|Lola-Aston Martin B09/60|
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Aston Martin's racing successes peaked in the late 1950s when the DBR1 won seven major races outright, clinching the 1959 World Championship. All but one of these wins were scored by a single chassis; 'DBR1/2'. Among these scalps was the most important race of all; the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. In the fifty years since, Aston Martin has only rarely tried racing at the top level again and with little success. Now half a century later, the British manufacturer will once again attempt to take top honors in the French classic with a car tentatively named 'DBR1-2' by Aston Martin in reference to the single most successful racing car they ever built.
The 2009 program is very much an evolution of Aston Martin Racing's (AMR) efforts in GT racing over the last few years and last year as an engine supplier in the main prototype class LMP1. In its first year the collaboration between Aston Martin Racing, Lola and Charouz Racing System yielded very promising results. The V12 engined prototype could not fight for overall wins but proved throughout the season to be the fastest petrol engined car on the grid. This was partly due to the use of a production based engine, which is allowed to run with a larger restrictor. The DBR9 and ultimately DB9 sourced V12 produced as much as 50 bhp more than the bespoke racing engines.
After racing the DBR9 for four seasons, winning the GT1 class at Le Mans twice in the last two years, Aston Martin Racing decided to put all of their eggs in the LMP1 basket for 2009. It was only natural to continue in a similar vein. Although the cars are now entered by Aston Martin Racing, a large part of the funding is still supplied by Antonin Charouz and the cars are also very similar to the Lola B08/60 Aston Martin raced in 2008. There are however distinct differences to the styling to more closely resemble the Aston Martin road cars. Another major change was adopting the ever striking Gulf livery that was used for the DBR9s in 2008.
When Aston Martin Racing launched their plans for the new year late in 2008, they simply referred to the new car as the Aston Martin LMP1. While they made no secret as to the origins of the car's chassis, the name Lola was rarely mentioned. This eventually led to a heated debate where Lola felt forced to speak out and claim their stake in the program. The Huntingdon based racing car manufacturer had offered Aston Martin the rights of the design, so the car could be re-homologated as an Aston Martin but AMR refused to pay. The homologation papers refer to the car as a Lola-Aston Martin B09/60. Aston Martin however have gone as far as to place a chassis plate of their own with DBR1-2 nomenclature.
It is unfortunate that so much attention has been drawn away from the car and the team's efforts by this controversy. With its beautifully shaped body, evocative livery and howling engine note, the car is one of the instant favourites on the grid. There is of course much more to the Lola-Aston than the visual and aural aspects. It combines the best efforts of two of Britain's most successful racing car companies; Lola and Prodrive. The Lola built chassis is a thoroughly developed bit of kit that has roots running all the way back to the B05/40 and B06/10 racers. The engine is equally proven, having powered the DBR9 to numerous of GT1 victories in the FIA GT Championship, in the Le Mans Series, in the ALMS and at Le Mans.
As mentioned earlier the 2009 car was a development of the Lola-Aston that was used last year. The carbon-fibre tub has been carried over without any major design changes. The front suspension is also supplied by Lola. From the rear bulkhead back, it's all Aston Martin. Most important ingredient is the V12 engine that produces in excess of 650 bhp. Using a stock block and heads, it is a little taller, longer and heavier than the bespoke engines by the competition, which is how the restrictor break can be justified. The length of the engine also meant that the standard Lola gearbox could not be used. Instead a more compact Xtrac six speed gearbox is used, which is operated with paddles behind the steering wheel.
The exterior styling has been extensively modified in a joint effort by Lola and Aston Martin Racing and is a lot smoother than Lola's own angular design. The new shape of the front grill and the tail lights bear a great resemblance with Aston's road car. In the past cars like the Peugeot 905 and BMW LMR also sported road car inspired cues but they only became successful after incorporating a more conventional design. Whether Aston Martin can pull it off remains to be seen. Another interesting feature is the rear break cooling, which uses rearward pointed ducts that feed air onto the discs with fans. This eliminates the need for air-intakes on the rear deck, which is now exceptionally clean.
The new Lola-Aston Martin first broke cover during the official pre-season Le Mans Series test at Paul Ricard. It did not go all that well for Aston Martin Racing as Tomas Enge destroyed one of the car very early in the two-day test. This was right after the public row with Lola had surfaced and now Aston Martin Racing needed a new tub ... from Lola. The surviving car was found at the head of the field but the 2008 spec Lola Aston, now fielded by Speedy Team Sebah, was remarkably close. A new car was built in time for the season opening Catalunya 1000 km. In the mean time the design had also been further developed. The biggest change was the adoption of the 'swan neck' rear wing mounts that had first been seen on the new Audi and Acura LMP1 cars.
At the tricky Catalunya track just north of Barcelona, the two Lola-Astons were immediately on the pace. They were closely followed by the revamped Pescarolo, the new LMP1 Ginetta-Zytek and the 'old' Lola-Aston. In qualifying the Ginetta-Zytek surprised them all by clinching pole. The race started well with all three Lola-Astons leading the way. Eventually it became a two-horse race with one of the Aston Martin Racing cars working hard to fend off the surprisingly quick Pescarolo. A very strong drive from Stephan Mucke in the final stints eventually brought the Lola-Aston Martin a debut victory. The first major outright for Aston Martin win since 'DBR1/2' was driven to victory in the 1959 Tourist Trophy by Carroll Shelby, Jack Fairman and Stirling Moss. Lola had to go back to 1999 for an overall sports car victory.
A new challenge awaited the Aston Martin Racing team at the next Le Mans Series round; the Peugeot diesels. The French team had joined at Spa the fray as a final dress rehearsal for the 24 Hours Le Mans. Further improvements were made to the Lola-Aston Martins. The biggest change was the removal of the unusual rear-brake cooling fans. Despite the stronger opposition, the two Gul liveried machines were at the sharp end of the classifications in most sessions. The race presented a variety of problems including a very early puncture for the 009 car. Eventually the Catalunya race winning 007 car did well to snoop third from an Oreca. Next up for the British team is the 24 Hours of Le Mans where three Lola-Aston Martins will be line up exactly fifty years after Aston Martin's biggest triumph.
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