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Aston Martin Geared for “More Competitive” GTE-Pro Showing

Stint-long ability of Aston on 2019-20 Michelin tire giving team confidence ahead of GTE-Pro fight…

Photo: Nick Dungan/Aston Martin

Aston Martin is geared up for a “more competitive” 24 Hours of Le Mans with the second-generation Vantage GTE compared to previous years, according to Marco Sorensen.

The British manufacturer struggled on its first two attempts at the race with the current Vantage package during the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’ but points leader Sorensen feels more confident in the overall product this time around.

The Dane, who took pole last year before a pre-race Balance of Performance change hampered Aston’s 24-hour race pace, qualified the No. 95 car third for today’s start.

The two Pro-class Astons also fared well in the rest of the build-up, with the No. 97 car leading Free Practice 1 and the No. 95 fronting a one-two result in qualifying to determine the candidates for Friday’s hyperpole.

Sorensen told Sportscar365 that Aston Martin’s Michelin tire specification for the 2019-20 WEC season has resulted in drastic improvements at all WEC tracks including Le Mans.

“I think we have really tried to focus on ourselves,” he said.

“I’ve not been in a position to see any other Pro cars on the track to compare, but it seems with the tire that we have on this season, that spec is definitely working really well.

“But it’s been working really well on all other tracks. We expect it to be more competitive than last year at least, and for it to be more competitive on the long runs. That’s what we’re seeing.

“I would say the one-lap pace is not stronger than last year, because last year we had pole, but definitely the long runs look much more consistent. In the end, that’s definitely what you need in the race here.

“It’s looking pretty positive from that perspective. Compared to the others, we will have to see when it comes to the race. It’s always difficult to know what they are doing.”

Sorensen explained that general confidence in the latest Michelin tire spec has drastically improved his and co-driver Nicki Thiim’s mindset heading into each WEC meeting.

The Danish pairing has won at Fuji, Bahrain and Circuit of The Americas this season and has never finished outside the top five so far.

This has resulted in a 19-point advantage over nearest championship rivals Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen who won the 6 Hours of Spa in their Porsche 911 RSR-19.

Sorensen and Thiim are joined at Le Mans by former Corvette Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT man Richard Westbrook.

“With the tire wear now, you just start the weekend much more positive and you start the weekend with the mentality that you know you can be up there,” said Sorensen.

“For us, that’s what’s changed quite a bit since last year.

“In the [2018-19] Super Season, we had a tire that couldn’t last a stint, so we knew no matter how good the qualifying would be, we were always knocked backwards.

“This year we might not have had the pole always, but at least in the races we’ve been doing a good job.”

Smaller GTE-Pro Field Having its Impacts

Sorensen reckons the much thinner GTE-Pro grid this year will not impact the category’s quality of racing, but suggested it has brought other impacts for the competing drivers.

This year only eight cars are entered owing to withdrawals caused by the coronavirus pandemic, most notably from Corvette Racing and the Porsche factory IMSA team.

“It’s always nice when you see other cars on the track,” said Sorensen.

“It doesn’t make a difference on the competitive side of it, but it’s nice to see the braking points in practice, or the performance other cars have through the Porsche Curves and so on.

“It gives you an idea of how strong the other car is. It’s not often that you see another Pro car, because the track is so big [and] we have eight cars.

“Definitely you’re going to see a busy race in the first two hours and then it’s going too pretty spread it after that.

“It’s not going to be the busiest Le Mans this year, that’s for sure.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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