Our inside view of the new AMR Vantage GTE

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

After almost eighteen months since its silhouette first graced a computer screen somewhere in central England, the new Aston Martin Racing model 15A enters its first competitive season of racing in just under six week’s time at the start of the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship’s new ‘Super Season’.

To celebrate that fact, Aston Martin Racing invited a small bunch of motorsport and automotive media (including The-Advantage) to attend a very special briefing at their Prodrive facility last week for a ‘no holes bared’ insight into the car that is their new Vantage GTE.

With almost zero component transfer between the old iteration of GTE and the new, the task of designing a completely new Vantage racing car became a highly collaborative effort between the 300 strong Prodrive facility and those working on the road car variant at the Aston Martin Lagonda HQ back at Gaydon. Thousands of man hours and kilometres of testing went into their new creation which is now ready to be let loose on a race track for the first time.

Most of the chassis development work has been completed with their test car (chassis 15A-001-1), the car that was presented to the world at its official launch in central London last year. Midnight oil was burned by the team building two further cars just in time for the team’s Michelin tyre test at Motorland Aragon back at the end of February and it will be these latest two cars (chassis #002 and #003) that will go on to compete in the GTE Pro class of the WEC and at Le Mans for Aston Martin Racing.

One further chassis (15A-004-01) is presently in the state of fabrication in the workshop and will be available to team as a spare for the 2018 part of the Super Season at least.

With a backdrop of previous variants of the AMR flagship GT racer, two new GTE cars were presented to us within the workshop – the test car was the closest to us (see below) and was complete but was due to be stripped down and rebuilt following on its three-day test at the Aston Martin Racing Collective Test at Portimao last week that had Ross Gunn behind the wheel for much of it.

Chassis #003 beyond that but was still in the process of being rebuilt ready for the WEC Prologue that takes place in just under three weeks time and that reconstruction work exposed many of the more ‘sensitive’ parts of the car to us - parts that the team were this time willing to share with us!

The missing new race car (chassis #002) was conspicuous by its absence as that was apparently away somewhere in Germany being checked out on a five post rig – why we weren’t told but some things do have to stay confidential!


Being able to talk so openly with key members of the AMR team like Paul Howarth - Team Principle, Arthur Shaw - Chief Engineer for engines, drivers Darren Turner and Maxime Martin and others who were in attendance was something that even AMR admitted didn’t happen very often. Being able to literally touch, sit in and feel the product gave all who attended the briefing a fantastic and unprecedented insight into what the new AMR GTE project had achieved.

“You can do as much testing as you like but there’s nothing like the heat of the battle to keep the team momentum going” was Howarth’s opening gambit! How true a statement is that?

The physical build time that has gone into each of the three available cars was incredible – with Prodrive receiving a pre-constructed new Vantage lightweight aluminium bonded monocoque direct from the Gaydon factory, before spending a further 60-80 man hours installing their laser cut FIA approved roll cage system, a similar time beyond that to pre-drill each and every point of attachment within that monocoque, fit panels for alignment before passing it through to the assembly area for everything to be fitted (to make it a functioning race car) which in itself takes a further 100 man hours!!

We learned of the attention to detail that was needed within the road car variant of the new Vantage had to be meticulous as the governing technical regulations for the race car only permitted a positional tolerance of up to 25mm against that of its road car opposite.

Senior Design Engineer Adam Phelps went on to explain about the very close working relationship between those at Gaydon and those at Prodrive, how they were able to work so closely and make improvements so quickly together thanks to the smaller structure of the two businesses and the cross-over between them. It certainly appeared as if the requirements of the new race car took priority over that of the road car!

The previous iteration of Vantage GTE was launched back in 2012, upgraded in 2016 but always relied upon it 4.5 litre normally aspirated V-block engine to muscle itself around, but in 2017 that engine and the outdated technology around it proved to become the cars achilles heel as far as the Balance of Performance stakes were concerned.

Chief Engineer for Engines, Arthur Shaw explained that the selection of a turbo charged engine was not as simpler choice as it may have sounded (see Porsche running a normally aspirated engine in their new 911 RSR’s) but eventually the team did decide that the AMG based turbo charged engine was perhaps best for their own package. The stance of the team was after all to remove as many variables to their opposition machinery as possible!

Being said that the car will be powered by an AMG engine is in itself slightly misleading, as talking with Shaw it became apparent that at least 35% of the ‘engine’ is actually designed, produced and fitted by Aston Martin Racing. The block itself is AMG but the heads, pre exhaust ‘plumbing’ and electronics around are all in-house – nothing visible on the engine suggests a German power plant - just this simple badge.

“Some of the biggest concerns we faced” explained Shaw “were around heat dissipation and air flow management within the engine bay. Getting everything else housed within the available space under the bonnet also gave the need to redesign several key components many times over with the engine itself being lowered in the chassis by 100mm for both greater balance and lower centre of gravity as well as having to accommodate the two huge engine top mounted Borg-Warner twin turbos.

Each engine has a service life of approximately 12,000kms between rebuilds and the distance now covered by the test car puts that engine into its second rebuild. Originally the team had access to just three engines for their development programme, that has now increased to five units in readiness for the Prologue and that will again increase up to possibly ten units prior to the start of the season at Spa Francorchamps in May.

Weight savings and performance improvements have been attained from their new braking system from Alcon, making it now possible to replace the discs without first removing the calliper saving the team time in the garage. The differences in driver size and regulatory restrictions on sliding seat positions has also been covered by the use of a sliding Alcon pedal box which can be moved into their preferred fixed position by the driver himself upon each driver change.

The old X-Trac gearbox (silver unit in background above) has been redesigned and reduced in size, form and weight meaning that the drive shafts can now run in a more horizontal position relative to the track surface, placing less stress on the CV joints than before.

In term of visual aesthetics of the car, we understand that the predominant lime green livery is what we shall see on the three factory entered cars for the entire WEC Super-Season calendar and there is presently no expectation of the team running another ‘Valero’esq’ livery at any point. Livery decals aboard the older iteration #98 car will of course differ slightly due to its Am class status and its private backing.

With the change in the WEC calendar format to what we now affectionately refer to as the Super-Season, we learned that Aston Martin Racing are also keeping their driver options well and truely open.

Despite having already publicised a six driver line up, we learned from Paul Howarth that all six drivers will not necessarily travel with the team to all events and that the team will (more than likely) revert back to its preferred two driver solution for the shorter six hour events. Given that the six hour events will be in the UK, Japan and China, the decisions of who sits out and when will be taken by Howarth nearer the time for each event and will be made against a very private agenda of performance criteria for the drivers.

As each visit to Spa in both 2018 and 2019 will also come immediately before Le Mans, we do continue to expect however a three driver participation at those races in readiness for the respective 24Hr event afterwards.

That being said, we did find out that AMR driver Ross Gunn will also be travelling with the team for the entire season as both a substitute driver (if required) and to help the team understand further any issues being reported back by the drivers and just as part of a general learning curve for himself as AMR ramp up their ‘investment’ in him.

For the Prologue, we see that all three factory entered cars (2x GTE Pro and 1x GTE Am) will be in attendance complete with all nine listed drivers (plus Gunn). The #95 Dane Train car of Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Darren Turner is being ear marked as the team’s participant within the available 30 hour test at Paul Ricard – a test that the team will use to further stress test the car/team/drivers despite having already completed three similar long durations tests over the winter.

Whilst final run plans have yet to be determined, Howarth envisages that tyres will again be key to success with the team having first access to their latest version of confidential tyre from Michelin whilst at the Prologue following their tyre optimisation tests in Abu Dhabi over the winter where decisions had to be made.

Howarth was confident that their new GTE’s capabilities and performance levels were where they should be relative to each circuit and their opposition’s machinery having applied all of their new and previous test data to a theoretical computer model of the car and a simulator of each track to indicate how the car should potentially be performing as an overall package.

Comments were that the new car was both lighter on its tyres through balance and more fuel-efficient meaning that their maximum stint lengths should increase beyond the hour mark of old to more replicate those of the Ferrari and Ford packages.

With Turner being the longest serving member of the driver line up at AMR having been there since effective day one of the collaboration, he commented about how humbled he had been to be asked to be the first drive their latest creation again. 

Looking forward to the first race of the season at Spa Francorchamps in early May we asked Howarth what he would consider to be a good start to the season for the team in GTE Pro with a brand new car?

“In the mix with two laps to go and in the top four fighting for a podium” was the simple reply “we will obviously condition the drivers to look for the win but a podium with a good race performance (from both a sporting and technical point of view) will be what I will be looking for.”

To answer questions about the continued concentration of team members during the long breaks between races Howarth commented that due to the development of the new car to date they actually had had little to no spare time to dwell as they would have otherwise have had as every effort was being put towards the technical development of the car as well as performance development of the crew with a healthy competitive spirit being born within the workshop to perform the best and so to secure the ‘best jobs’ within the 50 strong pit crew who would attend each race.

Drivers are not being left out in that predatory work having already left for their week long French training camp in the Dordogne, France this week for their own style of fitness preparation which will apparently include a mini triathlon.

The WEC's Official Test, aka 'The Prologue' is over the 6th and 7th April. Thirty-five race cars will be in attendance across the four classes with thirteen of those electing to participate within the available thirty hour continuous test window.

Free public access is permissible on Saturday 7th together with the usual series feature of free paddock access and a pit walk (times to be confirmed).

2018-19 has all the hallmarks of an ultra-competitive GTE season and it appears that most if not all cannot wait for it all to begin – game on!

Additional images c/o Nick Dungan/AMR
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