Aston Martin’s 2018 Vantage GTE is new in every sense of the word – it features just five carry-over parts from the previous car.
It’s visually striking, more aggressive aerodynamically, armed with a turbo-charged Mercedes engine – and after its performance in testing, Aston Martin Racing believes it will immediately be able to challenge for wins and titles against the ever-growing manufacturer pack in the GTE Pro category.
“I’ve seen it from its early stages, and the development it’s been through… it’s become more gorgeous,” Jonny Adam told RACER. “It’s one of the most beautiful cars Aston has ever produced, and that goes for the road car as well as the race car. It’s so different from the current car, it’s so aggressive – and when you hear it you’ll be surprised by the noise.”
Aesthetics aside, Adam feels that the improvements made will put the new Vantage on par with Ford, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari’s newest challengers at the top level of GT racing in performance terms, too.
Adam, along with newly signed factory driver Alex Lynn, Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, have all tested the car, and had input into the development direction back at AMR’s base in Banbury, too.
They’ve spent extensive amounts of times helping tweak the cockpit design, the steering wheel, seating position and pedal box, ensuring that it’s as drivable as possible, and attractive for both professional and amateur racers.
“We’ve spent quite a few hours with the design team to go through refinements, and helping improve the cockpit, the driveability,” Adam said. “Little things like getting in and out of the car. We want it to be easy for pros, and importantly, for customers. You need gents [gentlemen drivers] to be able to get in and out quick, and make it user-friendly inside.
“We’re also in these cars for a long time, so we need them to be comfortable. It’s important to get that right. It’s nice to get involved in that process, and have your opinion heard. We’ve improved so much from the first initial design stage.
“There’s a lot of box-ticking, because as drivers in the Pro class, we can easily forget that customers will be using this soon, so for them, it needs to be easy.
“The way I would pitch the new car to a customer is like this: The visibility is much better. We sit lower and further back compared to the old car, so we feel a lot more in the car. It improves the center of gravity. The vision is out front and through the windows and mirrors is better, we can see a lot more of the apex and a lot more spread through the windows. Even getting in the car, because the seat is so far back, is a lot easier, because of the size of the doors. It’s a lot longer, and it means that any Am can get out quick in a driver change.
“Even the dashboard is a lot squarer – it doesn’t have a hump like the current car which takes vision out of the windscreen. It also has lit-up buttons and panels, and an adjustable pedal box too, for the first time. It caters for everyone, and will see you be more consistent over a stint as a result. And that’s factoring in only improvements to the cockpit.”
The move to a turbo-charged AMG-derived V8 is also a big one, after years spent with the meaty naturally-aspirated 480 bhp V8. This is a seismic change in philosophy, one that has spread across GTE, to the point where next year, in GTE Pro and GTLM in the States, only the Corvette C7.R and Porsche 911 RSR will run with naturally-aspirated power units.
New arrival Alex Lynn is pleased with the decision, because coupled with the car’s enhanced aerodynamics, he feels it suits his driving style. Prior to climbing aboard the new Vantage, Lynn only drove the outgoing Vantage for a handful of laps at the 2016 Bahrain WEC Rookie Test. However, it was enough to get acclimatized, and he could immediately feel the difference when he first climbed aboard the new car.
“It drives differently to a naturally-aspirated engine,” he said. “But the characteristics of a turbo engine suit my driving style, it’s like the M6 I drove at the N24 this year, which was a turbo as well. I personally enjoy driving turbo-powered cars. It means that you focus on preparing the corner exit, as you get more back than before, more of a performance gain. It’s a challenge, and it rewards a smoother driver.
“But while it is challenging, it’s much more drivable than the old car – it’s easier and more user-friendly, it meant I got up to speed quicker. It also has more downforce, which I’m more used to in prototypes and single-seaters. It’s a big step up in GT terms and it brings AMR on par with the other big factories.”
Adam, however, isn’t sure just how much of an advantage running a turbo-charged car is in the WEC.
“We saw at Shanghai for instance, how amazing the racing was, between the turbos and naturally-aspirated cars,” he said.
“Is it a big advantage? We’re not sure yet, but there’s certainly an improvement in terms of torque. The key is that it’s drivable, you want the throttle input to be good, and in all conditions, wet, dry, cold or hot.”
And, of course, by its nature, the new engine produces a very different sound to that of the current Vantage, though Adam was quick to assure RACER that for those who attend the races, the new Vantage will still be a favorite for fans noise-wise.
“In terms of noise, once you hear it in person you’ll be surprised, it sounds nice,” he explained. “It’s a different noise to the old V8, but I was surprised the first time I heard it that it’s still got punch. And to be fair, the competition has gone turbo-powered and Aston Martin wanted it that way with their new cars too, so we decided to have that in the car.”
The VP (Verification Prototype) development car – the only one currently in existence – that was shown off at the London launch is the latest of many iterations, stemming from the extensive testing program which has seen the car shaken down multiple times in the UK at Turweston and Pembrey, and pushed to the limits at Snetterton, Pembrey, Aragon, Rockingham, Andalusia (where the team completed 30 hours of non-consecutive running), Sebring and for the first time in AMR history, in a 30-hour non-stop run at Navarra.
All of Aston Martin’s factory drivers have taken turns behind the wheel during this time, and Beechdean AMR ELMS GTE driver Ross Gunn was also involved in the early stages.
“Darren was part of the first test, he was the first to drive it, and I was there, and I witnessed how happy he was,” Adam explained. “It felt like a new era straight away. So much effort went in from AMR, and it was quite nice to see how much it meant to everyone to just get it out and drive it.
“Then I got in, and immediately I noticed just from pulling away how different it feels. It’s very nice, though. It put me on a high, and it helped that it ran so well on its first shakedown, too. There’s been so many steps since then, right the way up to the test at Sebring this month. It performs and drives better each time.
Lynn, who was involved in the team’s 30-hour run in Spain, agrees, telling RACER that so far the new Vantage has proven to be reliable out of the box, as well as fast.
“The mentality at the 30-hour test was to keep it out of the garage while we simulated a full 24-hour race with a few extra hours bolted on,” he said. “As you can imagine with a new car, that’s difficult. I think when any factory takes on a 30-hour test, no matter how big or small, it’s big task, but it went really well.
“We also got a feel for how the car performed at night there, as it was in the winter and the circuit has zero light. It was pitch black, and that was beneficial. The visibility was good, really good, the lights are stunning; I suppose though, that being a young guy helps, too!
“Then we headed to Florida. We didn’t do an endurance test at Sebring, but we did lots of consecutive long runs and ensured that the car didn’t have to be pushed out of pit lane for checks.”
Adam echoed Lynn, telling RACER that during his time in the car, there have just been a few minor issues.
“There were a few niggles, but the actual running of the car has been great, at every test,” he said. “The most impressive part is that they’ve done a 30-hour test already. Reliability-wise we’re on schedule. Don’t get me wrong, there will probably be niggles along the way, but we feel on top of things. We think we can win races right away with it.
“There’s such a good vibe at AMR because of how well this has gone, and I’m sure that’ll translate into next year.”