With Le Mans firmly in the rear-view mirror, Aston Martin Racing development driver Darren Turner has switched his focus to helping develop the new-for-2019 Vantage GT3.
The new Vantage, which was seen in public for the first time at Le Mans, and competed in the Aston Martin Festival races, is now out testing with both AMR’s factory drivers and prospective customers as the 2019 season approaches.
On the week of the Silverstone FIA WEC weekend, Turner, and Ross Gunn, spent time at Donington Park with customers, including Derek Johnston. It was Turner’s first time behind the wheel.
“The test at Donington was for potential other customers, Derek and three others were there,” he said to DSC. “Ross (Gunn) drove the car at the Festival Races and a few other times, Jonny (Adam) drove it the week before me, and so Donington was my first go. There’s certain things we have to go through in the car’s development phase.
“So when I drove it, I helped set a baseline for the car, and give some initial feedback, then had a meeting with the engineers after.”
How did it go? Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold out, but Turner was still impressed with his the car from his first drive in the car.
“My first impressions were very good, I enjoyed it. And we were there on an open Test Day, with loads of random cars on track, which is how it should be on an open test day at Donington. You’re not going to be able to achieve a huge amount as it was wet, but I got 20 laps in in the morning and then after lunch some laps in the dry. It was enough to get a good impression.
“If you think about where the old car is, it’s still winning races, it’s been around 5-6 years, and it’s still got lots to give. But it’s at the end of its development, any gains are tiny. Because of the regs you can’t do too much with the cars too, so the old one is as good as it’s going to be.
“With the new one, we already have a high benchmark, which is great, because we know where it is, and our customers do too. Driveability are things we need to focus on now, we need to make that a step forward over the next three or four months.
“It’s such an early stage, that you get out the car and there’s a big list of areas that need work. That’s normal. But there’s nothing at the moment that’s a major concern, or even a small concern. We can improve lots of things in a small way after collecting data. There’s nothing in the car that’s a concern in performance and drivability.”
A big part of Turner’s first day driving the car was gaining feedback from the customers who were on-site too. He told DSC that so far customers have been equally impressed with the new car, despite the fact that selling a new model is tougher than ever in today’s GT3 market, with so many cars to choose from, and the old Vantage still winning races regularly.
“People always shout positive things with a new experience, and the guys were grinning when they got out of the new Aston. We’re at an early stage, and it’s encouraging to get such good feedback early. There’s already a good direction for us, and they already feel that it’s a big step forward from the current car.
“You can say it’s hard to justify buying a new car, when it comes to road cars, couldn’t you? There’s a time when the old car is doing a great job and you think you don’t need the new one. But ultimately you need to move on to stay competitive. We need to not let get left behind compared to the other manufacturers.
“It’s good that there’s a new product out there and there’s an option for them to invest in a new product.”
Going forward, the Aston Martin’s testing plan is set to be a big one, Turner revealing that it’s set to be equal to the Vantage AMR GTE’s test programme. The GTE’s testing and development phase was the “most comprehensive in Aston Martin Racing’s history” and included a series of endurance tests, amounting to 20,000km worth of running.
Aston Martin is clearly treating its customer-focused GT3 car with the same level of seriousness.
“When you think about the current GT3 race programmes, with Spa, Nurburgring and Daytona 24 Hours, as well as the long Blancpain races, endurance testing is a must,” he explained. “Not just one, but a number of them. And we’ll be doing endurance tests later this year, equal to the GTE, which had a lot of endurance tests under its belt before it raced.
“You can’t just do little tests at Donington and Snetterton, you have to do the big circuits, and do big distances.
“30-hour tests are perhaps the least exciting, because you may be the only car on track, pounding out the laps, through the night, with standard pit stops. But they are so necessary to get a product up to scratch.”
The effort though is a hugely valuable one for Aston Martin Racing – and Turner is set to remain an important part of it with a new and extended factory contract in his pocket.