Developed in parallel with the road car, the new Vantage GTE racer will debut in 2018. We get the inside line from AMR technical director Dan Sayers
If a week is a long time in politics, six years is a lifetime in motorsport. Yet that’s how long Aston Martin Racing’s V8 Vantage GTE has been competing – and winning – at the highest level of endurance racing.
After a slow start, in which it took until the very last round of its debut season to land its first victory, AMR’S bellowing World Endurance Championship contender has gone on to become the most successful car in the history of the championship, with no fewer than 38 race wins – including GTE Pro and Am class victories at Le Mans – and six world championship titles to its name.
As with the road car from which it was developed, the Vantage GTE has aged better than Dorian Gray. Indeed it’s still winning against much more youthful opposition, most recently securing the 2017 GTE Am title for gentleman racer Paul Dalla Lana and professionals Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda at the 2017 WEC season finale in Bahrain.
While this year’s car will continue for one more season in GTE Am, the top-level GTE Pro category will see the old warhorse replaced by AMR’S all-new Vantage GTE. To find out how the development of the new car is progressing, we caught up with the man responsible for overseeing the project, AMR’S Dan Sayers. Just about to head to Sebring for a test of the new car, he was brimming with enthusiasm.
‘It’s been an unbelievably satisfying and refreshing process to make this new car,’ he told us. ‘Normally you never get to do what you want with cars you’re updating, but with this we’ve started from the beginning with a clean sheet of paper. We’ve had a lot more involvement fromaston Martin, especially with the bodyshell. We got our hands on the first useable tub off the production line after the prototype road cars were built. This has helped us move forward a long way in terms of mass versus stiffness and c-of-g. Everything is as low as we can get it, and overall attention to detail is infinitely better.’
The car genuinely is all-new. According to Sayers, there’s just a handful of carry-over components. And one of those is Darren Turner, who has been with AMR since the beginning and pretty much has his own part number! In addition to Turner, AMR has retained its other highly experienced and successful drivers, including DT’S Le Mans GTE Pro class-winner partner Jonny Adam and 2016 GTE Pro World Champions Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen. New blood arrives with Formula-e racer and F1 test driver Alex Lynn. Further drivers will be announced before the end of the year.
‘There’s just a handful of carry-over components, and one of those is Darren Turner ’
Designing, engineering and developing an all-new race car is a colossal challenge, especially while running this year’s WEC campaign with the outgoing car. As Sayers explains, the wait for a physical tub to work with consumed some valuable time early in the process, but it has paid handsome dividends in the long run:
‘I think it’s fair to say the amount of time we’ve had to work on the physical car has been condensed, but this meant we were able to spend every last second up to that point optimising the design in CAD and CFD [computational fluid dynamics]. I always tend to think the more time spent on design means less time re-designing things later.
‘The key to a successful endurance car is to keep things simple. Simple and robust. It’s the best way. But simple takes time and thought to achieve. We’ve had that in the design process, plus having such a close collaboration with Aston Martin on the tub has means we’ve developed a clearer understanding of what we’re working with earlier in the process.’
Building a GT racing car in the modern era is a complex process. Not least because there’s the Balance of Performance (BOP) to consider. This framework of weight, fuel, aerodynamic and power restrictions is used by the FIA to level the playing field and ensure no one type of car runs away with things. It’s a prickly subject, and one none of the teams particularly likes, but it’s a fact of modern racing. And it does foster close
competition between often disparate cars at opposite ends of their life cycles.
Clearly when building a new car the objective is to build a quick machine, but also successfully working the BOP system to play the long game. It’s one Sayers believes AMR played well with the old car, and will continue to with the new.
‘Hmm... BOP,’ muses Sayers. ‘I think you have to accept you’re going to be nailed, at least initially. It’s the same for everyone. What I believe we’re good at is making cars with longterm potential. You can see that in the current GT3 and GTE cars, which are still winning championships and even Le Mans. We want to make a car that’s as competitive as possible, but with headroom in the car so that it can remain competitive throughout its racing life.
‘Another thing we’ve focused on in the past is making the car easy to drive. The Pro drivers will wring the time out of anything, but if you can get the Am guys going quickly [these are the gentlemen drivers for whom the GTE Am class was created] then you really have cracked it.’
So how does the new car differ, and where does it improve on the old?
‘When we went into 2016 with the major aero update on the outgoing car we wanted to lose drag, but we took away too much downforce in the process. This time around, we’ve had more time with our CFD partners, so we’ve lost the drag but increased downforce. More downforce means tyres last longer, which means our pace will be more consistent across stints. The car should also be easier to drive, so the drivers will make fewer mistakes.
‘To be honest I was sceptical that AMG would let us do anything of any consequence to the engine. But they’ve given us free rein. That’s remarkable and certainly helped the project. The switch from naturally aspirated to turbocharging has been a big learning curve, but the new engine gives us so much scope for optimisation. Better still, we’ve already done more mileage on the new engines than we could on the current naturally aspirated motors before they needed a rebuild. This is fantastic because it means we should be able to do Le Mans without having to change everything between qualifying and the race. It just means the team is fresh for the race itself.’
The sequential gearbox is still by X-trac, but completely new and much lighter than the old one. ‘We’ve taken the opportunity to go for one of the first completely electronic shift systems. It saves weight and it’s one less system to go wrong, as we’ve done away with the pneumatic system. And with an electro-hydraulic pump it’s one less auxiliary belt off the engine.’
AMR has worked with a new set of technical partners on this car. ‘Öhlins is the suspension supplier and we’ve switched from Brembo to Alcon for our brakes. They’re now completely bespoke,’ says Sayers. ‘We’ve also changed tyre supplier, from Dunlop to Michelin. It’s all about fractional gains rather than anything revolutionary, but if you make enough of those small wins across the car you make significant progress. That’s the name of the game.’
So what’s next? ‘We’ve got the tubs and roll cages for next year’s race cars in build. We’ll be shaking them down in February. For now our attention is on the final stages of durability testing. We just came back from testing at Sebring. It’s a notoriously rough track, but we want to push the development car to and hopefully beyond its limits in this pre-sign-off phase. We’ve covered well over 10,000km so far, including a 30-hour test. Bizarrely we could actually have done with a few more failures. You feel you’ve not been pushing the car hard enough if you don’t make it wilt, but thus far it’s proven extremely reliable straight out of the box.
‘Once the race cars are fully in build, we focus on making performance improvements with the development car with a full programme of various set-ups so we can hone the set-up window. Tyre development is the big focus as the recent rule changes place such an emphasis on tyre performance and strategy.’
Sayers was chuffed to bits that the current V8 Vantage GTE achieved yet another win in the final WEC round of 2017 in Bahrain, but now it’s all about 2018. As he says: ‘We really can’t wait to go racing with the new car.’
‘From naturally aspirated to turbocharging has been a big learning curve’
Clockwise from left Roll cage design optimised for driver access: aero includes prominent carbonfibre splitter and dramatic rear diffuser; road and race versions of new Vantage were developed in parallel and both use versions of the same 4-litre Mercedes-amg twin-turbo V8 engine
2018 Vantage GTE ENGINE V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo MAX POWER >530bhp MAX TORQUE >516lb ft TRANSMISSION Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, traction control SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, Ohlins five-way adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar STEERING Rack-and-pinion, electro-hydraulic power-assisted BRAKES Alcon vented discs front and rear, six-pot calipers front, four-pot rear, adjustable bias WHEELS 12.5 x 18in front, 13 x 18in rear, forged magnesium TYRES 30/68 front, 31/71 rear, Michelin WEIGHT 1245kg (dry) POWER TO WEIGHT c430bhp/ton