One of the biggest surprises of the build-up to the 2008 endurance racing season was the announcement that Aston Martin would enter prototype racing as an engine supplier. This comes on top of their presence in all four international GT categories. The choice of the latest Lola chassis to house the engine will bring back not so pleasant memories of the two ill-fated Aston Martin engined Lola T70s that lasted less than an hour in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. This time round the engine was not a prototype, but instead a seasoned and successful powerplant that had already been raced at Le Mans several times.
Aston Martin's surprise decision came about after a slight modification of the regulations for the 2008 season, which gave production based engines a slight performance advantage by virtue of a restrictor break compared to bespoke racing engines. Aston Martin's six litre V12 engine was built in sufficient numbers and displaces just under the limit of six litres. Furthermore it had already been developed and used in the highly successful DBR9, which won the GT1 class at Le Mans in 2007 and many other major races since 2005.
There were several drawbacks to using a production engine in general and this V12 in particular. Reliability could have been an issue, but engine failure has been a very rare occurrence with the DBR9s. A bigger worry was the higher weight of the engine compared to comparable engines developed specifically for racing. A particular problem with the Aston Martin engine was the relatively tight V-angle, which affects the car's centre of gravity as most of the weight is quite high up in the engine. Aston Martin believed the 30 bhp gained by the restrictor break would make up for that.
What was completely new is the Lola B08/60 chassis, the English company's first fixed head sports racer since the Group C era. The carbon fibre roof did not hide the fact that the new car shares many design cues with the previous generation of open LMP1 and LMP2 Lolas, which was also designed by Julian Sole. The final shape was created by using the latest Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software as well as extensive wind-tunnel testing and Lola believed that both the new LMP1 and LMP2 chassis would be even more efficient. The B08/60 also featured a completely new monocoque and suspension compared to its predecessors.
Lola's new LMP1 chassis was not designed with the Aston Martin engine in mind and needed to adjustments because of the length of the V12. The car featured what was effectively a bespoke rear-end with a XTrac six-speed sequential gearbox in place of the standard Lola gearbox offered to 'regular' customers. The car was completed in time for some private testing before the car was shipped to Paul Ricard for the official Le Mans Series test. The Lola Aston was commissioned by Czech privateer team Charouz Racing who had previously raced a Judd engined Lola.
At Paul Ricard the brand new Lola Aston was immediately on the pace of the other petrol engined rivals but the diesel engined Audis still proved too quick. The good form was carried over to the season opening Le Mans Series race at Barcelona where an impressive third place was clinched behind a Peugeot and an Audi. During the following two races the team struggled to get the setup sorted. The problems were very persistent and required extensive re-calibration back at Lola. Apparently the car was on the alignment jig for nearly a week between the Le Mans test and the race.
During the qualification sessions for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race it was clear that the problems were sorted. The Lola clinched sixth place on the grid ahead of one of the Audis with a time of 3:25,158; over 11 seconds faster than in the test. Unfortunately the Aston engined prototype was involved in an accident early in the race, resulting in lengthy repairs. A very strong run in the remainder of the race saw the stylish coupe fight back to an impressive ninth overall. They were beaten only by two other petrol engined machines and the six diesel powered Audis and Peugeots.
For the final two Le Mans Series races of the season a brand new tub was built, which included the lessons learned with the first car. It proved quicker still, setting the third qualifying time at the Nürburgring round and eventually finishing fifth behind the four diesels. The season finale at Silverstone brought even more success as the Lola Aston finished second after starting from fifth on the grid. During the messy race the Charouz team made no mistakes and for a long time led the race as the Audis and Peugeots fought fiercely for the championship. The team, fittingly, finished fifth in the championship.
Fortunately there was little during the 2008 season that reminded of the previous Lola and Aston Martin collaboration. Beating seasoned prototype racers and teams in the maiden season was quite an achievement. For Lola it was also a great way to celebrate the company's fiftieth anniversary. At the end of the year Antonin Charouz put both of the chassis up for sale and one will be raced by the very competent Speedy-Sebah team in 2009. It looks like Aston Martin has really gotten a taste of prototype racing as the latest rumors suggest that they are building a completely new car for 2009 with backing from Charouz and Gulf.
Ya gotta love Lola, but I'm blind to the beauty of this guppy racer. It looks more hydrostatic than aerodynamic; are there plans to enter the Bikini Bottom Great Snail Race?
I hope this car fares better than the Aston/Lola cars of old, because it's truly stunning. I'd love to see it in a British Racing Green, or even Gulf livery (to match its GT1 forebear). Either way, I'll be watching as much Le Mans coverage as we can get in the US; that, and praying one of the ALMS teams wants to run one of these beauties.
Country of origin
HU01 / HU02
Julian Sole for Lola
Aston Martin 60º V12
Mid, longitudinally mounted
aluminium alloy block and head
5.935 liter / 362.2 cu in
Bore / Stroke
89.0 mm (3.5 in) / 79.5 mm (3.1 in)
4 valves / cylinder, DOHC
650 bhp / 485 KW
@ 7000 rpm
725 Nm / 535 ft lbs
@ 6250 rpm
110 bhp / liter
carbon fibre honeycomb monocoque
double wishbones, push-rod actuated coil springs over dampers