With an updated car, new tire and lubricant partners as well as a consolidation from a five to three-car full-season squad, there’s been plenty of change for Aston Martin Racing in the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship.
The British manufacturer heads into this weekend’s Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps looking to continue to make inroads in both the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes, following podium finishes in both categories in last month’s season-opener at Silverstone.
Sportscar365 caught up with AMR team principal Paul Howarth to get his thoughts on the changes for 2016, its new partnership with Dunlop, as well as assess the health of the GTE platform in the WEC.
Do you think the consolidated three-car program will give the team a bit more focus this year?
“Scaling back gives you a lot of options. You can pick your best engineers. It does give a feel of more focus but a very well organized, well-structured team can run five, six, seven cars.
“But at the end of the day, we have very clear objectives. We want to win in the Am class. We want to be there or thereabouts to deliver the championship in the Pro class. And I want to see us on the Le Mans podium. Simple as that.”
You have a new tire partner in Dunlop. How did the deal originate?
“We looked at last year and looked at what could be available in the marketplace and who was interested and involved in WEC.
“We wanted to work with someone with a philosophy of where we’re headed with new cars in the future and new developments and being more of a development partner.
“We were more than happy with the service and everything at Michelin but sometimes you’ve got to look for variables. The history book will tell us that at the end of the season.
“Sometimes you change lubricants, sometimes you change tires, sometimes you change drivers. There’s always evolutions in teams; it’s as simple as that.”
How has it been acclimating to the Dunlop tires?
“The most important thing for us is to understand the performance of Dunlop’s tire range in line with the performance of the new Pro car, and make the right tire calls and make it really simple.
“If you’ve got the right tire at the right time and it’s in the performance window, that’s what we need to understand.
“We’re more than happy with our relationship with Dunlop and the level of commitment they’ve shown to the program.
“As you’d expect from a major tire manufacturer, it’s very serious. And we’re very serious on going to the next level, on being consistent through every track and variation through the championship. We’ll get there.”
Are you pleased with the performance of the upgraded GTE-Pro car?
“Technically, it wasn’t a surprise where we are with the performance targets because it was all modeled beforehand. We’re happy with what we’ve seen but we need to go to all of the variables in the championship.
“If you look at other forms of motorsport, they change the aero every day. It’s done what it would do on the calculations. We just want the car to be effective and it’s headed in that direction.”
We’ve seen new turbocharged cars from Ford and Ferrari. Are you concerned about the new variable in the BoP?
“I have complete faith in the ACO. it’s a structured system. It’s very well organized well. Like a car evolves, technical regulations evolve. I fully trust they will evolve. it’s a difficult job for them to do and we’ll respect their decisions and give transparent feedback.”
Do you think there’s still a strong market for customers in GTE?
“Motorsport never surprises me, what happens year to year. I’ve been involved in top-level rallying for 25 years and I saw rally cars go to a phenomenal cost and still people wanted them.
“If a championship is popular and if it’s successful… I think it can be stronger in some ways for us because we are, externally from AMR, we like to support private teams. So we’re very competitive with the pricing.
“It’s good to see the cars out there racing and delivering results. For sure, there will be other people that will have deep enough pockets to buy the most expensive car. If you buy a car like that, it comes with a lot of operating costs.
“Championships always have to be careful that you don’t start an arm’s race. Then you lose the competitive edge, but we trust in BoP for that. That’s the mechanism to cap it.”