There were more than twelve hours of racing, a GTE-Am class lead and no mechanical issues with the Aston Martin Vantage, but the dream of a successful finish in the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans for the Gulf Aston Martin team ended early and in a dramatic fashion.
An accident at the Porsche Curves at just after 0330 hrs, while British driver Mike Wainwright was at the wheel for the second hour of his night time double stint, resulted in the retirement of the No. 60 entry. Wainwright was taken to the local Le Mans hospital for full medical checks and has been diagnosed with a broken rib. He will be returning home later today.
With engine-related issues having prevented the Gulf Aston Martin Middle East team from taking the start of both the previous rounds of the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the team was delighted with opening hours of the French classic. Not only did Fabien Giroix race the Gulf Oil International-liveried GT car very competitively for over 2.5 hours against the other nine entries in the GTE-Am class, he also led the class and – backed up very competently by Mike Wainwright in his first two-hour stint – was rarely out of contention in the first quarter of the race.
New and aggressive rumble strips, designed to keep cars off the kerbs at Tertre Rouge, the Dunlop curves and Ford Chicanes, claimed the No. 60 as a victim (one of many) while taking avoiding action of another car, but unfortunately this meant that the front splitter was damaged. Roald Goethe was forced to bring the Aston Martin in for a long stop as the carbon fibre part had to be replaced. The team lost its position of dominance but was running consistently as hour thirteen ticked over and cooler, more uncertain track conditions greeted the drivers.
The Aston Martin Vantage was officially retired at 0400 hrs, but the dream is surely one to be fulfilled at a later stage.