Aston Martin. The name is synonymous with beautiful, sleek Grand Touring cars adorned in British Racing Green racing at Le Mans and taking some famous victories.
It is also infamous for financial instability; a revolving door of ownership bodies over the decades as the brand struggles to gain a foothold in a saturated prestige sportscar market, developing models that while beautiful, are often overlooked or run on a tad too long. With many of its past cars often sandwiched somewhere in between the pure performance of McLaren or Ferrari and the overstated opulence of Bentley and Rolls Royce marques, the brand fights tooth and nail for market share against many rivals local and abroad.
Recently the brand has pushed very hard to flex its muscles in the hyper car direction with the amazing Valkyrie and Valhalla cars – the high-tech flagships to a flurry of new models released over the last five years.
It marks a fight against stagnation – one that could be epitomised by the last Vantage model, a car that went on to serve for thirteen years, with the GT3 model of that car going for an amazing six-year run.
However, that consistency was also a strength – paired to the fact that the Vantage V12 GT3 was built from the onset as a true gentleman racers car. Simplified aero, maximum straight-line power, and the sound of the screaming V12 ensured the order customer book was healthy and the car pretty much raced in every corner of the globe with great results in amateur hands. This led to several of them making a jump to the Vantage GTE in the hope of racing at Le Mans.
But GT3 changed, notably in 2016 with a new specification: cars were getting more and more sophisticated. Aerodynamics, lap consistency, running costs and factory support became big factors in potential customers minds. Aston had to react – and in 2017 went to the drawing board with long-time technical partner Prodrive.
Thankfully, it had a new baby Vantage on the way with a newly sourced powerplant – and with customer offerings previously spread over differing GT3 and GTE platforms it saw a new market opportunity for one car that could be the platform for both formulas – allowing buyer to jump up to GTE (and potentially Le Mans) once GT3 was mastered.
The result was whole new, up-to-date platform that is one of two such cars on the market to allow for the specification conversion; the Ferrari 488 GT3 being the only other. Will this increase the number of Astons in the field? Time will tell.
The latest Aston Vantage is built on an all-new platform developed for the DB11 – and all-aluminium bonded construction. The bodywork is full carbon fibre and very similar to that developed for the GTE version of the car which debuted in 2018 – a year before the GT3 started racing. The car can be fully converted between GTE and GT3 specifications by a competent crew in around five hours – with a number of items of bodywork being part of the conversion.
The key items requiring change from GTE and GT3 are the side skirts (GTE has wider skirts that extend out to the exterior tyre walls), front tyre fenders (GT3 allows for louvres above the tyres), front bumper and splitter (GTE has a provision for a solid towing eye and end-fences on the lip splitter), rear wing mounts (GT3 is larger and brings the wing forward), rear wing (GT3 has larger chord and endplates) and rear diffuser.
While not officially published – it is anticipated the Vantage AMR GT3 is the maximum allowed width of 2040mm for GT3 cars. The car loses around 200kg from the road car – tipping the scales at 1245kg dry in GT3 spec.
Lighting arrays are shared between cars: the headlights, taillights, rain light and endurance lighting kits are similar in GTE and GT3 models.
A steel roll-cage is built to FIA standards, fully welded into the base chassis, with the FIA mandated safety hatch provided in the roof for driver helmet access.
When all is said and done, the new Vantage GT3 achieves 50:50 weight distribution front to rear.
Rolling, bumping and stopping
The Aston GT3 is slowed by an Alcon braking system, with ventilated steel rotors paired to six piston front calipers and four pot rear calipers. Adjusting the level of bite is a Bosch ABS system – very common among GT3 cars.
Suspension is performed by double wishbone systems front and rear. Damping is provided by four-way adjustable Ohlins racing dampers.
The GT3 car shares the same spec as the GTE car for rims and tyres, with 300/680 – 18 tyres up front mounted on 12.5×18” TWS forged wheel rims, while the wider rear tyres are 310/710 – 18, on 13×18” rims. The wheels are fixed to the car via centre lock racing hubs.
Power and Transmission
The car is built around an AMG-sourced M177 V8 twin turbo powerplant and while not as aurally evocative as the screaming V12 it replaces, it provides ample motivation. As you’ve come to expect from Aston Martin, the engine is located in the front. It a is a 4.0L 90° unit with Borg Warner turbo chargers – similar to that used in the road-going AMG GT. Being an AMG, the engines are hand built.
For racing applications, the engine receives dry-sump lubrication to reduce overall size, and it is relocated lower and further back within the engine bay for optimal weight distribution.
The car has short exhaust systems that exit either side of the car just behind the front wheel arches. This is typically an uncommon design style with GT3 cars – Nissan famously departed from this with the 2015 spec GT-R Nismo GT3 as the catalytic converter and exhaust system produce excessive heat that in turn warm the front tyres – which provides inconsistency according to the weather the car races in. There is significant insulation or distance to mitigate this influence.
The Aston uses an X-Trac transaxle-mounted gear box. It is six speed, paddle shift controlled – with electric influence. This is connected to the engine drive via a carbon fibre prop-shaft.
The sleek, flowing profile of the Vantage is broken up by a number of key aerodynamic items on the GT3 model.
The front of the car breaks the air via a large carbon fibre splitter. Its lip has a straight profile, with no tunnels featured across its length. It juts out slightly in the front corners of the car to divide airflow just before it reaches the front wheels and has a slight upturn to provide a bit of downforce similar to a small dive plane.
The upper flow over the splitter goes into the front air intake styled in Aston Martins unique grille shape. The grille is split into four distinct sections; the lower outer edges take in air for brake cooling, the central three, stacked one above the other, take in air for engine cooling, with the middle element focusing air through the angled radiator coils similar to other GT3 builds. Air flow through these and the associated turbocharger intercoolers is funnelled through two distinct tunnels to reduce drag created by flow pressure and exhausted out via two large rear-facing vents in the cars bonnet, which send the flow outward. The upper grille takes in air for the engine combustion, fed via mandated restrictors. Two NACA ducts at the rear of the bonnet take in air to support the cockpit ventilation.
Air that passes under the front splitter is sped-up by virtue of being squeezed by the cars flat floor and the road surface, creating suction.
It is noted that there are no dive planes on the car – simplifying aero and reducing parts to be replaced.
At the rear of the front wheel arches are exhaust tunnels to allow for hot air within the engine bay and around the rotating front wheels to escape, assisted by a deep ‘cut’ in the wheel arch just aft of the front wheel to help air spill into the lower side of the air flow bodies around the car. On top, a set of louvres assists in allowing turbulent air to escape the wheel wells over the car.
These disturbed air flows are mixed with hot air from the engine exhaust and are kept from passing under the car and affecting the ground effect via side skirts that act as a barrier.
At the rearward side of these skirts a pair of low mounted rear brake ducts are installed to help maintain rear brake temperatures from the rigours of racing.
At the rear of the car, a full-width swan-neck mounted rear wing presses the rear axle to the ground, maximising grip. A small lip spoiler from the boot lid – taken from the road car profile – also shapes airflow that has clung along the car’s body. Both of these ‘spoilers’ are paired to a long, shallow rear diffuser that protrudes from the compact rear of the car some distance. The diffuser expands the airflow forced under the car, changing its pressure and effectively sucking more air from underneath as the car is in motion.
The flow body off the rear of the car is tuned so that the rear wing air flow and the plume of turbulent air from the diffuser are not interacting too early, affecting drag.
The Vantage GT3 features a heavily stripped out interior for minimal weight and optimal functionality, in line with its rivals. Modern GT3 is all about making the various function of the cars control system as accessible to the driver as possible in a small form factor, and the Aston takes its learning from the brand’s Le Mans Prototype and GTE factory efforts and applies it here.
A Formula 1 style multi-function carbon fibre steering wheel features around twelve buttons and five dials to adjust the car’s balance and electronic influences on the fly such as the ABS levels and Traction Control levels, as well as fuel maps. Headlights, radio, speed limiters are also within reach of the driver while both hands are on the grips. Pride of place is taken by the large Aston Martin winged emblem positioned in the middle of the wheel.
Cosworth provides most of the electronic controls for the car, providing the display, data loggers and engine control unit.
Bosch provides the motorsport ABS controller specific for GT3 set-up – as the car can be readily converted to GTE specification which does not allow ABS.
A carbon fibre centre console takes care of other key buttons such as engine ignition, fire extinguishers to name a few.
An FIA 8862 grade safety seat with Schroth six-point harness is installed, and all interior trims are made in carbon fibre – a far cry from the leather and woodgrain of the road-going models.
A steel roll cage to FIA safety standards is welded in to suit the car’s chassis and is part of the suit of safety systems mandated by the FIA, such as roof hatch for driver neck stabilisation, dual safety nets and fire suppression system. In the rear of the cabin is the FIA level fuel cell and bladder.
The Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 was primarily developed as a GTE car first for the brand’s factory FIA World Endurance Championship aspirations, and the GT3 car was adapted from this stock.
With Aston Martin having been majority purchased by the Stroll family, and a change of factory racing commitments to Formula 1 to increase the brand’s profile, the professional GTE program was parked to maximise resources. This puts the Vantage GTE and subsequently, GT3 program as a lesser priority. The future of the car from here is not known, although as the platform will likely be relevant for some time to come, continuing with the existing model built to modern regulation makes sense.
While the car may yet be adapted to suit the upcoming 2022 GT3 regulations via an Evo kit, no such news has been forthcoming from Gaydon. The car is predominantly represented in the British GT Championship, and to some extent in the GT World Challenge, but in lesser numbers than established brands from continental Europe.
But Aston Martin is a grand touring sportscar brand. Its heritage is based on DB model cars racing at Le Mans since the 50’s – and this is part of why, despite its tumultuous financial history, it has survived to this day. This fabric is unlikely to change – even more so as it positions itself as the ‘British Ferrari’, and while it has recently focussed on pushing out hypercars, its Grand Touring heritage cannot be ignored.
Indeed, as long as Maranello produces GT3 racing cars, likely so will Aston Martin. But come a few years’ time; will the next Aston racing sportscar be a mid-engine model?
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