The WEC season is fast approaching, but for the Aston Martin Racing guys, it can’t come soon enough. Motivated by an extremely successful 2016 campaign, winning the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships in GTE Pro, the entire team is eager to get back out on track once again and fight for more titles, and ideally score the triple, taking home the new GTE Manufacturer’s World Championship trophy.
To get an idea of the preparation work behind the scenes for AMR as well as its thoughts on the new GTE tyre regulations, Porsche’s new car and the changes to the championship’s status, DSC sat down with team principal Paul Howarth in the team’s headquarters at Prodrive:
You must still be grinning from ear to ear Paul? Let’s start by talking about the off season. What have you guys been working on since Bahrain?
“Staying positive! It’s quite a fast run in to christmas after the final race, so we just reviewed how we could have won easier, and where we could have performed better. We analysed all that, and looked at the whole team and analysed what’s going to give us an advantage going forward. There’s a lot of work to do for every driver too, we reviewed every driver so we know where we can improve.
“We then went into major rebuilds on the cars, so now is about getting the housekeeping right.
“Studying the tyre regulations and going tyre testing has also been key. It’s difficult, you don’t know what everyone else is doing, but hopefully we’ll be in better shape. We want to go to Silverstone without as much pressure, and start executing our goals.”
When you look back at last year, what will you remember about it, what stood out?
“I think we did the second half of the year really well. We realised as a team in Le Mans that a finish is more of a priority when you know you can’t race to win. That went really well.
“We had a number of technical failures that can’t happen at a manufacturer level. Having a plan and really executing it really ensures that you’ll get your outcome.
“I’ll remember the tyre development, it gave us the momentum in Mexico and we started winning. At the start of the year our goal was to go to Bahrain with a chance of winning the overall titles. It’s close, and I think it will be close again.”
One of the big storylines going into this year’s WEC season is Porsche returning to the GTE ranks, what do you make of its efforts and the new car? Are you excited about the new competition?
“The new car is what you’d expect from a manufacturer like Porsche. I don’t expect any different from BMW next year either. Whether they’ve got a team that can execute on the day though remains to be seen.
GTE racing is becoming more of a team sport because the performance differences are so tight.
“GTE racing is becoming more of a team sport because the performance differences are so tight. We won’t underestimate the level of commitment Porsche will bring, but we welcome it, the more manufacturers that come along, the more ways you’ll see people approach winning.
“The car seems to be bringing innovation, and that’s always interesting. We are eager to see how that pans out. To be honest though, we saw George Howard-Chappell’s Ford, and wondered whether it was even a GT car, but that’s the technical mastermind’s job in a manufacturer.
“New manufacturers come along and test the boundaries, and that’s why it’s so good.”
GTE Pro is now a World Championship, what does that mean for a big factory team and does it change your priorities of the season, because Le Mans has always been the crown jewel of the WEC?
“Simply, to win at that level really defines the teams. If you win a world championship against big manufacturers, it means everything. We can’t go to races thinking we can’t beat these people, because last year we proved that we can. We’re not here to make the grid up, we’re here to be a team that delivers on behalf of a manufacturer, and we have a lot of responsibility because of that.
“The level of commitment from the WEC to promote a championship, is at the highest level, they maximise their exposure everywhere. What’s changed is more than a name, it’s attracting Porsche, BMW and maybe more to this. They’re not coming just for Le Mans, because they could do that, they’re coming for the championship.”
What has Dunlop been up to over the off-season, as last year the development of its GTE tyres was a key factor behind your surge towards the end of the season? Do you feel the tyres are now where you want them to be?
“You’re never where you want to be, never. We will never rest on our laurels, and we don’t allow our partners to either. The championship win was last year, it’s out of mind. We have to keep the pressure on now to develop and Dunlop has put in a massive amount of effort.
“To quantify it, we can’t until we start running together on track and see the effects of the new regulations. This year more than ever it’s going to be about how clever the team is, and the tyre manufacturer is, because you have to be smart now, you don’t have as many tyres to use.”
Has there been a focus on wet tyres for 2017, as last year aside from a short period at Le Mans at the start, there weren’t WEC races in the wet?
“I smile because it was fairly public last year that we were going to develop tyres with our new partners. It’s a long process, but I can’t think of similar examples of where something like this has paid off since Brawn GP won the F1 title after Honda pulled out. I’m confident Dunlop have done everything they can to give us a good tyre to race in the wet conditions.”
How much testing have you done? Are you confident that you’ve done enough milage in the car before the Prologue and the season opener?
We haven’t done a massive amount of milage, but it’s about quality not quantity
“We haven’t done a massive amount of milage, but it’s about quality not quantity. We can analyse aspect of the car and parts without going to circuits. We know what we have to do with reliability and performance, but that doesn’t mean we need to do a load of miles to achieve our goals and to make the progress we want to make.
“We just want to attack this season like we always do, we don’t want to be going down any rabbit holes looking for massive changes in the middle of a season. This year we want to hit the ground running.”