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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Aston Targeting Full-Season Bid in 2021 after Debut Disrupted

Aston emphasizing customer support in GT3 next year; IGTC targeted after 2020 debut cut off…

Photo: Kevin Pecks/SRO

Aston Martin is aiming to return to the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli as a points-paying brand next season provided it gathers enough customer team interest.

Aston Martin Racing managing director John Gaw told Sportscar365 that the British marque intends to return to the global GT3 series after its debut campaign was disrupted by R-Motorsport’s withdrawal that was largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The R-Motorsport team, which along with Garage 59 scored IGTC points for Aston Martin at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, has yet to communicate its plans for 2021.

Aston teams were not nominated to score IGTC points at the next two races, although Garage 59 did appear at the Total 24 Hours of Spa as part of its GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup bid. The season ends at Kyalami next month.

“We were fully signed up at the start of the year until COVID hit,” said Gaw.

“We didn’t have Pro teams in the championship, without R-Motorsport there. That was the catalyst for us to change our plans, but it’s definitely a terrific championship.

“We want customers in there and we’re working hard to partner with them and support them. If we’ve got customers there, we’ll support that. I think the new calendar [omitting Bathurst and starting at Spa] works quite well too.

“Our three big teams in GT World Challenge are TF Sport, Garage 59 and R-Motorsport, so we’re just working with them to understand their plans and how we can support them with drivers, parts engineering and technical support on the ground.

“We won’t race there as Aston Martin Racing, but it’s for sure a championship that we want to support and win if we can.

“We were signed up this year and we will be signed up again next year if we’ve got people going for the championship.”

Aston Martin has a similar outlook towards its other potential GT3 programs for next year, with Gaw placing an emphasis on customer support at all stages of the category.

This includes the Nürburgring 24, which Aston Martin Racing entered as a GT3 factory team as recently as 2018 when it finished fourth with a previous-generation Vantage.

Gaw stressed that any future Aston Martin GT3 program in any competition would be customer-led, including in the N24 and the DTM which is now open to standard GT3 cars.

“[The Nürburgring 24] is a different technical challenge with different setups, tires and BoP,” said Gaw. “You have to do the [NLS] championship, really.

“What we’d like to do, like in GT World Challenge and Intercontinental, is to support a team that would do the championship for the full year, so we can give the right support behind that with drivers, parts, technical and tire development support.

“Of course, we’re actively talking to teams about doing that, but it’s not something you can turn up and just do. You can, but you’re never going to be successful. You need to find a partner who can do the full season. Our focus now is to find customers and partners.

“We’ve been talking to the DTM technical guys from the start. If we’ve got customers who are interested to run the car there, we’ll fully support them.

“We’re not sitting here saying it’s a priority for us, but the car can run there and I’m sure it would be competitive.

“If we have a customer interested, we’ll definitely give them full support to do that.”

In North America, Aston Martin has been represented this year by The Heart of Racing in the GT Daytona class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The Ian James-led team is expected to return in 2021, while Gaw hopes that more than one Vantage GT3 will be seen on the grid.

Aston Martin has enjoyed success in the GT4 marketplace through its official distributor CSJ Motorsports, but a multi-car GT3 presence has been lacking.

“We’re always talking to people,” noted Gaw. “We get regular inquiries as people evaluate what brand to use for next year, which is why it’s really important to support The Heart of Racing and what their quest is.

“I’d love to see The Heart of Racing run a second car. That would be really interesting for them to do, if they can do that.

“And of course, we’ll talk to all of the teams that are interested in changing brands or new teams, to give them the same support we give to The Heart of Racing.”

A two-car entry for The Heart of Racing, which has a pair of cars based in the U.S, could also prove optimal from a competition perspective.

“It comes down to track position a lot of the time, and the races are much more affected by Full Course Yellows,” Gaw added.

“Putting two cars on different strategies for that sort of situation is beneficial.”

New Strategies Brought on by COVID

Aston Martin’s customer teams next year are set to benefit from a remote support strategy that was introduced to overcome the travel hurdles of the global health crisis.

A ‘mission control’ where engineers can provide feedback to teams competing in events around the world has been set up at Aston Martin Racing’s Prodrive headquarters and saw use throughout the 2020 season.

Gaw described it as a version of the operations room that AMR uses on-site at FIA World Endurance Championship races including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“We’ve got that set up back at base at Prodrive to support the customers going forward,” he said.

“It’s for all championships because travel has been limited this year. For all the customers that we’re running across the world, we’ve really upped our focus on remote support.

“It means the engineers are working on crazy time zones because we’ve got New Zealand, Super GT in Japan, North American championships, etc. And even in Europe, we’re finding that it’s really useful to give customers that level of remote support.

“They can upload data live to us. We can look at it on the screen and link in to all the timing screens and circuit data. We can actually give them more support than we give them at the track, because you can get more engineers working on it, both chassis and engine.”

Gaw suggested that the remote support structure made “quite a big difference” to Aston Martin’s race event operations this year and that he’d like to see it continued in 2021.

“Of course, we’re still at the track in Europe as well, but even when we’re at the track in Europe we’ve got remote support at the base and it’s working quite well,” he explained.

“COVID was the catalyst but it’s something we really want to do. We definitely want to uprate our support for the customers.

“Our job as a factory team is, first of all, never to race against customers and to demonstrate the car so that customers can have confidence. We want to see the customers win.”

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

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