Aston Martin Racing team principal Paul Howarth credits careful planning during the off-season for the marque’s strong form in GTE-Pro this season, which could result in its first GT Manufacturers and Drivers titles following this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain.
Danish pair Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen sit 12 points clear in the GT Drivers Championship with one race to go, while their No. 95 Aston Martin also has a two-point lead over the No. 67 Ford in the GTE-Pro Teams classification.
In the GT Manufacturers title race, Aston Martin trails Ferrari by 10 points, with 51 still to play for in Bahrain.
The No. 98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda has a slim mathematical chance of winning the GTE-Am drivers title but needs to qualify on pole and win with the No. 83 Ferrari failing to finish.
“We’re up for four championships and I’ve got no doubt that the team is at the level to fight for those championships,” Howarth told Sportscar365.
“We were slightly seen as underdogs at the start of the year, so to come into the championship with some new partners and deliver two excellent victories in the Pro class, as well as numerous victories in the Am class, has probably opened a few eyes externally.
“We are completely focused on some form of or many types of silverware this weekend. Everything the team and our partners have done through the year has brought us to this point where in 48 hours, we’ll know.
“It’s a reward that everyone in the team deserves if we get it and it’s a reward that Aston Martin should have for their long-term commitment.”
Title success for AMR would be the crowning glory of a season that has had significant political undercurrents.
There have been no less than ten Balance of Performance changes over the nine rounds this season, which has meant no single manufacturer has been able to establish dominance.
However, Aston Martin has managed to score consistently across the season, comparing favorably with the much newer machinery introduced this season by Ford and Ferrari.
The 2016-spec Vantage GTE features a comprehensively revised aero package, a new tire supplier in Dunlop and a new lubricant supplier in Total, who provide the team with an engineer at every round.
The results have been marked, with Aston Martin the closest it has been to manufacturer glory in the WEC since the championship began in 2012.
“We use the word in sport ‘marginal gains’ quite a lot. There’s been some changes, a switch of focus in the team,” Howarth said.
“We introduced a new car here last year in the post-event test, and we saw the performance and the step we could take forward against the new, clean-paper design cars, so we sat down and thought ‘we can win, we just have to figure out how to win’. That’s what clever organizations and teams do.
“We looked at weaknesses across the board. We looked at the tire situation and what could be a variable, what partner could lock into the team and give us the opportunity to win and Dunlop was one of them.
“We brought people like Total into the team and they’ve worked very closely with us on reliability, which is crucial for endurance.
“When you start interfacing these ideas into a team, the bar keeps going up in every single detail, so you can go to the level of pitstop practice the team has done this year. I’m confident to say we are the best team in the pitlane at executing a pitstop, the group of individuals on each car has been to the highest level of consistency.”
Howarth is especially proud of the victory for the No. 97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway in the Six Hours of Mexico.
That was the result of many months of planning to ensure that the cars cooling systems worked effectively at altitude, which he said was proof that the team’s long-term strategy was paying off.
“It was very rewarding for everyone in the team when we won in Mexico because we planned for four months before that,” he added.
“In this championship, [there aren’t] many variables, so when a new race comes along, it’s an opportunity. You focus on everything else still, but you just go really deep [in preparation] on that opportunity and take it.
“If there’s any point of the season that I was not overwhelmed with, that was not being able to challenge for a win at Le Mans.
“That is the big one for any team in this championship because it’s double points and it’s the pinnacle of the sport – we’ve said from the beginning that our ambition for Aston Martin was to win Le Mans.
“But we’d lost one car in Spa, which makes you re-evaluate it and look at the season as a whole. It was not an option to go to Le Mans and not finish, not for anybody in the team. We had to come away with points so you could say Le Mans was a win of sorts, because we came away with a maximum amount of points from what were achievable.
“To win any championship is the icing on the cake I would say.”