Writing already on the wall for AMR at Le Mans?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Having taken a couple of days off since our return from Le Mans it appears that we are not alone in our thoughts and opinions of what happened to the two new V8 Vantage GTE Pro cars from Aston Martin Racing at their inaugeral racing visit to the Circuit de La Sarthe last weekend.

Arriving at any race series that employs any kind of balancing of performance system across its classes with a brand new cars is always going to give the controlling series a 'headache' in terms of determining where (exactly) the performance of that car is in relation to its competition. The fragility of that system has indeed been exposed a number of times over the last few of years after the ACO had their 'fingers burned' by the arrival of the then new Ford GT and its accompanying sandbags back in 2016 through to the persistent changing the year after - something that directly lead to the new Auto-BoP system within the WEC.

The first round of this new Super-season last month at Spa was never a defining moment for AMR, simply a case of needing both cars to run smoothly and without incident in order to give the FIA/ACO as much 'real-time' data as possible before moving to the Le Mans 24hr which itself employs a different Balancing system to that of the World Endurance Championship.

Test day at Le Mans earlier this month gave AMR a significant problem with the early destruction of one of their new Vantage GTE cars as Marco Sorensen was involved in a horrific accident with an LMP2 prototype, an accident that had the potential to end much worse for the Dane that it did. Over the next five days the AMR crew at Banbury showed the highest level of resolve and determination  to build a brand new GTE car from scratch for Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Darren Turner to race at the greatest of endurance racing events just the following week!!

The real issues surrounding the cars outright pace soon resurrected themselves out on track as both GTE Pro cars languished at the foot of the timing board after the Free Practice session on Wednesday afternoon some four seconds behind the class pace setting Porsches - early days we hoped as AMR were still behind on their set up routine having lost one car early on at the test!

Frustratingly that was not the case as those four seconds soon elongated to between five and seven seconds during the three Qualifying sessions that took place over both Wednesday and Thursday evenings as both cars were forced to trim out downforce in favour of straight line speed - a battle that was simply never going to be won with the hand that the ACO had given them.

Frustration within the AMR camp must have been enormous!

With the exception of the team who never publicly challenge the stance of the organisers, many were questioning the need for a further change to the cars BoP before the race just like the ACO had done inversely with the Ford back in 2016 when those cars were running off into the distance. We understand that the team met in private with the ACO on Friday morning to discuss there issues after which the series announced another change in BoP across the board with AMR receiving the largest positive changes.

The reduction in base weight and the increases in turbo power across the engine range was of course welcomed but it gave the six drivers a totally new driving experience within the car to investigate with only Saturday morning warm up to complete that and any other set-up works that were required.

Throughout the race itself you could see the extent of the cars struggle - lack of downforce allowing the front end to wash out in the corners, slow enough down the straights as to be same track position relative to the nearest GTE Am car with their Bronze driver aboard for lap after lap and loosing over three seconds per lap to the (still) class leading Porsches.

For the ACO to allow both cars to start the 24hr behind and then having to run amongst the front runners of the lower GTE Am class was simply an insult to all the hard work and support that AMR has given the showcase event to date. We now wonder if the sudden and previously announced attendance of the teams new and unrestricted GT3 car in the AMR Festival was subtly used by the team to demonstrate to the ACO just what the chassis could do if control measures allowed as that car easily beat the lap times of its bigger GTE variant?

We thought that the whole purpose of this kind of endurance racing was being able to develop a race cars that could be adjusted (slightly) so that all could race within a small time margin of time to one another whilst at their optimum level of performance. For the more cynical amongst us we only have to look back to 2016 when Ford rocked up with their new GT race car (whilst in a significant anniversary year for themselves as well) and won the 24hr by a country mile. This year we see Porsche arrive with their next to new race car (and were also in a significant anniversary year for themselves) and again beat their class competitors at a canter - the writing for that had certainly been written on the wall at a very early stage in the LM24 proceedings!

What we don't understand is just why the new Vantage GTE was just so slow in comparison in the first place as we had all heard that it was faster than the platform it replaces - is it just a bad BoP, was it something more significant like the team getting their design calculations wrong or is it something in-between? Five seconds per lap around Le Mans can never be recouped by just re-adjusting set-up ready for the race as that would only add perhaps one second at best  - the real issues here remain engine performance and downforce related as the cars were always both slow and unstable in comparison.

The next round of the WEC will be at Silverstone in just over a months time. Unfortunately that is another circuit that the AMR GTE Pro normally struggle at but it will be interesting to see if the WEC's Auto-Bop system will give out any further adjustments beforehand - not just to AMR but also BMW who were also also effectively balanced out off the GTE Pro equation at Le Mans alongside the IMSA entry from Corvette.

What nobody wants is a return to the days of a BoP adjustment per round per car just like in 2016 as that doesn't highlight the racing discipline that we all love in a good light as it certainly doesn't give rise to a competitive race across either GTE class. To loose on a level playing field is simply racing - having to compete against something that is being externally interfered with is another!

Taking the positives from what was a poor weekend, at least the #95 completed the race without incident or accident (which is amazing considering the chassis' short life span before the race) whilst the #97 of Jonny Adam, Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin did suffer from oil pump issues at several stages in the race. That is all good, credible data and racing environment experience for the team that the they can now work with to see what can be improved before Silverstone.

Lets see what happens there........!

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