Last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours winner Jonny Adam believes the new Aston Martin Vantage is capable of contending for victory at Le Mans and the manufacturers’ crown in the World Endurance Championship Super Season.
After six years racing the previous generation V8 Vantage GTE, Adam will race the new car for the first time in May’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. However, he remains full of praise for the car that took him to a memorable Le Mans win last June.
“Prodrive and Aston Martin Racing did a great job with the car over the six years we had the car. It’s the most successful GTE car in our history. It has won two world championships; in GTE Am in 2017 and GTE Pro in ’16. It’s also won Le Mans in Am and Pro now. It not only suits the Pros, it suits the Ams – you can see what Paul Dalla Lana achieved this year as well,” Adam added.
The Scot will have a lot of unknowns going into the first race of the WEC season because – unlike newcomers BMW who are racing the M8 in the IMSA Sportscar Championship – Aston won’t have any competitive mileage under its belt.
Adam is confident that won’t hamper the team though: “Up to Christmas we’d covered around 13,500 kilometres of testing. So we’ve done a lot. We’ve already done an endurance test which was really successful. But there are little things we still want to work on and it’s a BOP formula so we want a car that’s competitive, nice and easy to drive for places like Le Mans.
“We didn’t want to rush too early on getting the car out, the public has now seen it which is great. But I think the key thing for us is to work closely with all our partners and maximize your package ahead of the 2018 season. For example, the car has since tested in Abu Dhabi and Aragon and we’ll do as much as we can before the first race at Spa.”
The introduction of BMW has strengthened not just GTE Pro, but the WEC as a whole according to Adam, adding: “I think WEC as a championship is very, very strong. It’s a world championship and that’s what attracts manufacturers to it. The big thing about that is they’ve got two Le Mans now in one season and a Sebring race as well, so as an attraction for a driver it’s huge and everyone wants to be involved in it.”
Attracting manufacturers is a big boost for Aston Martin, with added prestige from battling with – and beating – other manufacturers of road-going sports cars giving Aston a boost off the track as well as on it.
“You have to look at it now and go – you’ve got Corvette at Le Mans and then BMW, Ford, Ferrari, Aston and Porsche who else is bubbling in the future to join that?” Adam said. “It is great for Aston because they’re all competitors in the production market, so to race against road competition in a world championship and Le Mans, ticks all the boxes. We’re confident we can challenge for that world championship.”
As well as battling on a world stage, Aston Martin Racing now has an unprecedented five factory drivers – Maxime Martin, Nicki Thiim, Darren Turner and Marco Sørensen – racing with GT3 customer teams in the British GT Championship.
Adam himself will be joining Optimum Motorsport, a team familiar to the GT3 class with Audi but making the leap to Aston Martin for 2018. He’ll also be racing with a new team-mate in Flick Haigh.
The deal came relatively out of the blue but the Scot can see why Optimum went with Aston: “You have to look at British GT and see what cars there that are good and easy to drive and the Aston has been one of the most successful GT3 cars in the history of British GT. We’ve won three championships in about five or six years so as a car it shows it is an easy one to get in and be fast in.
“Maybe that was the decision they made, but it’s just nice for us to have Optimum – which is a very good GT4 team – has won the championship, are now getting back into GT3 in Britain, jumping into an Aston and personally I think the car should hopefully suit Flick really well and she’s very determined to be successful in British GT this year.
“You look at what she’s achieved with Joe Osborne in the Le Mans Cup – her stints have been very impressive and I think it’s been great for us, for Aston, to see another female drive one of our cars in Britain and this time it’s not in GT4 it’s in a higher class.”
The double-champion will have competition in the Aston ranks this year, with the stretched schedule of the WEC super season allowing drivers to take on more programmes. With Thiim and Sørensen at TF Sport – Adam’s team for the last two years – Turner at returnees Beechdean, and Martin at GT Cup Champion Graham Davidson’s Jetstream Motorsport squad, it will be interesting to see who ends up as top Aston at the end of the season.
Our customers are still very important to us and TF is a great customer team, it is one of the biggest customer teams that Aston has across the world but we still treat everyone fairly. That’s why we support all these teams with factory drivers, the WEC season potentially is a bit quieter only being five weekends so it is nice now that we’re doing a bit more with customers in 2018,” Adam commented.
“I think all the factory drivers want to do well with our team-mates and our teams that we’ve been put with, but we all want to beat each other so it’ll be good competition between all the AMR factory drivers and our teams! It’s nice to see them join a championship which is hard-fought, British GT on the pro side has some very quick pros in there so I’m sure the racing will be close and it will be interesting to see who wants to be the first Aston home on a race weekend!”
Despite the Aston challenge, he admitted he is pleasantly surprised with the increase in entries in the top GT3 class and was pleased the championship didn’t split the categories – as was considered last season – with the explosion in GT4 numbers adding an extra layer of competition to everyone in GT3 thanks to the increase in traffic on shorter circuits like Oulton Park.
Combine that with quick pro drivers and Adam believes British GT is one of the hardest championships to win in: “It’s hard to win in British GT and it is hard to win more than two or three races in a year. The big thing with British GT is they’ve got it right with success penalties, when you win a race you get penalised with a timed pit stop and it’s right because it does penalise you. But, it makes it fair because everyone is there or thereabouts at the end of the year in terms of points so it always goes to the final round.”