An epic battle for honours in the GTE Pro division at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans was only decided on the final lap. British racer Jonny Adam looks back at how he clinched glory for the works Aston team

With 45 minutes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to go, Jonny Adam pulled out of the Aston Martin pit stall after making his final stop of the race – only for a bright yellow Chevrolet Corvette to pull out of its pit into his path.

“We nearly got the jump on the Corvette at the stop, but we had to pull in behind it and trundle down the pit lane,” recalls Adam. “Then my engineer came on the radio and said ‘to win Le Mans, you have to pass that Corvette.’

“It was a surreal feeling. I just went ‘okay, it’s now or never.’”

Yes, after 23 hours and 15 minutes of racing – not to mention the thousands of hours of development work and testing – the fight for GTE Pro class honours at this year’s Le Mans came down to a 45-minute sprint.

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In truth, that was fitting: thanks in part to a Balance of Performance formula designed to balance the competitiveness of the many manufacturers in the class – including Ferrari, Porsche and Ford – a significant portion of a competitive field headed into the race with a realistic shot at the class victory.

“The GTE Pro class was tipped to be an epic battle from qualifying,” says Adam. “It was just so close between all the manufacturers.”

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Adam was in the British Racing Green corner, in a works Vantage he shared with fellow Brit Darren Turner and Brazilian Daniel Serra. The 32-year-old from Kirkcaldy battled his way up the junior tin-top ranks to reach the British Touring Car Championship in 2009, before switching to the British GT Championship in 2011.

Soon establishing himself as a top-notch GT driver (he won back-to-back British titles in 2015 and ’16), Adam was signed up as a factory Aston Martin Racing driver in 2013, racing for both the works team and top-level privateer teams around the world.

Adam first raced at Le Mans last year, finishing sixth in a GTE Pro-class works Vantage GTE. “It was a big milestone in my career to get to Le Mans,” he says. “I’d done other 24 hours races, but Le Mans was the one on the bucket list. We got a finish and good points in the World Endurance Championship last year – but the ultimate goal once you’ve done something is to taste success in it.”

And now, here he was, with 45 minutes to go in the world’s most famous endurance race – and just one car standing between him and victory. The problem was that car was a works Chevrolet Corvette, with Jordan Taylor driving the machine he shared with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. Taylor was part of the line-up that won the GTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2015 – he wasn’t exactly going to move aside for Adam.

Which brings us back to that surreal radio message – and an intense 45-minute showdown.

“I was always chasing,” says Adam. “The Corvette had slightly fresher tyres and a little bit more grip, but the performance between both cars was even: there was nothing between us.

“The key was to not make any mistakes, because Jordan was fast and if he’d been able to break the tow I was getting from him he would have pulled away. So it was 45 minutes of absolutely flat-out racing, at every corner.

“There were a few corners where I was quicker. In my head it was a case of ‘people don’t remember who finishes second at Le Mans, but they do remember epic battles – and winners.’ If the opportunity arose, I knew I had to pounce – and I did.”

The opportunity came in the final laps of the race, with the clock winding down. “I put a move on the Corvette at Arnage, and he ran a little deep,” says Adam. “There was a small bit of contact.”

Ultimately, the Corvette stayed in front there, with Adam forced off the circuit. It looked like the race might have been settled, but Adam closed back in on the penultimate lap, and then there was drama. 

First Taylor locked up and ran on at one of the Mulsanne chicanes, putting Adam right back on his tail. And it became apparent the Corvette had picked up a puncture – which Adam notes came from Taylor’s lock-up and not their earlier contact.

“We were running nose-to-tail through the Porsche Curves, and I could see his front-left tyre start to delaminate with the puncture. My plan was not to pounce on entry to the final chicane but to repeat a move I’d put on a Corvette six hours earlier, and overtake him on the exit.”

And so, coming out of the final chicane at Le Mans, Adam made his move. Taylor was unable to resist in the stricken Corvette and so, as he crossed the line to start the final lap, Adam took the lead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“As I was doing the move, everyone was climbing onto the pit wall ready for the winning LMP1 Porsche to come over the line,” says Adam. “The wall was absolutely filled, and the crowd were on their feet cheering as we battled.

“Once I’d got past, I knew he had a problem. He went out of sight in my mirrors – and then I just had to do what felt like the longest lap of the whole weekend!

“It was a massive team effort. To see the emotion on the faces of everyone in the team hanging over the pitwall was quite special. Being honest, I did shed a tear as I crossed the line.”

The win was Adam’s first victory at Le Mans – and also the first for Aston Martin Racing since it took back-to-back victories in what was then the GT1 division in 2007 and ’08. As a British driver, Adam says playing his part in returning Aston to the top step of the podium made it extra-special.

“It’s been amazing to see how much it means to everyone,” he says. “We all know Le Mans is a special race, but when you see how much it means to get a victory, you realise it’s a very special thing.

“To win it with this team is extra-special. It was a massive effort, and we really fought for it. It was a titanic battle, right to the final lap of a 24-hour race.

“It’s been nine years since Aston Martin last won at Le Mans. To take a car in that iconic British Racing Green colour and win the GTE class – it’s hit us all. We’ve achieved something special that will go down in history – not just the victory, but the late-race battle that was seen by the world.”

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Aston Martin V8 Vantage

The Aston Martin Vantage has an abundance of soul, and decent ability with it

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Comments
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26 June 2017
the 'baby Aston', with its classic Fisker design that is as iconic as the 911, actually grew out to be the 'greatest Aston'. I am curious if the new Vantage will be able to follow in its footsteps.

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