Aston Martin Racing is confident that its new Vantage GTE will be competitive right away in the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’, with the end of the car’s comprehensive testing programme in sight.
Over the off-season the 2017 GTE Pro Le Mans-winning marque has embarked on its “most extensive” testing programme ever with its new Vantage GTE, which has run at various circuits in the UK, continental Europe and in the USA. Currently, four new Vantage GTEs exist, two which have been out testing, one which is in its early build at Prodrive and one which is a dedicated show car.
Chassis #1, which has been running as the #95 in testing, has completed over 19 thousand kilometres of milage. The car’s notable running has been at Abu Dhabi, Navarra, Aragon, Sebring and Portimao, completing multiple 30-hour endurance tests, and tyre tests with the team’s new partner Michelin, as the ‘Super Season’ draws closer.
The team has been surprised by the car’s pace out of the box, as well as its reliability. Darren Turner, who will drive the #95 this year, and was first to drive the car, explained to DSC that the team opted to run endurance tests earlier than planned because of its early promise.
“Both me and Jonny were fighting for the job of giving the new car its first ever run,” Turner told DSC. “I was lucky to be with the programme since 2004, and I drove the DBR9 for its first tests, so John Gaw gave me the chance to be first to drive this one. It was very kind of him, and it was great.
“It was only a straight-line test at Turweston Airfield, but it’s a place we go to on a regular basis. I have a good understanding of what a car should feel like there, and when we took the new car out, I knew that it felt a big step forward, just in acceleration and braking.
“It was quick out of the box, and again on all aspects felt better than the older car. And after more laps and test, you hone in on the detail, and it could be for 20 laps you don’t notice any issues, then when the car gets lighter and the tyres wear out you notice different tiny things.
“Now, 20 thousand kilometres in, the car’s development is all about reliability, and fine tuning the car’s set up.
“I think everyone has been very surprised. The first endurance test came earlier than everyone expected. The first time anyone was expecting to think about long testing was December, but we were out in October. And we did it because we were turning up to test days with a kilometre target, and meeting them by lunchtime.
“When you’re doing that early on, you get encouraged and you start getting big tests under your belt.
“The team here at Banbury had a bit more lead time with this than other projects, so they had a lot more time to get into the detail. There hasn’t been any big surprises.”
Turner was also keen to stress that the car in its low-downforce set-up has been strong in testing, which bodes well for Le Mans.
“I wasn’t at the low-downforce test that the team completed at Aragon recently, but I’ve heard that the balance in the car was the same, which is key, and extremely important.
“You want a car fast in a straight line, and stable through the corners. You want a GTE car to run well at the sprint circuits, and at Le Mans, and feel similar in both high and low downforce set ups.”
Paul Howarth meanwhile, commented on the car’s tyre testing with Michelin. AMR returns to running with Michelin this year, after using Dunlop rubber in 2016 and 2017. The team’s new partnership with Michelin means that the relationship is very different now, to how it was previously, when AMR was a customer.
“Dunlop did a great job in that period, but being on Michelin levels out the class, meaning there’s no advantage or disadvantage,” Howarth said to DSC.
“(Michelin have) been great, they have good energy, and have in-depth technical support which is at the highest level. What tyre programmes the other marques are running with them, I don’t know. The true answer when we see all the marques on the same circuit and we can compare tyre degradation.
“We were a customer last time, they gave us a customer tyre. This time we are on a full development programme with Michelin, and it’s what you should do at this level. It’s the same as how we were with Dunlop really. This partnership gives us a lot of data and understanding, it validates our approach.”
Next up for AMR is a test at Spa, before the official FIA WEC Prologue test. In Belgium the team will be completing short runs, while at Paul Ricard, the team has entered one of its cars for the full 30-hours of track time available to the teams.
“I want to go to Spa to test, because I want it to be wet, I want to get there in the wet,” said Howarth. “You need it for confidence building. It’s going to be short sessions, we won’t be doing long runs. It’s about conditioning.
“And I can’t say if I’d want to do any more testing to be honest after that. I can’t say I’m over-confident, but we’ve done so much.
“We’re going to Spa racing, it could make a big difference in the championship to do well there. So why not test there? Where we want to be in Spa, as a team, is in the mix. We want to be really competitive, I think the whole championship is really competitive. I want to be in the mix there, and get a good result. Can we win? Who knows?
“We just want to be in the fight.”