Four years ago, June 22nd, 2013.
The No.95 Aston Martin Vantage v8 had qualified P1 in the GTE Am class and was on the track at Le Mans on lap 4. As one of the favorites to win at the Circuit de la Sarthe, it was moving fast to establish a good position for the long race ahead.
We do not know in detail of what happened next. The dash camera in the LMP2 car right behind showed recorded footage of the Vantage gt8 going off the track at Tertre Rouge. The next video camera showed the car slowly moving back towards the track as a result of an impact and stopping on the edge. Marshals and spectators on the corner recall seeing the car spin off track and the impact with the barriers.
One moment – that’s all it takes.
For the longest minutes, no one really knew what happened other than what came through the words on the radio advising caution and stopping the race. Then it was the medical car driving on the track towards Tertre Rouge and from there to the Circuit Medical Center, and the raw desperation on the face of every team member broadcasted on live tv.
And then everything changed forever.
There’s a sign by the barrier with the Danish flag, to remember Allan Simonsen. The surrounding layout of Tertre Rouge has somewhat changed since, layers of tires were added and some changes were made to the barriers, as a safety improvement. For many friends and teammates, and even race fans, it has become a tradition to stop by and leave flowers and spend a moment to remember and pray. Danish driver and 2016 IMSA GT Daytona World Champion Christina Nielsen (Scuderia Corsa Ferrari) is among the many who set a tradition of always leaving flowers for Allan before each race at Le Mans.
The World Endurance Championship takes place on many tracks around the globe, and each one is spectacular in its own way and presents unique challenges. From Europe to Asia and to America, each race is a new challenge and a new opportunity. And yet, Le Mans is different.
Every return to Le Mans is both a special time and one of those moments that bring along a heavy heart for everyone around the Aston Martin Racing Team. Excitement, because Le Mans is special, it’s a challenging track, a unique circuit, a unique race, and many of us around the racing world look at that podium as the greatest honor in motorsport. Even drivers who won the prestigious Indy500 speak of Le Mans as the greatest podium they wish to race for. Le Mans is different, it’s the one day we all look forward every year. And for Aston Martin Racing, it is also the day with the hardest memories since 2013. But this is the racetrack, the place where memories fuel the passion and the drive to seek results and look forward to the future. We remember every one of the drivers we crossed path with, we learn from everyone’s walk – and this makes us want the victory even more.
It’s been four years of hard work, a long roller coaster with moments of glory up on the podium around the world, and days when the incredible team effort met with no results. That’s racing. One day you raise the trophy and the next you sit in the garage wondering what’s wrong with the car. But all that matters is you never give up, you keep going because your day and your podium are just around the corner.
For Team AMR, as we all call the group around the racetrack – the fighting spirit paid off in 2014 with the LMGTE Am Team Championship, and then in 2016 with the LMGTE Pro World Championship. Last year, the ‘Dane Train’ of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took the No.95 Vantage to the World Championship after numerous races ending on the top spot of the podium, including those in Mexico, USA, and Bahrain.
Still, everyone looked to Le Mans for a chance to step on the top of the 24h race podium.
Four years after the crash at Tertre Rouge – this past Sunday an Aston Martin crossed the finish line of the 24h of Le Mans in first place. After exchanging positions with the No.63 Corvette throughout the last part of the race, Jonny Adam was able to overtake the Corvette as it went wide at Mulsanne on the last lap, and he drove the Vantage No.97 to victory. A nail-biter of a race, as it always is at Le Mans, and the AMR crew got to step on the podium in the top spot with Jonny Adam and his teammates Darren Turner and Daniel Serra. That’s Le Mans, everything can change in a moment. We all know. We all have learned that the hardest of ways. And this time it was the last lap to come with an opportunity to finally get a victory at La Sarthe with the Vantage v8.
Four years of sweat and blood and tears each and every day, and of coming back harder the next day to do it all again. “Go hard or go home” – as Nicki Thiim ‘Dansky Jr’ of the No.95 crew says. Four years – all for that one moment when the checkered flag is waved after 24 grueling hours of racing.
And this moment is for you, Allan.