Under its new ownership, Aston Martin continues to forge ahead into a brighter independent future. In addition to the production announcement of the Rapide and the rumors of an upcoming "DBX", Aston is not missing a beat on its racing agenda, which should come as no surprise considering the background of its new chairman, David Richards.
To headline its Le Mans endurance racing program, Richards has brought in a big-name former F1 driver. Johnny Herbert, who in his eleven-year Formula One career drove for the likes of Benetton, Lotus, Sauber and Jaguar, will be driving the Aston Martin DBR9 for the Prodrive-run team at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Herbert is no stranger to endurance racing, having won the race for Mazda in 1991 and having driven the dominating MC12 for the Maserati factory team and Audis for customer teams, before briefly returning to the F1 paddock as Jordan/Midland's sporting relations manager. Richards withdrew Aston from the American Le Mans Series for this season, so they'll only be competing in the title race at Le Mans, leaving Herbert with enough time to consider other possibilities, including the Grand Prix Masters. (Aston also announced a new sponsorship deal with luxury hotel chain InterContinental.)
Recruiting Herbert, however, is about as close as Aston Martin will be getting to Formula One anytime soon. David Richards quelled any speculation that the Aston Martin name would be linked to his upcoming re-entry into F1 with Prodrive. Likely taking a page from former corporate cousin Jaguar's unfortunate experience in F1, Richards has wisely decided to leave Aston out of his grand prix venture rather than risk dragging its valuable name through the mud.
[Source: Aston Martin]
The Aston Martin Racing and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts team announces Le Mans drivers
Aston Martin Racing today confirms its driver line-up for the 24 Heures du Mans race in June, which sees two new faces added to its team of established drivers. The team is also delighted to announce that the InterContinental Brand has further enhanced its sponsorship for the year 2007 and has become the official Title Partner of the race team.
"Our primary goal of the partnership this year is to continue to increase our engagement with the team and assist them in driving all efforts and resources on their bid to win the 24 Heures du Mans race," said Vanessa Healey, global director of brand marketing for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. "The talented drivers along with the race team's passion for the sport and our commitment to their success will surely provide for a thrilling race at Le Mans."
Experienced Aston Martin drivers David Brabham, Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Darren Turner will be joined by Johnny Herbert and Rickard Rydell. Although both Herbert and Rydell are new to Aston Martin for 2007, they are no strangers to sports car racing and the gruelling Le Mans race.
Tomas Enge (Czech Republic), Johnny Herbert (UK) and Peter Kox (The Netherlands) will share the 007 Aston Martin DBR9. David Brabham (Australia), Rickard Rydell (Sweden) and Darren Turner (UK) will drive the 009 DBR9.
"We have a strong driver line-up this year. All of the drivers have prior experience at Le Mans and four of the guys have driven the DBR9 extensively since its launch in 2005," said Aston Martin Racing Team Principal George Howard-Chappell. "Although Johnny is new to our team, he is a Le Mans veteran, no-one can question his speed, he just needs to adapt to the DBR9. Rickard is well known to the team and has taken to the car extremely well."
Howard-Chappell concluded: "We are expecting a tough battle at Le Mans again this year, the competition within the GT1 category is strong and we have to accept that with only one race this year we are the underdogs but, as ever, we will come out fighting. The DBR9 should be competitive and I know that the team and the drivers will all give 100% so let's see if 2007 is Aston Martin's year."
Aston Martin has unfinished business at Le Mans having reached the podium twice since the British marque's return to the world-famous endurance race in 2005. After leading for most of the race in 2006 the team were cruelly denied the top spot on the podium with a couple of hours remaining. The 007 DBR9 driven by Tomas Enge, Andrea Piccini and Darren Turner eventually finished second in the GT1 class, sixth overall. The team met a similar fate in 2005 and had to settle for third in GT1 class, ninth overall.
The team will attend the official test at Le Mans on Sunday 3 June 2007 in what promises to be a fiercely competitive GT1 class with 14 cars from five different marques.
The number of Aston Martins contesting Le Mans has once again risen this year. The two Aston Martin Racing and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts DBR9s will be joined by the Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9, which will run with the number 100, two Aston Martin Racing Larbre Competition entries, numbers 006 and 008, and the number 59 Team Modena DBR9.
The 75th 24 Heures du Mans is scheduled to start one hour earlier than usual at 3pm (GMT +1) on Saturday 16 June due to the French elections.
Car Number 007
Tomas Enge (Czech Republic)
Enge will be hoping to continue his GT1 pole position record having set the fastest qualifying time in his class for five years in succession. "It is great to be back with Aston Martin Racing at the best endurance race in the world! I have new team-mates compared to last year but I am confident that we will be a strong crew. The team have been working very hard to be prepared in the best possible way and I think that we have every chance to fight for the win. We want to shake off the bad luck we have had for the last two years and finally bring home the winning trophy."
Johnny Herbert (UK)
Herbert won Le Mans outright in 1991 and has taken part in the 24-hour race seven times previously. "This is a great opportunity for me to drive for Aston Martin, a manufacturer with such a name and history behind it. We want to go to Le Mans to win it; we are not going
there to do anything else. It is really exciting to finally be part of it, even more so for me, being British. We know that Tomas is dynamite in qualifying at Le Mans, and I think that with myself and Peter on board with him, we will give each other the support we all need to get into a position where we can actually win the 24 hours of Le Mans for Aston Martin."
Peter Kox (The Netherlands)
Kox is the second most experienced Le Mans driver in the line-up having competed a total of nine times in the past, once for Aston Martin Racing in 2005. "I'm very happy to be part of the Aston Martin team; everyone is totally focused on the Le Mans race. The team have been close to a win twice now and twice they have been unfortunate but hopefully this year it will go our way. I have driven with Tomas in the past and know him quite well, I know Johnny on a personal level although I have never driven with him but I think we will be a good team and we should be a good fit."
Car Number 009
David Brabham (Australia)
Brabham rejoins the team this year having driven a DBR9 for Team Modena in 2006 and for Aston Martin Racing in 2005. This year will mark the Australian driver's fourteenth appearance at the La Sarthe circuit. "It's great to be back in the Works car and to be back with the guys from Aston Martin Racing. I would like to thank Highcroft Racing for allowing me to compete with Aston Martin at Le Mans. This year promises to be an even tougher battle for the GT1 title with closer competition than ever before but I'm ready for the challenge."
Rickard Rydell (Sweden)
2007 marks Rydell's fourth race at Le Mans but his first appearance for Aston Martin Racing in the DBR9. "It is really exciting for me to be back at Le Mans and to be driving for a manufacturer like Aston Martin. Having tested the car and worked with the team I think we should have a good chance at Le Mans. The team have done a really good job with the car; it is very well balanced and nice to drive. I have raced with Darren and against David in the past; both are great guys and competitive drivers so I am very happy to be racing together with them for Aston Martin at Le Mans."
Darren Turner (UK)
Turner has the most experience behind the wheel of the DBR9, having driven for the Works team consistently since the car's first race at Sebring in 2005. "I'm pleased to be pairing with David and Rickard again as I have driven with both of them previously at different times at Le Mans. I think we have a really strong line-up but this year the competition is stronger than ever before. This will be my fifth Le Mans race, and the third time I have competed with the Aston Martin DBR9. Hopefully it will be third time lucky!"