by Russell Atkins


To read the interview in full, click here

Approaching the seventh Le Mans 24 Hours of his career, Darren Turner is well aware Aston Martin Racing has a considerable battle on its hands if the British marque is to retain its hard-fought GT1 class crown from 2007 - but he is also more than up for the fight.

The recently-turned 34-year-old has been a member of AMR's driver line-up for the celebrated round-the-clock French classic since the team's inception in 2005, and victory in the event - frequently dubbed the hardest race in the world - last year was inarguably one of his finest motorsport achievements to-date. Teaming up once more with David Brabham in 2008 - as well as Antonio Garcia, with whom he has previously competed at Aston Martin customer outfit Team Modena - Turner is psyching himself up for the challenge.

"For me personally, being still involved with the team - and this is the fourth year that we've been to Le Mans - means it's a great opportunity to come back and try and win the race again," the regular BTCC front-runner reflected, speaking exclusively to Radio. "I'm really looking forward to being alongside Brabham again, because obviously we shared that win last year, and I've driven with Antonio a few times now for Team Modena; they're both really good and we should have a good opportunity down there.

"Garcia is a really experienced racer, more so than I'll ever be. He's done karting at world level and a lot of the single-seater championships at a high level as well. He's been driving with Team Modena for many years now and done Le Mans twice, and when I've driven alongside him at Team Modena, he's exactly what you need from a sportscar driver - fast and makes no mistakes. I think he's just another part of our team that is required, and he's a good part; he's got the speed that is going to keep me and Brabham on our toes, and he's such a nice guy too.

"That's the thing really - the key to three guys working together over the course of a Le Mans weekend means you want the best from each of your team-mates, and the fact that we all like each other and get on really well means we are always pushing each other in a good way. You want them to do well because it's going to reflect well on your overall result, and I think the package that we've got this year between the three of us is very good."

That chemistry will indeed be invaluable as AMR bids to vanquish its arch-rival Corvette for the second year in succession. Having entered the race as very much the underdogs in 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Gaydon manufacturer is this time around the defending class winner, and with that comes additional pressure to perform, as Turner admitted.

"Beforehand it's always been us trying to chase Corvette down and take their crown," he mused, "and now we've got it and the benchmark is us. The thing is that Corvette have always had a very good, strong package and have been very hard to beat, but last year we were finally able to pull it all together and get the car to the end. We've always had very good pace, but we were a bit unlucky in 2005 and 2006.

"It's up to Corvette now to raise their game and find the speed, and without a doubt they have. They proved very fast in the LMS championship last weekend in Monza, and I'm sure the works team is very fast as well. It's a different approach this year, and it should be quite interesting.

"Corvette are always going to be the main rivals - it's a great battle that's been going on many years, and it sort of tos-and-fros from either side. I think realistically they are going to be the main team out there to try and beat, and certainly from last year to this year they will have done a lot of development over the winter.

"The difference is obviously that we won at Le Mans last year and as a team we haven't raced the car since. It's all-or-nothing, a one-race championship for us, whereas they've been doing the American Le Mans Series so they're very race-fresh. We've got to get back up-to-speed for the race weekend and make sure we're firing on all twelve cylinders, and that's not just from the drivers' point-of-view but also the engineers, the mechanics, the tyre guys - all these guys have to get back into the groove when we get down to Le Mans.

"The competition in GT1 is very strong, and it's going to be very hard. We've got to really be on the button from the word 'go'. Look at last year's result - car 009 had the least amount of time in the pits of any of the starters, none of the drivers made a mistake on the circuit and we all did quick lap times all the way through the race, and we still only won by three minutes. If we make one single mistake then it's going to be a problem."

In a race that has developed into something more akin to a 24-hour sprint than a mere test of endurance in recent years, focus and 100 per cent concentration will be key, but having triumphed at La Sarthe once, Turner is now hungry for a repeat success. Winning in 2008 would be even more meaningful, he added, because of the symbolism of Aston Martin teaming up with another world-famous brand for the event - Gulf Oil.

"The car has obviously been the Racing Green for three years," the former McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year acknowledged. "If it was still the same it would still look as great as ever, but the fact is we've got the new livery and the blue-and-orange is very famous at Le Mans.

"I don't think there's a driver out there who hasn't watched Steve McQueen in 'Le Mans', but as a kid you'd never expect to be driving a car with that sort of sponsorship. It's very special for all six of us that we're involved with it, and hopefully we can get the same success that we had last year.

"It's a beautiful car - very striking - and one thing when you speak to the guys who go down there and watch the race is that they appreciate the noise of the car, the screaming V12. If you're out by the circuit and listening to it coming down through the woods towards Indianapolis and Arnage, it's a great noise, and it's a great-looking car.

"It's always such a special race for me, but with the Gulf Oil livery on the car, you can't get two more iconic Le Mans brands. To have them together is going to make it a pretty unique event. It's a privilege for me and I think for the other guys too to be racing that car, because in 20 or 30 years time I think it will be a classic car from a classic racing era."



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