That time a top-tier Aston Martin factory racer stopped by the Yard.
Okay, this might take some explaining if you’re not familiar with the maze of numbers and letters that define the classes of modern sports car racing. Strap in.
GTE is, until 2024 at least, the top tier of international production-based sports car racing – and production-based is a term used loosely here. Though GTE cars share a bodyshell and usually basic engine architecture with their roadgoing counterparts, the rest of the engineering is pretty far removed – the current GTE Porsche 911, for instance, is mid-engined.
Until 2011, GTE was called GT2, because there used to be a class above it called GT1. This was where the really quick stuff raced – the Maserati MC12, the Aston DBR9, and so on. Below it is the hugely popular GT3, where the cars are much more closely related to road cars and amateur drivers are much more prevalent, and GT4 – same again, but even closer to the production cars.
Confusingly, the GT2 name has now returned for a set of totally unrelated regulations, more powerful than both GT3 and GTE but also more forgiving for amateurs. Due to dwindling factory support, the two series that have run GTE cars are in the process of phasing them out in favour of a pro-only GT3 class – they last ran in the North American IMSA series in 2021, and 2023 is their final year in the World Endurance Championship. Following? No, us neither, to be honest.
Anyway, a few years ago, when the GTE class was at its peak, there were several manufacturers fighting it out for top honours. BMW, Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet and Aston Martin all fielded cars. This is Aston’s.
It’s based on the roadgoing second-gen Vantage, which means it uses a racing version of the AMG 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 with a ‘hot-vee’ configuration that both Mercedes and Aston Martin have been stuffing into every model possible for the last eight years.
This, and the basic body structure, are about where the similarities to the production Vantage ends. The body is all carbon, the gearbox is a six-speed sequential unit from Xtrac, and the car weighs in at the class’s minimum requirement of 1,245kg. It makes a healthy 536bhp, a small gain over the 503bhp produced by the V8 road car.
Aston Martin Racing (Aston’s factory motorsport arm) has been run by Prodrive, an outfit behind many a motorsport success, since 2004 and the days of the screaming V12 DBR9. They began running this generation of Vantage GTE in the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship, where the new car struggled to find its footing.
The 2019-20 season, for which this particular car was built, was a different story, though. Two cars were entered – the no. 95, driven all season by the Danish duo of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim, and this no. 97, fielded by Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn. Richard Westbrook and Harry Tincknell jumped in on third driver duties for the 95 and 97, respectively, at the flagship 24 Hours of Le Mans.
That season, neither car finished lower than fifth in class in a race. This sounds impressive until you learn that since GTE’s steady decline had begun at this point, there were only six full-time Pro entries. Still, they finished every race, no small feat in the brutal world of endurance racing. Class victories at Fuji, the first Bahrain round and Austin for the 95 car and Le Mans for the 97 would see Aston Martin Racing take overall honours in the GTE Pro class – a fitting way to finish what would be its final season as a full factory team.
There’s a recurring phenomenon in endurance racing, both at the GT and prototype level, and it’s why there’s such a complicated web of different categories racing in it. A new set of regulations is brought in, attracting lots of manufacturers. Those manufacturers start eking out advantages, the cost of staying competitive rises, and manufacturers steadily drop out until a new ruleset is needed and the cycle resets. The GTE class was just reaching the end of that cycle in the season that this Aston dominated, but that shouldn’t diminish its achievements: endurance racing is a tough game, and the Vantage GTE had what it took to succeed.