It’s staggering that the diesel-engined heavyweights were within a relatively microscopic 0.534s of one another in qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours. This year’s race is certainly shaping up to be the closest confrontation yet between Audi and Peugeot, but what about Aston Martin with their bespoke prototype?
I think “disappointment” preceded by the word “huge” springs to mind, as it’s clear to see that the first all-Aston prototype since the AMR1 in 1989 lacks reliability and outright speed to take on the big boys.
The 007 and 009 Aston Martin AMR-Ones qualified 22nd and 25th respectively – 20 seconds slower than Benoit Treluyer, who seized pole position for this weekend’s race with a time of 3m25.738s in the Audi R18 TDI. Thankfully, the ACO does not follow the FIA by imposing a 107% cut-off in qualifying as neither Aston Martin would have made it through to the race.
To compound the issue even further, their long-run pace hovered around the 3m50s mark, whilst the best of the GTE Pro cars were running consistently below four minutes. Let’s think about that some more: an LMP1 vehicle with all its fancy aerodynamics lapping fractionally quicker than the quickest GTE cars!
What’s going on then? Well, Aston Martin has encountered a tough-build up to the race, one that’s been fraught with plenty of engine issues. According to team principal George Howard-Chappell these had been sorted out following a two-day test at Monza last week when the new straight-six turbo engine came through unscathed.
But the speed trap results from two days of running around La Sarthe tells a different story; one that suggests the they still have an engine that fundamentally doesn’t work and has been turned down to improve reliability. Down the Mulsanne Straight, for example, they reached a top speed of 288km/h – a massive 40km/h slower than the diesels.
It’s interesting to note that in a recent issue of Motor Sport Magazine, Audi’s engine guru Dr Ulrich Baretzky could see this coming from a mile off. He described the notion of using an inline six cylinder turbocharged engine as “incomprehensible,” saying:
“They made an open car with the wrong engine.
“A straight-six engine with a turbo – sorry, but this is one of the worst combinations I have ever seen. First of all, if you want to have a 2-litre, they have two cylinders too much. A four-cylinder would be enough to make this performance. And a straight six has a really critical thing with torsional vibrations, because you have a long crankshaft. BMW did something similar in the late 1970s with the M1 and they had only engine failures. It was a really robust engine, but the torsional vibrations were destroying everything.
“They will find out. I’m sure about that. They just wanted to have a link to the V12 they are still building, so it’s half a V12 in a way. Maybe. But things like that do not count if you want to win Le Mans.”
Baretzky is certainly an astute fellow, make no doubt about that.
So where does this leave Aston Martin as far as this year’s Le Mans is concerned, and should they pack up and trundle back to Blighty with their tails between the legs as many critics are suggesting?
Of course they shouldn’t. Okay, it doesn’t look at all promising, especially when they’ve been out done by the Kronos Lola-Aston Martin, but AMR would further destroy their reputation by just giving up. Yes, it is incredibly disappointing, and yes, we could have had two other competitive entries on the grid, but we have what we have.
I just want to see them last as long as possible. Run a conservative race, don’t get in the way of traffic, and hope for the best in terms of reliability. Maybe through high attrition they can outlast the other entries. I doubt it, but this is Le Mans we’re talking about here and absolutely anything can happen.
Brave or foolish, you can’t knock Aston Martin for trying to find the clever route to be on par with Audi and Peugeot. Convention is certainly not on the menu and, whilst they’ve obviously got it wrong this time, don’t discount them from challenging for victory in the unofficial ‘best non-diesel’ category at Le Mans next year – following a major overhaul of the AMR-One, that is.