It was something of a baptism of fire for Bullitt Racing on its Asian Le Mans Series debut at the weekend. With Aston Martin factory driver Valentin Haase-Clot leading the team and new drivers in Jacob Riegel and Martin Berry, hopes were high that the Spanish-based squad could get the four-round championship off to a flying start. Sadly, a single 17th-position finish was as good as it would get in Dubai.
It has been a tough few weeks for the team, but the freight did arrive allowing the trio to hit the track on Thursday for the test day and allowing both Jacob and Martin their first laps in the #66 Vantage. The team worked through the test day and then the two official free practice sessions, but were still unsure as to the real pecking order in the GT class ahead of Saturday qualifying.
Martin took to the circuit for the 20-minute session as the team’s bronze driver and went on to record times that would result in a tenth-place start and a 13th. A reasonable start and the team were ready for the opening round on Saturday evening.
Sadly, it was a short affair, just three laps. Battling for position, Martin and the #16 Getspeed Mercedes made contact in a racing incident, but the damage was actually much worse than it looked as he made his way slowly back to the box to retire.
The toe-link, suspension and other components in that area were an easy fix, but the Vantage sustained some chassis damage to the right rear pick-up points. With parts pretty scarce at the circuit, the team was forced to source from Prodrive in the UK overnight and these arrived at 9am on Sunday. As ever, the crew did a great job getting the car ready for the 3pm green flag with Jacob at the wheel.
Having missed out on his debut on Saturday, Jacob impressed mightily in his opening stint, vaulting from 13th to eighth ahead of his first stop. The German racer gained another position to run seventh in his second stint before handing over to Martin.
Contact with a quicker prototype saw smoke trailing from the front right soon Michelin and all of a sudden, it was game over for a strong result. With Michelin shredded and the subsequent slow lap to the pit lane, Martin dropped to last as he resumed a few minutes later. Valentin brought the car home 17th.
The fastest lap from the team came from Valentin in free practice two. The sixth best in the large GT field and that at least shows that the car is in the hunt as the team pack up and drive north to Yas Marina for next weekend’s doubleheader.
Steffan Pattrick, Team Manager
“It’s already been a tough year. Simple things such as getting the cars and kit out here have been very stressful. I know life as a Team Manager is never easy, but the things I have had to deal with away from the race track have been significant. The race weekend has been disappointing. We know Martin is a good racer and it’s his first time in the Aston Martin Vantage, but it’s been a tough event. On the positive, Jacob made a great debut for us, no faults at all and we know that the characteristics of Abu Dhabi are better suited to the package than here in Dubai.”
“It was amazing to make my GT3 debut here in Dubai, but unfortunately it was a day later than I had hoped for due to Saturday’s incident on lap three, so it was exciting today to finally get in the car and to race. I did the start and it’s tough in the GT field, but it really was amazing and a lot of fun. I made up some places, managed the tyres and then it was a clean pitstop. So I think for my debut I can be happy with that, clean moves, no contact and the team did a great job and I am happy.”
“The prep going in was good, the car was good, and qualifying was decent. Every time I went out the lap times were getting better but the start of the race yesterday did damage my confidence and that was a negative end to Saturday, especially with the amount of work the team had to do ahead of Sunday’s race. Today, the car did not feel quite as hooked up as it was before the contact and then on my out lap I was hit by an LMP car that punctured the tyre, just outside of the pit entry. Costly and we lost the lap and that rattled my confidence again and then I was probably too conservative. Now we reset and treat next weekend’s events as standalone, and we go again.”