Here’s Part 2 of our retrospective celebrating the achievements of the factory-backed GTE efforts of Aston Martin Racing after the announcement that the marque will depart GTE Pro after their World championship-winning season in 2019/20
You can see Part One HERE >>
In part two, new cars, partners and new titles!
The 2016 WEC season saw revised GTE regulations and a heavily revised Vantage GTE to match.
The 2016 car saw heavy revisions to the aerodynamic package – every body panel replaced, with a notably larger rear diffuser one of the more prominent changes!
The factory-backed team came into the season with new technical partners, Dunlop and TOTAL, and new ‘Stirling Green’ colours.
The Dunlop tie-in (below the factory test car at a Sebring tyre test), in particular, saw a big step forward for the GTE Pro effort, and came after significant off-season testing, the only factory team not running Michelins drew major benefits from being the outlier!
The GTE Pro effort saw two new-spec cars filled in a full WEC campaign once again:
The #95 GTE Pro entry again saw Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen as the full season pairing with Darren Turner on board for the first three races of the season with the sister #97 featuring four drivers in the season, though oddly none of them did the full none-race season.
Richie Stanaway missed two late season races, Fernando Rees races until Le Mans and then again at the Bahrain finale, Jonny Adam missed the season opener and thereafter joined the car for Spa, Le Mans and Bahrain whilst Darren Turner effectively replaced Rees after Le Mans (and therefore was a full-season GTE Pro driver, albeit in two different cars).
In GTE Am the #98 return with an unchanged line-up and in the older spec car, Paul Dalla Lana again joined by Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.
There was a second factory-entered car for Le Mans only in GTE Am, the #99 crewed by Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard, Liam Griffin and Gary Hirsch.
There were eight class wins in the season, two (Austin and Bahrain) for the #95, a single win (in Mexico) for the #97 and no fewer than five for the GTE Am #98.
Despite winning more than half of the races the #98 would finish third in the title race, three retirements (including at Le Mans) proved costly.
GTE Pro though would see the marque’s first title in the class, consistency for the #95 seeing the Drivers title going to Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen and the Team title to AMR.
2017 saw the factory team gain run a pair of Pro cars and a solo Am entry, but Michelin had been busy in the off season and the gap from 2016 had been slammed shut!
In the #95 car, Thiim and Sørensen returned as Champions, joined until Le Mans by Richie Stanaway.
The car though would win only once, in Mexico City, the title would not be defended.
The sister Pro car saw Jonny Adam and Darren Turner race for the full season, joined by Daniel Serra for the first six races.
They too would win a single race – but it was Le Mans, and in the most dramatic of finishes as Adam took the lead as the leading pair crossed the line to start the very final lap Jordan Taylor asking too much from his tyres in the dying minutes of the race! The result a huge highlight in this story in the final season in the Pro class for the ‘old’ normally aspirated V8 car
In GTE Am it was another return for the #98, now in 2016 spec for Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.
Their Le Mans was a disappointment but the remainder of the season saw four wins and otherwise great consistency to secure the class Championship.
It was an all-new car for the factory GTE Pro team for the first time since their LMP1 era as the FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ dawned, the turbo V8 powered Vantage a vastly different platform from the, by then decade-old earlier V8 Vantage that had seen service in three different versions over ten seasons in factory and private hands, and would serve on for the Super Season in GTE Am.
Michelin were back on each corner after the Dunlop adventure, the switch principally made as a result of a long-term deal with the French tyre maker for supplying the marque’s road cars as standard equipment.
Whilst the new car had reportedly been very rapid in testing, the season saw the team struggling with a combination of poor luck, reliability and an at-times seemingly unfortunate Balance of Performance that saw the cars, in particular at Le Mans, way off the pace.
There were some good days, the #95 car – again with the Danish duo of Thiim and Sorensen for the full season, supported by Darren Turner at both the 2018 and 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours and at Spa and Sebring, took the win as a duo at Shanghai in 2018 (pictured above).
The sister #97 saw full season duo Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin (supported at both Le Mans and the 2018 Spa race by Jonny Adam) win at Spa in 2019.
Those two wins were not just the only GTE Pro victories for the new car, they were its only podium finishes!
The season was barely better for the older #98 car in GTE Am – again the full season trio of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda were back.
They took the win at Spa in the first race of the season but thereafter struggled, retirement at both Le Mans 24 Hours cost them dearly and there was but one additional podium finish en route to eighth in the Championship.
Not a happy season for the factory team – but better, much, much better was to come!
The latest, and as it would turn out, for now at least, final WEC season for the GTE Pro factory team would be altogether more ‘Super’ than the Super Season.
Two Pro class cars would again be entered for a season which, thanks to the intervention of a global pandemic, was actually longer than the ‘Super Season!.
There was no change for the two Pro full season pairings – Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen in the #95 would be joined by Richard Westbrook for the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours.
In the #97 it would again be Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin, Lynn though would miss the Bahrain season finale with a positive Covid 19 test – Richard Westbrook would step in to provide super-sub services. Harry Tincknell joined the team for Le Mans.
On track the Astons prove to be a major force to be reckoned with – the two cars winning four of the eight races, three going to the #95, the fourth though was the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours, won by the #97 with first class wins at the race for Lynn and Martin, and a second, after his LMP2 win with Jota in 2014, to Harry Ticknell.
There were 6 additional podium finishes too for the Pro cars and both came into the season finale with a chance of sealing the Championship.
It would go to the #95 pair, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen becoming Aston Martin’s first ever FIA World Championship-winning drivers, the team taking the Manufacturers title too, the marque’s first World Championship as a manufacturer since 1959.
The consistency through the season would see Maxime Martin finish as a close runner up to his team-mates, Lynn taking fourth place after missing the Bahrain race.
In GTE Am Paul Dalla Lana debuted the newer car in the class, partnered for the full season by Ross Gunn and joined by Darren Turner for the first five WEC races, Augusto Farfus for Spa and Le Mans (the Brazilian a family friend of Dalla Lana) and by a returning Pedro Lamy for the Bahrain finale.
The #98 also contested a pair of early season races in the European Le Mans Series, Dalla Lana joined by Mathias Lauda at Paul Ricard for the season opener, and at Spa (the ELMS race held a week prior to the WEC race), Ross Gunn completing the trio in France, Augusto Farfus making his debut with the team at the ELMS race at Spa where the car would finish third in class.
A string of podium finishes saw the #98 in title contention until the enforced gap in the season following the COVID pandemic – thereafter the team struggled for real form and would finish down the Championship order.
And so ended the factory GTE Pro era for one of the battlers of the past near-decade of action, an era that produced manufacturers and Drivers World Championships, GTE Pro and GTE Am Drivers and Teams Championships and a pair of GTE Pro wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours – We still have at least one more season to relish the factory-entered GTE Am car on track alongside privateer Vantage GTEs and their regular competition.
For all involved and for those of us looking on it has been quite a ride – Here’s hoping we get a chance to see Aston Martin return to the fray as a factory team sometime soon.