A fourth-place finish after nearly eight hours of endurance racing at the highest level looked probable with 30-minutes of the 1000 Miles of Sebring remaining. A damaged diffuser following contact from behind however required an extra pitstop and with that Salih Yoluc left the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship disappointed with a sixth in the GTE Pro-Am classification.
Having completed his successful Asian Le Mans Series programme with United Autosports, Salih returned to WEC duties with TF Sport in the #90 Aston Martin Vantage GTE alongside teammates Charlie Eastwood and Jonny Adam.
With just three rounds of the season remaining ahead of Sebring, expectations were high with hopes of a fourth podium position to keep Salih in championship contention. Salih took part in the optional test programme ahead of the week of racing and worked hard with the team to find a good balance on the car at the tricky and bumpy US venue.
Working with varying compounds of tyres, Salih and his teammates completed four hours of practice ahead of qualifying where he had the first run before handing over to Jonny. The combined times gave the team fifth position on the grid ahead of Friday’s eight-hour race. For Salih, the ongoing Balance of Performance issues were apparent from the outset; something that would be even more apparent on race day.
It was a tight battle from the start with Salih slotting in behind the #88 Dempsey Porsche whilst defending from the #54 Spirit of Race driven by Thomas Flohr. The Turkish racer pulled a small margin over the latter only for the field to begin to bunch up again after 30-minutes of running. This put his under further pressure from Flohr.
Sebring is notorious for its bumps – and in fact is one of its USPs – Salih was the first of many to be caught out on lap 18 as the back of the Aston Martin jumped out and he had to correct the car whilst avoiding the barriers. This lost time and position in the tightly packed field.
Salih quickly regained both positions however and with a Full Course Yellow out after an hour of racing, Salih handed the car over to Charlie for his first stint. Another yellow period saw him back in the car to complete his second and final stint of the race, lapping right on the pace before pitting and handing over to Charlie.
For the remainder of the race, both Charlie and Jonny made good progress, working their way up to fourth position. The final hour however saw the #90 Aston Martin forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for diffuser repairs and that effectively sealed the sixth position finish on a day that had promised much more.
“It’s a disappointing result as we put so much effort into this event over the week,” Salih said. “A lot of work went into making the car comfortable to drive at this very difficult circuit. The BoP has been an issue all year – the Porsches and Ferraris are 0.6 to 0.8 a second per lap quicker and we just can’t make up that deficit. The ACO need to look at this ahead of Spa.
“My first stint was going well, but there was a small mistake at turn 12 where the rear just snapped on the entrance.,” he continued. “I was very close to the wall and had to save it, so it could have been a lot worse. Then there was traffic, I was being caught in the corner where other seemed to get the passes on the straights. The second sting was better – lots of clear air running – and I got lots of nice laps in to give the car to Charlie in a good position. We know what happened late in the race – Jonny was hit three times from behind and it’s frustrating to lose positions as a result of the damage caused. We now look forward to the next one and if we could get a small break on BoP, we could be back in the running.”
The seventh round of the FIA World Endurance Championship takes place at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 4.