New Aston Martin Racing Vantage racer comes of age

Monday, December 23, 2019

Just over a calendar year ago, the new turbo charged era of Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT3 and GT4 machinery opened up their first racing accounts at the Gulf 12Hr race from the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.

There, we saw the likes of R-Motorsport, Beechdean AMR and Oman Racing with TF Sport AMR Partner Teams get their first hold of their latest AMR acquisitions whilst the factory team also entered their test and development Vantage GT4 to test it against their class peers in a live racing situation in the remaining months before each platform was finally homologated just before the start of the European season later in March this year.

Even at this early stage of Partner team interaction and at the cars first racing event, both showed an inkling of what was to come in 2019 as, and despite some technical 'niggles' with some of the cars, the Beechdean AMR GT3 came through to secure the final step of the GT3 Pro-Am podium after just a brief shakedown before the event - race one/podium one!!

Over the winter months, the Prodrive factory would put into practice lessons learned with both platforms in the Gulf 12Hr (and as we later understood from TF Sport boss Tom Ferrier that that was surprisingly little adjustment from what raced at the Gulf 12hr) as they struggled to meet customer demand for their new chassis in time for pre-season testing and indeed race meetings March/April this year. Whilst most platforms were delivered in time for at least some pre-season testing, there were a few teams that were left wanting as their season commitments came up quickly upon them.

The Vantage GT4 would quickly get its next public race early in the New Year at the opening round of the new Michelin Pilot Challenge Series that supports IMSA's opening salvo of their 2019 season -  the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway. Running in the hands of long standing AMR team Automatic Racing, the performance of the GT4 certainly turned heads despite a few technical issues that otherwise blighted a successful US audition.

The initial bulk of new cars was delivered to just the European markets, 2019 would show an unprecedented level of demand as teams (some existing - some new to the marque) were entered and had many customer drivers waiting to race these new cars in Series and Championships like the British GT, Blancpain GT Series, ADAC GT Masters, ADAC GT4 Germany, GT4 European Series and GT Open, etc. Several teams would also be running parallel race programmes with the same rolling stock such was the demand for the cars with their initial delivery delay just adding to the then high stress levels within the teams by the time their rolling stock were finally delivered and for some that was on the morning of the Champions Media Day!!

On the eve of these Partner and Customer team racing commitments in the 2019 season, the new AMR Vantage GTE had already come of age having secured its first pole position and race win in the World Endurance Championship so there were now high expectations on these two smaller Vantage platforms as their season began. It turned out that neither would disappoint.

The biggest influx of cars came from within the British GT Championship where no fewer than eleven cars running in both classes - four cars with TF Sport, two with Beechdean, two with Academy and three with Optimum Motorsports. It would be quickly apparent whether AMR's latest weapon would/could carry the mantle established by the V12 machine that it replaced - and it did with podiums for Optimums GT3 and Beechdean GT4 new crews at their opening round.

This Championship would ultimately produce the largest number of Championship and Class winners as well as Jonny Adam extended his Championship credentials to win his fourth overall title with new team convert Graham Davidson whilst across their garage, Ash Hand and Tom Canning would secure their first overall GT4 crown as well as ultimately the AMR Drivers Academy prize for Canning.

These two titles were further bolstered by the GT3 Silver Class win for Optimum's Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis whilst Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher secured the GT4 Pro-Am title with their Beechdean AMR prepared Vantage GT4.

In what was then the Blancpain GT Series, Partner teams R-Motorsport, Garage 59 and Oman Racing with TF Sport would fly the AMR flag in the Endurance rounds with the highly influential Swiss based team also having two Vantage GT3 cars in the Blancpain World Challenge Europe sprint series.

For the Endurance Series, it would be the new Pro-Am driver line of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood aboard the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport who would claim the highest honours in the series whilst the #188 Garage 59 car of Alex West and Chris Goodwin (with a little help from Chris Harris along the way) who would only just miss out in the Am Class.

It was of course not all fun and games for the AMR runners as Garage 59's Pro car of Come Ledogar, Jonny Adam and Andrew Watson as well as the #62 R-Motorsport car of Mathieu Vaxivierre, Maxime Martin and Matt Parry would end up having the most disastrous season imaginable with each car claiming just two and one point respectively by the end of the season. The other R-Motorsport Pro car of Jake Dennis, Marvin Kirchhofer and Alex Lynn would at least finish P6 overall whilst their World Challenge Europe runners Aaro Vainio and Hugo de Sadeleer only just missed out on the Silver Cup title after the final race of the season.

SRO sanctioned series, the GT4 European Series would be another that saw an increased prevalence in AMR runners for their 2019 season as Academy Motorsport, German team Prosport Performance and Belgium team Street Art Racing would offer two Vantage GT4's each together with a periodic attendance from the Generation AMR SuperRacing squad.

For the German based team, Prosport Performance (by now running under the Propeak Performance banner) their conversion to the AMR brand would seem like a choice well made despite the late arrival of their cars with performances and results initially going in their favour as the drivers became more accustomed to their cars. Issues with cars through their over optimistic multi programme of racing in both this and their national ADAC series began to cause performance issues within to such a degree that the team finally pulled it's four cars from the final rounds of the ADAC GT Masters and ADAC GT4 Germany Series before season's end.

Sad for all involved by all means but also verification that modern motorsport is so competitive these days that an 'acceptable' level of success could be measured so precisely.

Whilst that was a large dose of bad news on one hand, the Am Class Street Art Racing entry of Clement Seyler and Pascal Bachmann would go on to establish another AMR overall Class winner in GT4 European Series Am Class in what was the young Luxembourg racers first season in GT's.

The German VLN Series and ADAC Total N24 headliner would also bring about some surprising driver crews and successes as first Peter Cate, Jamie Chadwick and Alex Brundle would secure the new GT4's first overall class win at the 24 hour event before the latter, accompanied by his F1 accomplished father Martin would race together in the same car at a VLN event later in the year where they would finish an incredible P2 again in the SP8T class.

After the initial rush, the factory was soon able to supply cars to its Partner and Customer teams further afield, more GT4 cars to their American market whilst both GT3 and GT4 cars went to the Far East for competition in both Japanese Super GT and Super Taikyu Series as well as the China GT4 Championship.

Whilst the ultra competitive Super GT series proved hard and frustrating work for the factory's new Partner Team D'Station Racing AMR, they would have better success in the Super Taikyu Series finishing just off the top step of the Series by the end of the season. Since then, the team have gone onto enter (and win) their class in the opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series in Shanghai earlier this month with AMR WEC factory Ross Gunn part of the squad.

Gunn also played a part in the Vantage GT4's introduction into the China GT Championship after young AMR Academy Driver Yves Volte initially paved the way with the BSEM AMR gentleman driver with their older, normally aspirated Vantage GT8 whilst they waited for the delivery of their new car. Podiums and race wins were the successes for both Gunn and David Pun by the end of the year before the team later sent two such cars to the Macau GP where one finished an incredible P2 in the GT4 support race.

For Aston Martin Racing, the new goal continues to be that of the North America market with having now gone several years in the American series' without any fully factory backed AMR cars competing within them. 2020 bears the hallmarks that their hard work is now being rewarded with 'more than a handful' of new, turbo charged generation of race cars about to go racing in the USA.

For the Rolex 24 that starts in January, we will have two new Vantage GT3 (GTD) cars compete in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship for the first time in three years - the Heart of Racing being a full season entry with another cameo attendance of long time AMR customer Paul Dalla Lana with his supporting drivers Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Ross Gunn. Fellow AMR WEC driver Nicki Thiim also plays a part with the Heart of Racing car.

Beyond them, 2020 will also see two new AMR cars compete in the recently renamed SRO Series GT4 America as well as further (potential) runners in the Michelin Pilot Challenge with the help of AMR strategic North America Partner CSJ Motorsport.

Back in Europe, the preparations for 2020 seem to be a little more sedate with only R-Motorsport announcing details of their Intercontinental GT Challenge Season challenge at the Bathurst 12hr (and the AMR Vantage GT3's audition in Australia) with an international and series diverse line up, Optimum Motorsport have confirmed so far just a single returning driver back to the British GT Championship with AMR WEC driver Maxime Martin announcing his own new GT4 team that will do battle in both GT4 European Series and ADAC GT4 Germany series.

Until further confirmation is received from these multiple teams we can only sit and wait for the deadlines to come and go and hope that something is announced in between. 2019 has been an incredible opening season for the new breed of race car out of the Banbury factory with nearly 50 GT4's and 22 GT3's already having been built in their first year!

2020 may not be as busy at last years but at least it should be just as exciting to watch - whatever the series and whatever the venue - but then, there is a lot more still to come from Aston Martin..........!!!

Photo credits - AMR / Aston Martin / Blancpain / British GT / R-Motorsport / CSJ Motorpsort / IMSA / Gulf 12h / China GT / D'Station Racing

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