DARREN Turner narrowly missed out on a podium finish following a mesmerising fightback through the field during the penultimate race weekend of the highly-competitive 2019 International Open Championship at Barcelona.
The works Aston Martin Racing star, driving for Optimum Motorsport alongside promising AMR Academy driver Ollie Wilkinson in the team’s Vantage GT3, finished fifth in the second race of the Barcelona double-header.
But it was a mighty fifth with the duo ending up just two seconds behind the third-placed car, and pressing hard at the flag, after storming through the field from 16th on the grid.
Turner was on vintage form and revelled in the changing conditions, which presented various challenges through the weekend, and played a key role in putting the team in to victory contention during the opening race of the weekend.
That is until bad luck intervened.
The three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner was on qualifying duty for the first race on Saturday and sparkled when the track was at its wettest, holding the pole slot for the first half of the session. He eventually qualified third.
“I really enjoyed those conditions,” said Turner.
“The car was working well and we were on top. We had really strong pace.
“Unfortunately we pitted just as the circuit reached its peak condition.
“There was no way to know that was going to be the case, but the two fastest times were set while we were in the box changing tyres and when we got back out on track the circuit became greasy and no-one improved. That was just bad luck.”
Turner was the starting driver in the first 70-minute race, and with the conditions still unsettled, there was confusion at turn one as multiple contacts occurred through the field.
This left Turner in fifth place once the resultant safety car period was over, but the Briton made swift work of the fourth-placed car and worked his way towards the leaders as the pitstop window approached.
“We were in a good position, because one of the cars in front of us was facing a penalty and the other was about to hand over to a much slower driver,” said Turner.
“I stayed out for as long as the team could manage to try and make a switch to slicks viable for when Ollie got in, but we probably left it a lap too late.”
With swift pit-work Wilkinson emerged from the box in the lead, but he wasn’t able to complete his out-lap before a stub axle failed, ending his and Turner’s race.
Wilkinson qualified on the outside of row eight for Sunday’s 60-minute race, held in much sunnier conditions.
The newly-announced BRDC Rising Star member quickly settled in and began making places up as he found rhythm and pace in the car.
It meant that when Turner took over and the race had settled back down after the pit window he was in ninth position on-track.
Turner immediately got his head down and continued the charge.
“We made some small changes to the car between qualifying and the race, and we both had the feeling that it was a really strong car,” he said.
“Ollie put in a strong stint and delivered some really good lap times in clear air.
“Where he started mid-pack, it was quite feisty, but he stayed out of trouble and brought the car in to the pits in a position we could work really with.
“He should be happy with that stint. All I had to do was continue the good work Ollie had done.”
Turner set about doing just that, dispatching four cars in quick succession as he charged up on the back of the battle for third position.
But he found that while he was faster than the McLaren in front of him, it was impossible to overtake.
“I just couldn’t get past it,” said Turner.
“It was weak in places that I just couldn’t capitalise on. It was frustrating because for the second GT Open weekend running, the podium was tantalisingly out of reach for us.”
Turner was philosophical afterwards, drawing on the obvious positives from another competitive weekend.
“From a weekend where we had a few dramas, fifth place is a fair result, and it was a fighting fifth as well,” he added.
“You win as a team and you lose as a team, but as a team we are getting stronger and stronger with every outing.
“Both drivers did all that could be asked and the team provided a fast car, it’s just a question of the circumstances falling in our favour, and with that in mind I’m really looking forward to the last round at Monza.”
But before Darren gets to Monza on 13th October, there is the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Fuji Speedway (Japan) to contend with on Sunday, 6th October.
Turner currently lies second in the FIA WEC Pro-Am standings, alongside his team-mates Ross Gunn and Paul Dalla Lana.
At a circuit and in a country he thoroughly enjoys, he will be looking to build on that.