This year’s GTE Am class at Le Mans is packed with strong teams and driver crews, meaning predicting who will win at this stage, before cars hit the track, is near impossible.
One of the contenders though, is surely the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy. The 2017 GTE Am champions are back again in 2019 for another crack at winning Le Mans for the first time, and Dalla Lana hopes that his fortunes will change here, after coming close on so many occasions in the past.
“What we do know about this race, is we know this car will finish, that’s the great thing,” he told DSC. “It’s reliable, all its quirks are ironed out. In Am as with all things, it’s about execution over car performance. I’m not sure where we are, but I hope we’re in the fight. I just believe this race comes down to execution.
“Hopefully it’s close, like 2017 in Pro, with a big fight. This may be a weird year. We come with high expectations every year, but we need to take some of that pressure off.
“We’ve seen over the course of the year this car has been a little off the pace. It would have been perfect to have switched car halfway through the year or something to the new model, once it was up to speed. But that’s the rules, and we’re ok with that.
“We’ve led the past two races into the last hour, but not won, and if we had those results we’d probably be leading the championship. It was frustrating to have a puncture at Sebring, making a stupid mistake at Spa. But that’s Am. It requires luck and execution. If there’s weather thrown in, we’ll see! We know we can run with anyone.”
And winning Le Mans would really make a huge difference when evaluating the #98 crew’s performance during the ‘Super Season’. It’s been a winless season for AMR in Am, and Dalla Lana hopes to change that this weekend.
“The ‘Super Season’ has been cool. There have been great events, Sebring was cool, there were doubts about that, doing Le Mans twice is great. But we’ve had a choppy season, it’s overwhelmed us. We’ve been super frustrated with our own execution, we’ve had tough luck too.
“So it’s bittersweet, the only way to right the ship is to get a big win here. I think we’re on the edge, which is unusual.”
After Le Mans, the start of the 2019/20 FIA WEC season looms (with the first round in August), and Dalla Lana is set to be back for another year, with the new Vantage AMR for its first year of customer competition.
Next season, it appears that GTE Am will be stronger than ever, with the number of entries looking to enter double figures for the full season. The chance to drive the new car, and compete against an even greater competition is what makes Dalla Lana want to return.
“We’ve grown to like the current car a lot. It’s like a well-fitting suit, we’re used to it. It’s hard to drive though,” he admitted.
“The new car has a lot more performance, you can feel the aero, there’s a lot more cornering speed, so it’ll take adjustment. It’s a big step to the new car, it’s still front engined, but it’s a big step.
“I’ve driven other cars in this ‘interviewing period’, and the new Vantage is by far the most proper car. In the Pro class it’s finding its way now too. And I think we’ll benefit from that next year.
“I am on a year-by-year deal here, but what inspires me to keep coming back is the competition,” he continued. “The class is getting stronger, and next year it’s going to be even bigger. I like putting myself up against other Bronze drivers. I’m still motivated to win, I still have areas to improve. It’s a challenge, but if it wasn’t rewarding I wouldn’t do it.”
Beyond that, we’ve seen Dalla Lana race in IMSA and at other one-off events like the Bathurst 12 Hour. What’s in store going forward? The Rolex 24 at Daytona may be on the table…
“I’m still coming to grips with WEC,” he said. “I’ve usually tried to do other races. I know next year Brazil and Sebring are in there so I won’t be as free as other years. I love Daytona, it’s a great race though, I like to do that, and lately Bathurst has been something we’ve been going to, in some ways you want to go back and defend that.
“I’ve let Aston set the tempo for racing in America. It hasn’t been a high priority. It’d be great to get the car to Daytona in GTE or GTD trim. Maybe they’ll have their own news about that? If they didn’t have anything on that would be a pretty logical thing to do. We’ve been there before, and had great results, so it would be nice to go do that with Aston.”