DSC spoke to Aston Martin Racing’s technical director Dan Sayers back in November but external issues intervened and instead of this becoming a pre-Christmas feature, it’s now a New Year treat!
At the time of our original conversation Dan had just returned from Sebring and a test with the new-for-2018 Aston martin Vantage GTE.
So how had that test gone with the new car?
“It went very well, we were already relatively confident before we went there because we’d already tested quite a bit but the whole team was very keen to take it to Sebring as it is pretty hard on the car.
“We ran for three days and put just under 3000 kms on the car.
“This was the first time we had taken the car to a representative circuit where we had good data from other cars so it gave us a good idea on potentially where we are with the new car.
“It was also our first test on Michelins, that’s part of a wider deal relating to tyres for the AMR line of road and track-focused cars, and the Valkyrie.
“I should say though that whilst we are delighted to be with Michelin we have had a top couple of years with Dunlop, it’s been absolutely amazing.”
This is the first completely new GT car that AMR has designed and built for quite some time?
“Yes, and to have the opportunity to do a car from the ground up is fantastic – we haven’t had that chance for a very long time.
“And having a sensible timeframe to do the design too has been another major plus. we’ve optimised every area, we’ve worked rally closely with Aston Martin and with all of our new technical suppliers* and we are already seeing that the new car has moved forward in every single area – exactly what we hoped to do.”
(*AMG for the new turbo V8 – dry sumped in the AMR spec, Ohlins for suspension, XTrac – a new gearbox for the new car and Alcon for the brakes)
To have the opportunity to do a car from the ground up is fantastic
So what are some of the major gains?
“Starting from the basic bodyshell – the road car bodyshell is getting on towards 60% stiffer than the previous Vantage road car. We’ve made further improvements to the roll cage and so already the torsional rigidity of the car is almost double that of the predecessor!
“That by the way is with no additional weight penalty. It just goes to show what you can do if you are able to start from the very beginning and can work as closely as we have with Aston Martin. They have made improvements and then we can build on those.
“That means too that the suspension is doing more of the movement at the wheel which makes the whole package much more controllable rather than the whole car twisting under load.
“It has advantages on consistency, and on tyre wear too, a whole range of secondary factors that you benefit from.
“Perhaps though the thing that I am most proud of with this car is the attention to detail.
“Because the old car was such an evolutionary platform, developed year on year, we never had the opportunity, for instance, to rip out all the electrics and start again from scratch. We have been able to do that this time and it’s really pleasing to see the results.
“The same applies too to the centre of gravity of the package, everything is as low as possible including fuel tank, gearbox, engine, even the electronic units, everything possible is as low as it can possible be.
The thing that I am most proud of with this car is the attention to detail
“Weight distribution is not dissimilar to the old car, perhaps the biggest steps forward though are the C of G and, in fact the width of the car.
“The old car never ran to the maximum width allowable and the new road car is wider than the old Vantage, in fact it’s wider than the old RACE car!
“That’s allowed us to increase the track, one of the weaknesses of the older car, it helps us in the twistier bits, Sector 2 at Spa for instance where we know we suffered with the old Vantage GTE.
“It helps too with the stability, the driver feedback is already very good on that front.”
Le Mans, where does the new car carry you forward?
“In terms of aero the philosophy we had with the 2016 car was quite different. We knew we had a quite ‘draggy’ car in ’15 so we paid special attention to lowering the drag of the updated car which meant that we paid a penalty in terms of downforce. In hindsight you could argue that we possible went too far on that front.
“For this car we have taken a slightly different philosophy and we’ve targeted downforce at the expense of some drag. That might seem strange at Le Mans but with the turbo engines we know there is the option to give different boost levels in each gear so in theory you should be able to match accelerations and top speeds very accurately.
“So with our aero philosophy that gives us a package that is easier to drive, with more downforce, the tyres should last longer, but there is a little more drag.”
The majority of our testing thus far has been concentrating on durability and drivability
And as far as that adjustability is concerned, have you had a chance in testing yet to see how BoP might impact?
“We know what boost levels the other cars are running so that is a known quantity. We think we know roughly where they will pitch us on the boost levels based upon where things stand elsewhere in the field.
“That said the reality is that the older car, as an older platform, is a bit of an outlier so they could decide to recast things, they could for instance bring everyone closer to the base weight. We’re pretty happy though with where we are running.
And has testing thrown up any major issues?
“The majority of our testing thus far has been concentrating on durability and drivability – the turbo engine is quite different for us in a GT car so there’s plenty to learn. Reliability and durability though are both very good straight out of the box (13,500 km by the final weekend of the 2017 WEC season!) No major issues or failures.
“We did a 30-hour test at Navarra just before taking the car out to Sebring with a two-day turnaound at the factory, no major issues at all.
“Perhaps the one compromise we have made is that in order to finalise the design as late as possible we have run a very condensed test programme. That means, of course that any emerging issues could have had quite large impact. Luckily it simply hasn’t been a factor.”
The test car is termed a ‘verification prototype’ which means it’s purpose is to determine exactly where you want to be before you build the 2018/19 race cars?
“While we were in the US for the Sebring test we also had to do the IMSA aero test so the aero is pretty well defined now.
“Everything else needs to be fixed before the FIA BoP Test (pre-Christmas) which we’ll undertake with this car.
“Long lead time parts for the race cars have been ordered a wee while ago and as we progress through testing that order list is being added to and jobs are being signed off quite quickly now.
“We’re building two cars, with this car being updated to full ’18 spec though it may potentially form part of the GT3 car test programme later on. The plan is that the two cars will emerge as being relatively similar (which means the GT3 car is likely to forego the current V12 of the Vantage GT3 for a turbo V8 – Ed).
“The inclusion of Aston Martin to such a degree has been a huge plus for everyone, the appearance of the car on the aero side and on bodywork has been brilliant.”
And that has, in part, been as a result of a change in the way that the motorsport programmes are managed?
“Yes, it comes as part of a refocused management structure for motorsport with David King now with the overview of anything and everything away from line production of road cars at Aston Martin, the AMR road and track-focused car lines, Vulcan, Valkyrie and the motorsport programmes.
“Motorsport strategy is now determined within Aston Martin in conjunction with John Gaw at Prodrive/ AMR.”
The new Aston Martin Vantage GTE is set to make it’s racing debut in the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship with the opening round at Spa Francorchamps on 5 May.