Ambition is good. Ambition backed by competence is better. Aston Martin Racing would appear to have both.
Since landing on the endurance racing scene in 2005 with a victory in its first race, the competition arm of the venerable British sportscar-maker has become an indomitable force, taking victory in the GT1 category at Le Mans two years in a row and expanding into every other GT class along the way. But AMR wasn't satisfied with class wins, so for this year, David Richards and company took aim at the diesel-burning big boys from Audi and Peugeot by entering the Le Mans Prototype Class with a DBR9-powered Lola chassis in partnership with Charouz Racing Systems. The Gulf-liveried Astons were unveiled less than a month ago, but made their racing debut this past weekend in Spain at the 1000 km of Catalunya, the season-opener to the European Le Mans Series. Follow the jump to read how it all unfolded.
Before we get into the race results, it's important to note that neither Peugeot nor Audi – the two dominating forces in the top-tier LMP1 class – chose to contest the full European calendar this season, opting instead to focus on key races like the headline 24 Hours of Le Mans. A fortunate decision, it turns out. The only question remains: "Who for?" as Aston Martin claimed overall victory on its race debut with the new machinery in their new class.
The victory could hardly be classified as domination, but it was a victory nonetheless. As the thousand-click race wound down to its closing laps, the number 007 Aston Martin looked poised to take second place behind the Pescarolo-Judd driven by Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Christophe Boullion, until the French team's car stalled during its final pitstop. The front-running Aston, driven by Stefan Mucke, Jan Charouz and Tomas Enge, took the lead, and with only 40 minutes of race time to go, the safety car was deployed as Tinseau closed the lead down to just 6.2 seconds. When the safety car went back into the pits with just six laps to go, the Aston's lead over the Pescarolo was only four seconds, but that would prove enough for Aston Martin to claim its first victory in LMP1 in its first attempt, even extending its lead to fourteen seconds ahead of the Pescarolo by the finish line.
The drivers of the second Aston would have joined their counterparts on the podium had it not been for an unfortunate spin that took the 009 car out of the running near the end of the race. Instead, third place went to another notable entry: LMS regular Stephane Ortelli was joined by Bruno Senna, nephew of the late great Ayrton Senna, a rated F1 hopeful in his own right and runner-up in last year's GP2 championship. Ortelli and Senna took the bottom rung on the podium behind the wheel of a Courage ORECA, the former French racing manufacturer purchased last year by the latter (whose name you might recognize for their work preparing Dodge Vipers for endurance racing) claiming a GT2-class victory at Le Mans way back in 1991 and continuing to produce the Viper Competition Coupe to GT3 regulations through last year.
Farther down the field, Italian team Racing Box took the LMP2 honors in a Judd-powered Lola chassis, Reiter Engineering took the GT1 trophy with their Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT, and Porsche regained its honor against the Ferrari F430 GTs that dominated previous seasons as the #77 911 GT3 RSR hoisted the trophy for the GT2 category.
In entering the top-tier LMP1 category, Aston Martin demonstrated it has ambition in spades. And in taking the checkered flag on its race debut, the team has certainly demonstrated that it has the competence to back it up, and then some. We'll have to wait until June, though, to find out how the team fares against the diesel-powered heavy-hitters of the Audi R15 TDI and Peugeot 908 HDi at this year's Le Mans 24, so stay tuned.