Aston Martin Racing is heading into this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with renewed confidence after its new low-downforce aero kit posted more competitive Test Day times compared to last year.
The Aston Martin Vantage GTE struggled for pace last year in its second-ever race appearance, qualifying five seconds off class poke and finishing five laps from the class-winning Porsche 911 RSR.
But during the Test Day on June 2, the modified Aston improved on its best time from the same event last year by five seconds, placing ninth in the 17-car GTE-Pro field.
Team managing director John Gaw attributed the improvements to several factors but singled out the new aero kit, which tested at Monza recently, as a key reason.
Aston used its standard WEC aero configuration with some Le Mans-specific revisions in last year’s race, which came right at the start of the works program.
“First of all, it’s a different aero pack, so there was too much drag on the car for what the ACO want,” Gaw told Sportscar365.
“You can still deliver the lap time, but you can’t do the race-ability because the top speed is a bit slower than the other cars, and we were too strong using the sprint car in the Porsche Curves.
“So we’ve taken some downforce off the front and redirected the air underneath the car to the diffuser to add downforce to the rear, and then you can take the downforce off using the wing.
“That’s definitely going to be a difference. We understand the car a lot better, from a setup perspective.”
Gaw said that Aston is feeling better prepared for its second 24-hour race with the new Vantage, which has now won two FIA World Endurance Championship races this season.
“We had a few problems last year as well, with intercoolers getting blocked in the race, and when you’ve got a turbo car, that reduces performance,” he explained.
“And we’ve got a better understanding of how the [Michelin] tire works. It’s a bit of tire, a bit of car performance, a bit of setup work, and a new aero package.
“So there are quite a few changes, a bit of everything. Whether it will be enough or not, we don’t know, because I don’t think anyone – including us – has shown their true pace yet.”
Gaw felt that tough surface conditions during a scorching hot Test Day added another layer to masking the true GTE-Pro pecking order.
“It was a really strange day because the track normally grips up just before lunchtime, but it didn’t really grip up until five o’clock,” he said.
“When it was slippy, we were a bit off actually in the morning conditions. Also we were running zero aero on the car, we completely restarted: actually we had the wing in a minus position.
“So we added a bit of downforce and on the grippy track in the afternoon, we were really competitive.”
Gaw suggested that the projected adverse weather conditions for race week could play to the strengths of the Aston, which has won twice in the rain at Shanghai and Spa.
“It looks as if it’s going to be quite cool, which is generally good for our car,” he said.
“The hotter it is, the less competitive we are in general. Whether that’s engine performance or just how the tire works with the car, I don’t know.
“We’re optimistic. Last year we weren’t competitive, but this year we should be competitive.”