Racing drivers don’t need extra motivation to win: “We’re always racing for the win, but at Daytona there’s that extra level of intensity, because there’s a little bit extra there. And that little bit is for the driver, a reminder forever of your success.”
However, veteran Aston Martin pilot Darren Turner is understandably pleased with his Rolex Daytona, which all class winners of the famous 24-hour race receive in recognition of their herculean efforts. The timepiece honours his role in the Heart of Racing team’s victory at the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3. The car – driven by Turner along with FIA WEC LMGTE world champion Marco Sørensen, Roman De Angelis and team principal Ian James – was placed not only first, but second also in the GTD class.
Any prestigious race win is momentous, but when you consider that this is the first time an Aston Martin has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 59 years after the initial attempt, we start getting into historic territory. And for Turner, a key member of the Aston Martin Racing team since 2005 and three-time class winner at Le Mans, this win has been nearly two decades in the making.
You could say that the Aston Martin was always destined to win the race at some point. Vantage isn’t a new car, but it is the IMSA GTD champion and current Le Mans GTLM winner. This latest victory adds to it’s growing legacy as one of the sport’s most successful GT cars and is testament to the production model from which the car is derived.
That said, no driver ever goes into a 24-hour race expecting to take the chequered flag first, even in such a strong contender like Vantage. “It was one of those races where we didn’t have the biggest expectations, because there are so many cars in our class,” says Marco Sørensen. “Daytona has, in the past, been one of those races that is so hard to win and you need a bit of luck when it comes to the end of the race.
“It always comes down to the last hour at Daytona, because you have all these safety cars, so you get laps back. As you can imagine, the last hour of the race is just one big dogfight. It was super nice to be the one who actually finished with the car and got the job done.” Vantage had stiff competition at Daytona, going up against new-for-2023 cars from Porsche and Ferrari, but Heart of Racing had a car leading in both classes until something went wrong with the GTD Pro car just before dawn. It was then a fight between the two GTD cars, with the Vantage leaving its GTD Pro rivals in a blaze of glory, a significant victory for a team competing against all Pro driver line-ups.
The team also had a winning strategy – maximising the different ability levels of the drivers. Team principal James, the bronze-graded member of the quartet, occupied the driving seat in the first half of the race, with De Angelis (silver), Turner (gold) and Sørensen (platinum) each taking a number of stints that added up to between six and seven hours each.
Turner did his fair share of night-time stints, relying on tried-and-tested routines. “I’ve done plenty of 24-hour races and I was lucky that early on I had [former Aston Martin Le Mans class-winner] David Brabham as a teammate. He’d do his stint and didn’t hang around: he just took himself away from what was going on. His philosophy was that there’s nothing he can do when out of the car, so he could waste energy stressing about it or go away, conserve energy and be as strong as possible when it was time to get back in the car.
“I’ve always used that as my technique for 24-hour races. As soon as I can get away from the pit lane, I go back to the mobile home and get the lights down, try and get it as quiet as possible and just relax.”
And while the drivers were focused during those night-time sessions, the experience of Turner and Sørensen ensured that they didn’t get caught up pointlessly battling for position. This was especially crucial in the final hour, which involved three Full Course Yellows and a determined charge by Sørensen’s regular team mate Nicki Thiim in the #44 Magnus Racing Vantage. It wasn’t settled until the final Full Course Yellow, when eventually a Mercedes got between them and Thiim couldn’t quite match Sørensen’s pace.
Clean and steady – along with pace and a lot of fight in the last couple of hours – wins the race at Daytona. A 24-hour race 59 years in the making for Aston Martin.