Aston Martin Racing (AMR) is returning to its roots as it powers up a V-8 powered Vantage in the GTE Pro class for the FIA World Endurance Championship and that series third round, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where AMR will field two GTE Pro entries. The Vantage GTE racecar will carry the iconic Gulf colors and will debut at the 60th anniversary Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with drivers Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Adrian Fernandez.
The Vantage GTE is a development of the Vantage GT2 car, with improvements to engine, drivetrain and suspension. "It's great to be returning to our core motorsport activity, production-based GT racing," said David Richards, Aston Martin Lagonda chairman. "It formed the basis for Aston Martin's return to competition when the DBR9 GT1 racer was launched in 2004," he said, "and it was in GT racing that we achieved our famous victories at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008.
"The GT category is also now the most competitive class in world sports car racing and with the new FIA World Endurance Championship the GTE class will, I believe, offer the closest fought and most exciting spectacle," Richards forecast. "We will see many premium sports car brands competing with great-sounding racing cars [that are] based on their production models, which all the fans can relate to."
In preparation for the daunting Le Mans contest, Aston Martin Racing will gain more competitive experience with its new Vantage GTE during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca rounds of the American Le Mans Series, on April 14 and May 12, respectively.
The heart of the Vantage GTE is the road-going Aston Martin Vantage V-8 and this GTE race car is a significantly updated version of the original GT2 car, specifically designed to compete in championships running to the GTE regulations of the Automobile Club De l'Ouest (ACO). its engine is based not eh standard Aston Martin V-8 but has competition components including revised cylinder heads, connecting rods, valves, camshafts and, of course a racing-specific exhaust system.
As in the road car, the transmission is mid-rear mounted, with a six-speed semi-automatic sequential transmission and competition clutch. The transmission also has a dedicated oil-air cooling system.
The bonded aluminum structure is taken directly from the V-8 Vantage road car and AMR integrates an aerospace specification steel roll cage built to FIA standards. With the exception of the roof, the bodywork is made from lightweight carbon fiber and features an advanced aero package with carbon fiber splitter, flat floor and diffuser, and a carbon fiber rear wing designed using the latest computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques.
The Vantage GTE retains the road car's double wishbone suspension layout front and rear, with specially made wishbones and coil springs over Koni adjustable aluminum-bodied dampers. Aston Martin Racing fits lightweight six-pot Brembo racing calipers to the front axle with similar four-piston calipers to the rear of the Vantage GTE.
This decision by Aston Martin Racing to enter the WEC ensures the brand continues to compete at the very highest level of endurance sports car cringe. As of the 2012 season, all of Aston Martin Racing's competition cars are based on the road-going Vantage, reflecting its status as the sportiest car in the manufacturer's model range.
For Mexican Adrian Fernandez, the switch to the Vantage GTE presents a brand new opportunity. "GT racing will be a new experience for me because I have raced single-seaters and prototypes for the majority of my career. It's always a pleasure to try something new as a racing driver and, with Aston Martin's past success in the GT category, I'm sure I will learn how to get the most out of the Vantage GTE very quickly."
British factory driver Darren Turner added, "I'm excited about this program as it's our opportunity to take Aston Martin back to the top of the world of GT racing. The Vantage GTE is a great car; she's coming along quite nicely now and we're ready to take on what we expect will be tough competition." Turner has already won at half of the WEC tracks in an Aston Martin: Sebring, Silverstone, Interlagos and Le Mans. "We are going to Sebring next month with a brand new car, but that's exactly what we did with the DBR9 back in 2005 and we won that race. I'm not promising we can repeat but we'll certainly try."
Mucke said he's optimistic about the car's competitiveness. "We always aim high and target podium finishes at every race, but we are also detrained to prove the speed and reliability of the Vantage GTE in 2012," the German ace said.