The most successful GT racing car in the history of Aston Martin, the Vantage GTE, will make its final appearance in contemporary motorsport this weekend, as the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) concludes at the Bahrain International Circuit, in Sakhir.
Through its various derivatives, Vantage has been an ever-present in the WEC since scoring a podium finish in its inaugural event in 2012. It has recorded an incredible 52 class wins and claimed 11 world championship titles in that time.
With the WEC’s current LMGTE regulations coming to an end after this weekend’s finale, to be replaced in 2024 by the new LMGT3 rules for which a forthcoming evolution of Aston Martin’s Vantage GT3 will be eligible, fans in Bahrain will witness the end of an incredible era of sportscar racing; one full of astonishing success for Vantage.
Fresh from its announcement as the works partner team for Aston Martin’s return to the top class of WEC with the Valkyrie hypercar in 2025, Heart of Racing prepares to end its debut campaign in the series on a high. Having taken over the #98 NorthWest AMR entry at Spa-Francorchamps in May, this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona GTD class winner has team principal Ian James (GBR), Daniel Mancinelli (ITA) and Alex Riberas (ESP) behind the wheel.
TF Sport, the 2022 world champion and this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans runner-up, will be spearheaded in Bahrain by the #25 ORT by TF Vantage raced by Ahmad Al Harthy – the first Omani driver to score a WEC pole position at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this year. As usual he is partnered by Michael Dinan (USA) and Aston Martin works driver Charlie Eastwood (IRL), the LM GTE Am class winner at Le Mans in 2020.
As well as running its own car, TF Sport assists Japanese team D’station Racing, which features a new face driving the #777 Vantage in Bahrain. With team owner Satoshi Hoshino (JPN) unavailable due to commitments elsewhere, Australian Liam Talbot – the current leader of GT World Challenge Australia and a former GT World Challenge Europe Endurance champion – will make his WEC debut. He partners team regulars Tomonobu Fujii (JPN) and Casper Stevenson (GBR).
All three teams aim to give the Vantage GTE a fitting send-off to an 11-year, 85-race (including Bahrain) WEC career that has featured an incredible 11 world titles, 52 individual wins and five class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
AMR’s Darren Turner (GBR), Stefan Mücke (DEU) and Adrian Fernandez (MEX) began the legend with a GTE Pro podium finish in third place at the inaugural WEC race; the 12 Hours of Sebring (USA), in 2012 on what was the debut of the Vantage V8. A maiden victory followed at the season-ending race at the Shanghai International Circuit in China for Turner and Mücke. One year later and AMR recorded its first WEC title with Vantage when British duo Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall took the GTE Am drivers’ crown.
Vantage’s first Le Mans win – to add to the back-to-back GT class victories for the DBR9 GT1 at La Sarthe in the previous decade – came in 2014 when ‘Dane Train’ trio Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thiim succeeded in GTE Am. Poulsen and Heinemeier Hansson made it back-to-back Drivers’ Championships for Vantage later the same season, as well as AMR securing the Teams’ crown.
It was Thiim’s turn to taste title glory two years later, in 2016. He and another Dane, Marco Sørensen, took the by-then upgraded Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE to the GTE Pro class world championship crown and confirmed the Teams’ honours for Aston Martin Racing. There was further success for Vantage in the European Le Mans Series [ELMS] that year as British trio Andrew Howard, Alex Macdowall and Turner won the LMGTE title with Aston Martin Racing securing the Teams’ crown. Over the years Vantage scored a total of four wins in the ELMS GTE class.
The final flourish for the second-generation V8 Vantage GTE came in 2017 as long-time Aston Martin racer Paul Dalla Lana (CDN), Pedro Lamy (POR) and Mathias Lauda (AUT) won the GTE Am Drivers’ and Teams’ crown and Aston Martin Racing team-mates Jonny Adam (GBR), Daniel Serra (BRA) and Turner scored a famous GTE Pro success over long-time rival Corvette at Le Mans.
The current-specification Vantage GTE, a prototype version of the British-built race car derived from Aston Martin’s critically-acclaimed ultra-luxury sportscar, which shares the same aluminium body-frame and a specially-tuned version of the four-litre V8 turbo-charged production engine, made its debut at the beginning of the 2018-19 WEC ‘Super Season’ and has since set new standards for GT racing.
Having won twice in its inaugural campaign, Thiim and Sørensen clinched their second GTE Pro title in 2019/20. Aston Martin were crowned FIA GT Manufacturers’ World Champions on the same day when Maxime Martin (BEL), Alex Lynn (GBR) and Harry Tincknell (GBR) won the GTE Pro class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and TF Sport’s Salih Yoluç (TUR), Charlie Eastwood (IRL) and Adam did likewise in GTE Am.
A further GTE Am victory at Le Mans followed in 2022 as TF Sport again triumphed with Ben Keating (USA), Henrique Chaves (POR) and Sørensen. It was not quite the end though, as in an incredible year Keating and Sørensen also became FIA GTE Am Drivers’ World Champions and TF secured the Teams’ crown. TF Sport’s outstanding contribution also ensured that Aston Martin won more GTE Am victories more than any other manufacturer in WEC history. With one race left to go, that tally stands at 32 wins…
Aston Martin’s Head of Endurance Racing, Adam Carter, said: “Aston Martin has been one of the pillars of the World Endurance Championship since the very foundation of the category, and through the GTE class, Vantage has set an exceptional standard for others to follow.
“Just as racing has always been in our brand’s DNA, enduring performance is a core value that has shone brightly through the entire GTE era where Vantage is concerned. On behalf of Aston Martin, I would like to offer our sincere thanks to all those who have raced Vantage in the GTE era, to all of our partners who have run programmes through it or contributed to it, and to all the people who have worked so hard on the project through its life-span. We know that what comes next is an intensely exciting period in sportscar racing, both in the hypercar class and also the new LMGT3 class, and we intend to play our own role in that, but for now, let’s soak in the final flourish of a glorious category that has given back so much to Aston Martin.”
The BAPCO 6 Hours of Bahrain begins at 1400 local time (1000 GMT) on Saturday 4 November, and finishes under floodlights as night encroaches. Practice and qualifying take place on Thursday and Friday respectively.