The new GTE Vantage is starting a series of tests ahead of its first race: the Twelve Hours of Sebring. That will be the toughest test of all — the heat of Florida and the characteristics of the track exposing any vulnerabilities in any team.
Four cars will contest the eight-round FIA World Endurance Championship, kicking off with the 6 Hours of Silverstone in April and including the 24 Heures du Man in June.
Le Mans in 2011 was a dark period for AMR. Its new prototype, the AMR-One, lasted just just a handful of laps. It had been a very difficult birth for a brand new car whose handling through the corners delighted its drivers. An aggressive development programme meant that testing and development happened very publicly during actual races.
AMR relaunched 2012 with the first incarnation of the Vantage GTE and the message was there was to be no repeat of 2011. Ahead of Le Mans last year, Aston Martin Chairman David Richards declared there was “no excuse” not to finish on the podium.
The GTE Vantage survived the gruelling race and finished on the podium. This time the bar is focused on the win.
“We put a lot of effort into it,” Richards told Racing.gt. “We’ve got a great line up of cars, great line up of drivers and, you know, I don’t deal in excuses.”
“Everyone sort of says you know they follow the leading prototypes and they watch what happens at the front. The reality is the real competition happens in GT. It’s a very hard fought victory. If you win in a GT that, to my mind, is the highest accolade of all.”
Team Principal John Gaw won’t be drawn too much on the potential for victory at Le Mans. Five factory teams, he points out, also with “terrific” driver line-ups, make 2013 tougher than ever.
“I don’t think you can predict it. It’ll be a heck of a slog for 24 hours, the cars will run nose-to-tail, I’m absolutely convinced about it. You make one mistake, you’re off the podium and whether that be technician or driver.
“You are going to have to be super-fast, drive super-fast during the night and the early morning. And you’re going to have to have a bit of luck as well. We like to think we’ll be in there fighting for the win.”
“I think Ferrari are going to come back this year. They’ll come back with a performance package. Corvette had a really tough time at Le Mans last year and that’s not going to happen again. Porsche have got a brand new car — will it be competitive from day one, who knows, it certainly has a capability to be that. Viper, you know, I think they will probably struggle, I might be wrong but they are the ones to struggle at Day One.”
Darren Turner, who’s been with AMR since 2005, won in 2007 and 2008 in the GT1 category. He wants victory badly this year.
“If you look back at the time I’ve had at Le Mans those two races are still my biggest highlight and it feels like a long time ago. So now it’s a case of I need another win and that’s basically what we’ve got to aim for and hopefully we can succeed this year with it.
“When we go to Le Mans Corvettes are always our sort of nemesis out there. That’s joined by Viper and obviously Ferrari and Porsche — world class acts when it comes to GT racing. It’s always competitive in GT racing and probably more competitive than it has been for a good number of years.
“I enjoy that. There’s no point going into racing and having no competition and picking up a trophy. You might win but it actually means nothing. It’s always better when there is a tremendous amount of competition and at the top of their game and when you win it is then the best feeling in the world.”
John Gaw told us about the process to sign the 2013 drivers.
“Probably my toughest decision over the last 6 months was the driver line-up and we analysed probably over 100 drivers. We got it down to shortlist of 12 or 15 on top of the guys we already had,” Gaw said.
“When it comes down to it, it is important that the guys fit together from a relationship perspective. Darren and Peter (2012 LMP1 driver Peter Dumbreck) are drinking buddies and that is one of the reasons why he is in the car with Darren. These guys need to work with each other.
“It’s terrific to have Bruno in the car. He’ll bring a completely different angle to it and a different experience. I think it’ll be tough for him at first but I think he will settle in very quickly and clearly he brings a lot of interest to the team as well.
“Rob Bell is just a solid and great guy. The last time he drove an Aston he was on pole position so it’s a terrific line up.”
Last year AMR was beaten to the championship title by AF Corse, partly down, no doubt, to the fact that it could run longer on each tank. One of those team winning drivers, Frederic Makowiecki, now with AMR, is praised by his new bosses and one of the fastest GT drivers today.
“I think it will be really close with Porsche and Ferrari because they are very competitive and probably have a nice driver line-up. But I’m really confident that the engineers here have done a really nice job and that we can have a car to win,” Makowiecki said.