By: Tom Haapanen, Sports Car Correspondent
- A tough first year for the Aston Martin LM P1 program
- Lack of development time hurting the team
Team still upbeat about its program and prospects
It’s been a rough start for Aston Martin’s new LM P1 program, the AMR-One: the team skipped the Le Mans Series race at Spa to focus on development and gain track time, but qualifying at the 24 Hours of Le Mans has still been a struggle.
The two AMR-One prototypes, 007 and 009, have only completed 115 laps between them in four hours of practice and six hours of qualifying – in contrast, the pole-sitting No. 2 Audi alone has clocked 134 laps in the same amount of time. And given the stage of the AMR-One’s development, the car needs track time more than the Audis and the Peugeots.
“Over the years, I have been full time in racing some 30 years, and in the main we’ve had some great successes, but we’ve also had some difficult births,” mused David Richards, the chairman of Aston Martin and Prodrive. “I think we can describe AMR-One as a difficult birth, more challenging than usual.”
I think we can describe AMR-One as a difficult birth, more challenging than usual.
The end result of the trials and tribulations is that the 24H qualifying has been more like a test session for Aston Martin Racing. All six drivers have had seat time, but only a few laps at a time, and the team has yet to run a full stint with either car.
“I have not had a lot of track time, I have done only about 10 laps,” Adrian Fernandez explained. “The last hour and half, we had no problems, but we were stopping to check things or change drivers. Tomorrow will be the first time for anyone to do a full stint. It will be a long day tomorrow, but if we can stay on track and finish the race, that would be a big success.”
The numbers, then, reflect the lack development and track time. The 007 car qualified 22nd overall, behind seven LM P2 cars, and the 009 is mired in 25th, behind the Hope Racing Swiss Hy-tech hybrid car. The 007’s best time of 3:45.918 is 20 seconds off the pole-winning Audi’s pace and 13 seconds slower than the fastest petrol-powered car, the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Judd.
Notably the AMR-One is losing just about five seconds in the second sector down the Mulsanne Straight, where the car will most suffer from the lack of power. Still the second Oak Racing Pescarolo-Judd is only four seconds ahead, and if the AMR team can keep the cars in one piece and working, there will be some opportunities to move up in the standings.
Team principal George Howard-Chappell points to the engine’s lack of power as the primary cause of the team’s lack of pace, believing that the new car’s aerodynamics are fundamentally right. But with little track time and powertrain woes limiting the amount of testing, aerodynamic development has also been constrained.
Even with the seasoned Prodrive organization in the game, Aston Martin Racing has simply been stretched thin – very thin – in trying to develop both a brand new chassis and a ground-up new racing engine at the same time.
“I’m an ultimate optimist in my life, but I think we all knew how difficult this would be: a brand-new chassis, brand-new engine, without the resources of a large car company,” Richards admits. “But ultimately I believe we will be proven correct.”
... if we can stay on track and finish the race, that would be a big success.
Aston Martin has committed to a three-year program for developing the AMR-One, and while the current pace of the cars may be disappointing, it should be viewed as just the first step of a small team toward a larger goal. 2012 and 2013, then, will tell the real story of what Aston Martin Racing can do against the “big boys.”
But in the meantime, the biggest victory for the team this weekend would be to simply have both cars cross the finish line at the end of 24 hours of racing. It’ll take a lot of hard work as well as some luck, but the team is clearly prepared for the effort, now and for the next three years.