The new-generation Aston Martin Vantage GT3 had an “invaluable” customer debut at the Gulf 12 Hours despite early trouble, according to factory technical director Dan Sayers.
Aston Martin’s hopes of an outright podium were dashed by an early pit stop issue affecting all three of its GT3 cars, but Sayers said it was a “very positive” outing ahead of the program’s launch next year.
Oman Racing finished fourth overall last weekend with Jonny Adam, Darren Turner and Ahmad Al-Harthy, while Beechdean took a podium in the Pro-Am category.
“I think they were really pleased with the product,” Sayers told Sportscar365.
“The spectrum of drivers we had running in the cars was really varied, which is invaluable in terms of the handling and the interior ergonomics, displays and all those finer details that we’re able to look at before the main production next year.
“You start to learn more about how the car is affected by setup changes, because as soon as you put it in the hands of customers, immediately they start trying different things.
“The more cars you have out there, the more setups and the different philosophies that are applied to the car, so we’re learning a huge amount. It was invaluable really for the GT3 and GT4 going forward to 2019.”
Sayers explained that the problem at the first stop, which bumped all GT3 Astons off the lead lap, was caused by a wholesale loss of fuel pressure across the three cars.
This caused them to not fire up, while the R-Motorsport car fried its clutch because of repeated restart attempts.
“It was something that hadn’t occurred in the event up to that point and hasn’t occurred ever before on the [Vantage] GTE which uses the same fuel system,” he said.
“We didn’t have any concerns over reliability so that’s why it’s slightly frustrating because we’ve never seen that problem before.
“It could have been a consequence of the hotter conditions and running under the safety car at that time, and pitting immediately after the safety car.
“If that’s the case then it’s great for us to learn that sooner rather than later so we can make improvements for when the car is delivered to customers.”
The factory-entered Vantage GT4 made its global debut at Yas Marina and took a class pole, but its race was curtailed by a first-lap accident.
Sayers described the car’s reliability after that as “outstanding” considering it hadn’t raced before and that Abu Dhabi marked the hottest conditions both Vantage cars have experienced to date.
“It [the GT4] has pretty much just run in the UK so far,” he said.
“We had four drivers in there of varying abilities which gave the car a good test in customer hands.
“The guys did a great job in terms of overall pace but it was frustrating to have an accident on the first lap that put it massively out of contention.
“But then the only issues throughout the race were a result of that accident, so in terms of reliability, it was pretty outstanding from that car.”
Vantage GTE Running “Helps Massively”
Sayers added that Aston Martin Racing’s year of experience with the GTE version of the Vantage in the FIA World Endurance Championship has been useful in the GT3 and GT4 development process.
The GTE has now competed in four six-hour races, winning in Shanghai, and also contested the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Running the GTE helps massively,” he said.
“There’s a lot of similar parts on there, so that’s why reliability-wise we didn’t have any major concerns [in the race].
“In terms of brake setup, steering, everything has been honed on the factory GTE cars and that can be directly put across onto the GT3.
“The biggest difference now running the GT3 is the tires and the aero package. Having been to the FIA wind tunnel and had the evaluation test on the aero side, they’ve now stipulated the configuration we should run, which we ran in Abu Dhabi.”
Sayers is “not reading anything” into the relative pace of the 2019-spec machinery that competed in Abu Dhabi, because of the Gulf 12 Hours’ independent Balance of Performance system.
Other new cars included the McLaren 720S GT3, which nearly won its first-ever race until a late suspension issue took hold, and the evolution model of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 which finished second behind the winning Kessel Racing Ferrari.