It was a hard-fought victory at Circuit of the Americas, but the third success of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship has moved Salih Yoluç right back into title contention with three rounds remaining.
While the wins at Fuji Speedway and Shanghai International circuit were very-much welcome, the battle for the victory against a rival team with identical equipment made the six-hour event at COTA made the result especially important for Salih and TF Sport teammates Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood.
The fifth round of the championship was originally scheduled to take place at Interlagos, Brazil. However, it was rescheduled for COTA to make it back-to-back events in the United States and initially it seems that Salih and his team were struggling to get a handle on the #90 Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
With the weekend format compressed into a two-day event, Saturday practice was especially tricky with the team finding the bumps and kerbs difficult in terms of lap performance. Qualifying however saw gains with Charlie out first and then Salih behind the wheel to record a time 0.8s up on his fellow Bronze-rated rivals.
Following qualifying it was determined that the latter had not exceeded track limits and the best times were reinstated, meaning that Salih would start the 50th ever FIA WEC six-hour endurance from third position.
The race itself would see a titanic battle between Salih’s #90 team and the factory #98 Aston Martin Racing team. The start saw very close combat between the two teams, Salih coming off worse following contact towards the end of his first stint as he and Paul Dalla Lana traded positions on numerous occasions.
Salih kept pace, but ahead of the first stop of the race which saw him lose ground as the two battling teams opted for differing pitstop strategies. TF Sport stopped longer on its first stop and shorter on its seconds, meaning that Salih initially lost ground.
As the second stint progressed, Salih defended well from the #57 of Ben Keating, whilst setting about closing the margin to Della Lane ahead. This margin was reduced to just a second by the time his successful second stint came to an end and he handed over to Jonny for the middle portion of the race.
In what was a fantastic effort from both of Salih’s teammates, first Jonny and then Charlie kept the #90 Vantage right at the front of the pack battling with the #98 pairings of first Darren Turner and then Ross Gunn for the race win. With 20 minutes remaining, Charlie made the move, one that would stick and then duly brought home the third win of the season for Salih and the team.
Now second in the points in what is a very close battle between four teams in the Pro-Am honours, Salih now prepares for the Super Sebring race weekend that takes place next month in Florida.
“It was a good opening stint and we had a good fight with Paul and that help set things up for us,” Salih said. “It was a fight from the start to the end. They put in a good race too, but we’re very happy with the result after the problems in Bahrain.
“My teammates did a great job; I think it is the best driver I have ever seen from Jonny especially, so now we hope to keep the momentum going to Sebring.”