24 Hours Centenary – Aston Martin reinvents itself for the 21st century

24 HOURS CENTENARY – MAKES, MARQUES and IMPRINTS ⎮ Aston Martin effected a true sporting renaissance in the mid-2000s and is now a top contender in GT along with Porsche, Corvette and Ferrari.

After restoring Ferrari’s prestige in GT with a class win for the 550 Maranello at the 2003 24 Hours, Prodrive owner and project manager David Richards embarked on an even more ambitious undertaking: to return Aston Martin to its former glory from nearly 30 years prior.

Thanks to lessons learned with the Ferrari 550 Maranello (which shared front engine architecture with Aston Martin), engineer George Howard-Chappell developed from the 2004 road version DB9 a racing version renamed DBR9. The car proved competitive from the start in 2005 with third place in its class and ninth overall for David Brabham, Stéphane Sarrazin and Darren Turner. The following year, three DBR9s made it into the overall top 10 in sixth, ninth and 10th places.

2005-2011 | From GTs to prototypes

In 2007, the Aston Martin DBR9 won its class and finished fifth overall thanks to David Brabham/Rickard Rydell/Darren Turner while Christophe Bouchut/Kasper Elgaard/Fabrizio Gollin finished seventh and Tomas Enge/Johnny Herbert/Peter Kox ninth. Brabham and Turner repeated the feat in 2008 with Spanish driver Antonio García (13th overall).

Aston Martin then switched from GT to prototypes, moving into the head of the LMP1 class in 2009 with a Lola chassis powered by the DBR9’s 6-liter V12. With the historic Gulf Oil blue and orange livery and a subtle reference to the grille of the DBR9, the car practically foreshadowed today’s Hypercars almost 15 years ahead of their time and with the added bonus of its beautiful high-pitched engine sound which could almost rival that of a 1970’s Matra V12.

The Lola-Aston Martin shared by Czech drivers Jan Charouz and Tomas Enge along with German driver Stefan Mücke finished fourth in 2009. The following year, Mücke joined forces with Mexican driver Adrián Fernández and Swiss driver Harold Primat, finishing sixth. The factory Aston Martin team experienced enormous difficulties in 2011 with its new AMR-One prototype whose six-cylinder in-line engine sought to resurrect the architecture of the DBR1 winner in 1959. But the Lola-Aston Martin remained reliable, with the car fielded by Belgian outfit Kronos Racing finishing seventh. Along with Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin, Vanina Ickx (daughter of seven-time winner Jacky) earned her best result at Le Mans.

2012-2022 | Vantage, a historic label for the 24 Hours

After the failure of the AMR-One project, Aston Martin decided to focus on the LMGTE classes, soon restoring cachet to one of the marque’s most famous labels. The Vantage name had first appeared on an Aston Martin in the early 1950s and originally designated an improved version of the DB Mk II. The actual V8 Vantage was born in 1977.

Various versions of the Vantage have cultivated quite a remarkable track record at the 24 Hours over the last decade with a total of nine podiums including five victories: two in LMGTE Pro (2017 and 2020) and three in LMGTE Am (2014, 2020 and 2022 ).

Two runnings of the race stand out. In 2017, Jonny Adam/Daniel Serra/Darren Turner snatched the win in LMGTE Pro from Corvette Racing in the penultimate lap. Three years later, the Vantage AMR won both LMGTE classes thanks to Alex Lynn/Maxime Martin/Harry Tincknell for the factory team (Pro) and Jonny Adam/Charlie Eastwood/Salih Yoluc for partner team TF Sport (Am). The latter won a second time in Am in 2022 with Henrique Chaves/Ben Keating/Marco Sørensen at the wheel.

The past decade has been one of triumph but also tragedy with the fatal accident of Danish driver Allan Simonsen in the very first minutes of the 24 Hours in 2013.

James Bond and Aston Martin’s “license to win”

Since 2006, Aston Martin has been indelibly linked to the James Bond film franchise starring Daniel Craig. Until 2011, the GTs and prototypes entered under the Aston Martin Racing banner boasted three-digit racing numbers to include the secret agent’s famous 00. A symbol of his “license to kill,” the double zero became a “license to win” in the GT class in 2007 and 2008 (#009).

Factory Aston Martin driver and class winner in 2007, 2008 and 2017, Darren Turner shares his thoughts on James Bond: “My favorite actors in the role are Daniel Craig and Sean Connery. I really enjoy the recent movies starring Daniel Craig. I like them because they’re a bit darker than the previous ones. I met Roger Moore a few years ago at an Aston Martin event. There are a lot of heroes and superheroes in cinema, but I find James Bond the most normal so to speak, someone with a secret life you want to have.”

Following the end of LMGTE Pro last year, the Am class will take its final bow on June 10-11. For Aston Martin – as for Porsche, Ferrari and Corvette – a win will seem even sweeter with the added value of the Centenary. There is no doubt that, given its recent results, Aston Martin will show up ready to fight.

PHOTOS (Copyright – ACO Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 2006-2022 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: the factory Aston Martin Racing team in 2017, with in the foreground the #97 Vantage AMR winner in LMGTE Pro that year; the two Aston Martin crews in 2006 with (from left to right) Andrea Piccini, Darren Turner, Tomas Enge, Stéphane Ortelli (1998 winner with Porsche), Pedro Lamy and Stéphane Sarrazin; the DBR9 that won consecutive class wins in 2007 and 2008; the Lola-Aston Martin coupé at the finish in 2009, with fourth and 13th places for the 007 and 008, respectively; Aston Martin’s triumph in the two LMGTE classes in 2020; the LMGTE podium in 2022, with the top (at center) and third (at right) steps on the podium for TF Sport and Northwest AMR, respectively; the #007 of James Bond at the 24 Hours in 2006, the year of the release of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig as 007 for the first time.

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