GT3 debutant Theo Nouet was an ultra-impressive second overall in Wednesday’s pre-event test and he, new Aston Martin works racer Valentin Hasse-Clot and Team Principal Andrew Howard combined to qualify eighth in class.
Andrew handed the car to Theo at the hour mark; the Frenchman making up three spots and setting a laptime that would stand as the fastest set in the class all race. Sadly, he retired while fifth due to a gearbox issue.
Despite the unrepresentative pair of results, the Imola weekend proved that Beechdean AMR’s new line-ups have immediately marked themselves out as contenders for both Pro and Gold victories at all of the remaining events on the calendar.
It also provided a handful of bonus Teams’ Championship points, courtesy of Nicki’s second-place finish in Saturday night’s Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series race – held in the paddock – as digital versions of the cars raced the next day did battle on a virtual Imola circuit.
The next round of the GT World Challenge Endurance Cup takes place at Circuit Paul Ricard, France, on June 3-5.
Andrew Howard, Team Principal & Driver, #97, said: “I’m so proud of the job done by the whole team at Beechdean AMR this weekend. This is the most difficult GT Championship in the world, and we’ve come in on a full-time basis, worked our socks off and nearly won first-time out. We thought we’d be reasonably competitive, but this was well beyond what we hoped would be possible. All three drivers in the #95 Vantage were immense and if we continue to show the pace we had this weekend, we’re going to be in the mix for wins everywhere. Ultimately we’ve had two small things not go to plan and that’s taken away results that we deserved, but that’s what happens in motor racing sometimes… Theo’s retirement was just one of those things too. As for the pitstop mistake, we had to make a split-second decision on what would work best for the result and we got it wrong. There’s nothing more to it. We’ll take it on the chin, regroup and make sure the cars are just as fast at Paul Ricard.”