Darren Turner on Le Mans, the WEC and Dirty Aston Badges

Darren Turner still gets a bit misty eyed when he talks about his Aston.

"We were testing at Portimao at the beginning of the year. During an endurance test there's no making the car look nice it's just bolt the tires on and go. So by the end of the day the car looks filthy and it's just one of those things; you clean the badge off. You don't even touch the rest of the car."

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2013 will be his ninth year with the British marque at Le Mans, but from the way he talks about the history, the future and his own massive contribution to the team, it's clear that he's not lost any of his enthusiasm.

And with only three weeks to go until the flag drops at Silverstone for the start of this year's World Endurance Championship, Speed Chills sat him down amidst the finery of the Royal Automobile Club in London's super-exclusive Pall Mall and asked him how his 2013 Vantage GTE's shaping up.

(JS) "You've been testing the car, how has it advanced since last year?"

(DT) "With last year's car we ended up with a good result at Shanghai and we developed the car quite a lot over the season; it improved and improved. But for this year's car there's a lot of technical things that've changed; concentrating on getting the centre of gravity down, weight distribution and a few things within the engine that'll help us with the balance of the car as well as on the circuit.

So the guys have done a great job; obviously when we started with the car in back in 2012 it was off the back of the LMP1 programme so it was all a case of "we're back to GTs we need to understand GT racing again". Now there's a year under their belts and they've had all that experience, and this year's definitely a good step forward."

(JS) "Strategy wise then, do you think you're going to be more in tune, especially at Le Mans where strategy is so important?"

(DT) "Well we had a good Le Mans last year. We had a brake problem after a few hours but that got rectified when Anthony (Davidson) had his shunt; the safety car gave us a bit of a break and we were able to sort out the issue. Then we had another bit of a moment, but other than that it went alright and the pace was good in the car.

But this year the biggest difference is that there are five Astons when last year it was just one, so it's going to be quite interesting. I'm not saying the team around us as individual cars aren't going to be working at the same level as us, but to orchestrate each of those 5 cars and make sure we don't trip over each other at pit stops and on the track, that's going to be quite interesting. Hopefully by the time we get to Le Mans we will have worked through the processes at Silverstone and Spa to make sure that we don't have ourselves over, let alone giving the competition any help."

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(JS) "Having 5 cars is a big operation, do you get to share everything between everyone?"

"Yeah everything's open at AMR. There are big technical differences now between the '12 and '13 cars; we can learn a bit from the '12 car, from tires and bits and bobs; there's some areas that we can learn on, but the main share will be between the '12 cars.

We've got three '13 cars at Le Mans; one of them's obviously got a few Am drivers in as well, but there's still some good depth of drivers throughout all the cars so we should learn quite a bit from it and it will help with development. A lot of the time over the Le Mans weekend or WEC weekend you run out of track time while you're trying to find out answers and you end up going into the race with a compromise; a lot of people do because that's how it is. With 3 cars all running to the same spec, we say "well if you try this, maybe you guys can try that" and then by the next session we've got a better idea of what's going on, so it will all help us develop the car quicker, not just throughout the season but during the weekend as well."

(JS) "Talking about your fellow drivers, how is it having Bruno (Senna) in the team, are you showing him the ropes?"

(DT) "No not at all, he adapted really quickly to the car, surprisingly so. I thought coming off a couple of years in F1 he may have taken some time to adapt to the car, but you have to say that after two or three days testing he's bang on the money, and there isn't really a problem with it.

Also what happens when you drive these types of cars year in year out is that you drive round some of the issues that are part of it, so you don't mention it any more; it's nice to have someone come in with a completely clean sheet, a fresh look at it, saying this can be improved and this can be improved. It's actually been really good having him about, he's just a chilled out dude, and a nice guy to hang out with"

(JS) "...and he's quick as well..."

(DT) (smiling) "Yeah, yeah."

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Sitting at the front of the room underneath one of the many grand chandeliers is the RAC Tourist Trophy, possibly one of the prettiest trophies in racing. Awarded since 1905, its plinth displays a who's who of the greatest racing drivers to have tackled endurance; Nuvolari, Moss, Hill, Hulme, Bell.

This year the trophy will be awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 hours, an event that's obviously forefront in Darren's mind; those few hours could give us a flavour of how the 2013 WEC will play out. The GTEs of Aston Martin almost certainly won't be in contention for the gleaming award, but really he's got bigger fish to fry; namely a couple of racing teams called AF Corse and Porsche.

(JS) "For Silverstone, it's just about the three big players; is it daunting to go up against what is essentially a full on factory Ferrari outfit and the resurgent Porsche team?"

(DT) "No. I'd rather go to races and have massive competition and come third than go to a race and have no competition and pick up a trophy. There's no point, you may as well just go down to the trophy shop and buy yourself a trophy and save all that money, so to me having them there is what it's all about and it just means that we have to keep raising our game.

We managed to get on top of it last year and this year everyone starts again with a clean sheet; it's gonna be hard to try and beat them but I'm definitely glad they're there, I enjoy that element. Some weekends it'll go our way and some weekends it'll go their way so we just have to try and make sure it goes our way more often."

(JS) "Silverstone and Spa will be important for your standing in the WEC, but Le Mans is the race that everybody wants to win. How special would it be to come away with a class win there this year?"

"Obviously we won it in 2007 and 2008 where we had massive battles with the Corvettes, but they were really the main competition. So although they were very special because it was Aston's first win for many years in the class at Le Mans, with this year being Aston's centenary, to be able to be on the top step at Le Mans; there'd be a major celebration.

I don't think we'd stop partying until midweek at Le Mans. I think the focus has got to be the championship but if that means we can sneak a win at Le Mans then that'd be a great way to put a cherry on the cake of 100 years of Aston."

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One hundred years is a long time for any company to exist for, let alone one that was formed in London on the eve of the first world war. While an outright victory at Le Mans has been all but elusive (excepting their single win with the obscenely good looking DBR1), the now Warwickshire based firm is one of the country's most celebrated cultural icons, and is routinely voted the 'coolest brand in Britain'. As one of the lead drivers in the most prestigious of their racing programmes, Darren is well placed to make 2013 a true year of celebration for Aston.

(JS) Regarding it being 100 years of Aston, how does it feel being in the team with that echo of history behind you?

(DT) It's a special era in Aston's history right now. 100 years they've been going and we're still a very strong company. We've got a great brand awareness as well, and as a British driver driving for Aston Martin it's a real privilege. It's still very special to me, being part of the family, and celebrating 100 years of the company is a great milestone, hopefully there'll be another 100 years.

You look back to 1959 which is the last time they won Le Mans outright; we're not in that position at this time but that might come around again. The future drivers might win Le Mans outright, but even being there now, and putting history into the pages of Aston Martin as part of the race team, is very special to me.