RACE RELATION

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

VANTAGE - - Inside Story - WORDS RICHARD MEADEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY AS­TON MARTIN

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.’

V

‘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

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