On the eve of Aston Martin Racing team principal Paul Howarth’s most important race yet, he remains his usual calm and collected self. Tomorrow he has the chance to secure the GTE Pro Drivers, Teams and Manufacturers Champions at Bahrain in his first season at the top of the team’s tree, but it hasn’t come easy.
Up against the might of Ferrari and Ford’s new GTE challengers with a pair of updated Vantages and a new tyre partner in Dunlop, Aston Martin Racing came in as underdogs, yet they’ve kept up the fight all season, and found form at a key point of view. Since Le Mans the team has collected a trio of wins and ensured that its in the drivers’ seat to collect multiple trophies tomorrow night.
Despite such successes, it’s still been a learning year for Howarth, who is still new to endurance racing at the top level.
“The World Endurance Championship is a great family,” he told DSC. “That’s what I’ve learnt over the past eight months. I feel a lot more comfortable in directing the team as a result. Running a team is all about keeping everyone focused, if everyone in the team becomes best at their job then you will get the outcomes you want.”
The World Endurance Championship is a great family
This season in particular, the WEC rule makers have come under increased scrutiny over the frequency of and methodology behind its Balance of Performance changes in the GTE Pro class. Despite this, Howarth –who’s best known for his successes in the World Rally Championship with Subaru – insists that winning or losing in Pro isn’t as much down to BoP changes as you might think.
“My drivers now have complete trust in the team, the pit crews have learnt how they can affect races with their performances. This championship could be won in the pits, and it was the same in rallying when I did that. It’s all about staying focused and being able to perform at the best level while you’re tired.
There’s been lots of variables, and that’s affected performance, it’s not always BoP, it’s the right tyres, the right strategy, the best pit stop.
“The fact you sign up to a championship that has BoP means you’ve put it to one side, you work with the organisers to make sure you can be competitive. As long as you keep that momentum going means you can come onto the track and race equally.
“There’s been lots of variables, and that’s affected performance, it’s not always BoP, it’s the right tyres, the right strategy, the best pit stop. Being able to compete against two manufacturers who have all put their latest technology and design on a clean sheet of paper is great.
“I think we proved in Mexico that if you have a methodical approach you can get results.”
Howarth is also keen to point out that switching from Michelin to Dunlop has been a key factor in the team’s successes and consistency this year. Over the course of the season the development curve has skyrocketed for AMR, and been a major factor in its post-Le Mans run of form.
“If we’re all on the same tyre, everyone knows what everyone is doing,” he explained. “We’re on a different tyre, nobody knows what we’re doing and also bringing that sort of change lifts the amount of work that you’ve got to do. It opens other avenues, you find more out, we’re exploring while running the new tyres and it lifts our performance. We’ve completely changed the way we approach the weekends now, how we run in practice is different now.
“It’s all about fuel consumption and tyre wear.
“Dunlop has been exemplary, they supply us permanent engineers, and they do in-depth analysis after every race and test. We have an open phone line to them, it’s non-stop.
“Their ambition is to win GTE in year one, and the green shoots came along in Germany. I’ve worked with all the major tyre companies with test programmes and when you start to build a relationship there’s stumbling blocks, but not with Dunlop.”
I’m so focused on the present that I’m not even thinking about Sunday’s test.
At the pre-event press conference Howarth was keen to point out just how much of a mountain Aston Martin Racing has had to climb this year to be in contention for its first WEC title. Now though, all the talking that’s left to do on the track for six hours tomorrow. AMR’s Vantages will line up first and second on the grid, with a chance to take home all three titles on offer if things go the team’s way.
“We’ve worked so hard all year for this, winning a championship would mean so much to us. To come in as the underdogs and win races has shown that we have a different kind of strength,” he concluded. “I’m so focused on this that I haven’t even thought about Sunday’s test.
“I know what the task at hands is; it’s going to be a big day tomorrow.”