Aston Martin Racing's chief engineer gives the lowdown on his motorsport career and the new Vantage GTE race car for the WEC
by Graham Heeps and Rachel Evans
How did you get into the business? A friend who worked for Hyundai World Rally Team needed someone to help them and it just went from there really. I’ve always been interested in motorsport, but I never set out to work in it. I also worked for the Mitsubishi and Suzuki WRC teams; they were all quite short-lived, hopefully no reflection on what I was doing! I next went to Ricardo to work on motorsport transmissions, and then to Prodrive, where I’ve been for four years now. I started out developing the Vantage GT4, which was really fun, then the GT3 this last year. I did the design and engineering for that and now I’m on the GTE project.
Describe your typical day At the moment a lot of it is the design of the Vantage GTE, sorting engineering issues and planning for this car, but at the same time we’ve got the GT3, which is going through the modification process, so we’ve got the balance tests, homogulation inspections. So there’s quite a lot to do on those cars at the moment.
The 2012 Vantage GTE is evolved from the GT2 version. What changes are there under the skin? We’ve only been working on the GTE for around four months, but we’ve focused mainly on reliability and serviceability this year. Performance-wise it’s mainly aero and we’ve got some engine tweaks. The lower subframe has changed so you can pull the engine out of the front of the car rather than split the car at the bulkhead, which cuts the engine change time of the car from four hours to one hour. We’ve got a new block and a new head for reliability, and we’ve changed some port detail to give a bit more efficiency. The fuel cell’s now moved from in the trunk to a lower position behind the driver, where it is on the road car. The rear subframe has been altered and we’ve raised the gearbox to reduce the driveshaft angles. The front uprights, which used to be a slightly modified road-car part in the GT2, have been replaced across the range by a bespoke part from the GT3.
The block is still fundamentally the ex-Jaguar V8? Yes. It’s not a new engine but the guys are doing a good job with it, it’s got the power we need and it’s lightweight. The reliability and the engine of the car this year will be really improved and hopefully we can get some top results.
Aero-wise has it all been done in CFD or did you put the car in a tunnel? It’s been done in CFD mainly, a lot of it is carry-over. We’ve done some work with the front bumper and wheel arches, but the rear wing has been the biggest benefit we’ve had. We used it at Le Mans last year, but we’re using it in every round this year. It offers similar downforce to the traditional wing, but the drag is massively reduced.
What is the performance difference between the Vantage GT3, which has the V12 engine, and the GTE, which has the V8 engine?The power difference is reasonable, but the V12 engine is heavier, and further forward so the weight distribution isn’t quite there. There are obvious benefits from using the V8 engine – packaging and cooling for example – so the performance difference over a lap I don’t think will be significantly different. And in GT3, we’ve all got to run mandatory restrictors this year.
Is this an additional performance balancing measure the FIA has not used before? Yes, and I prefer a balance on power rather then weight. Loading them all up with ballast to be 1,400kg or whatever puts the brakes under pressure, the tires under pressure. Power reduction is the way to do it. We’ll see how it goes this year but it’s a positive move.
Where do you see the future of GT racing going in 10 years?Difficult to say! It seems at the moment that there so many categories, and with the economy as it is there aren’t really enough people to fill all of the categories everywhere. It does seem to be that they’re all, not necessarily merging, but getting closer together. The GT3 for example is not a dissimilar car to the GTE really – it’s got the V12 engine obviously, but from looks, performance and weight they’re not a million miles away, which I think leads to some confusion for the spectators and fans. It would be nice to think that they could base them all one car with certain kits or upgrades for each championship.
What would you do if you didn’t work in motorsport? I started on the graduate scheme at MIRA. So I’m sure it would have been engineering in the automotive industry – but it wouldn’t have been quite as frantic or exciting…
This interview was conducted in March 2012
For the fourth successive year, DMG Mori takes up partnership with Team Porsche, as it campaigns in the LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship Click here to read more
McLaren Honda has added a number of 3D printed components to its MCL32 race car, with the aim of increasing its performance, accelerating development and reducing overall weight Click here to read more
The official test and media day of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series gave Pirelli the opportunity to outline the changes to its endurance and GT racing product ranges Click here to read more
We are building a list of leading suppliers covering all aspects of the professional motorsport industry. Want to see your company included? Contact email@example.com for more details.
Do you have an opinion you'd like to share with the professional motorsport community? We'd like to hear your views and opinions on the leading issues shaping the industry. Share your comments by sending up to 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org