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Aston Martin Returns To Le Mans

by Larry Roberts

January 15, 2001

It was recently announced that Aston Martin, now a Ford subsidiary, will be returning to France to contest the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race for sports cars in 2002.

In truth, the reentry of that famous marque into international sports car racing isn't going to be a factory-backed program since that would involve Ford Motor Company, currently the owner of that prestigious brand name. Rather, the proposed project is a joint venture between GTC Motorsports (a British firm that has a long history of racing using prototype Lolas), Aston Martin engineers and Les Edger, a millionaire computer mogul and Aston Martin enthusiast. Edgar and his company will be the primary sponsor for the project and has hired Le Mans regular Chris Goodwin as a technical advisor and potential driver.

Aston Martin has undertaken a three-month program to research whether the proposed car should be powered by a modified V12 Aston Martin Vanquish engine or a more fuel-efficient V8. The latter would be an advantage in long distance events like Le Mans.

As a stand-alone company and later as a subsidiary of the British David Brown Ltd. farm implement producer, Aston Martin has had an international presence in sports car racing starting with the DB1 in 1947. It competed regularly from that point on. In 1959, an Aston Martin DBR-1 driven by Englishman Roy Salvadori and our own Carroll Shelby won the 24-hour race outright after a similar car driven by the great Sterling Moss acted as the "rabbit" for the competition to chase. The ploy worked and the opposing Ferraris and Jaguars destroyed themselves, allowing the underpowered car of Salvadori and Shelby to take the checkered flag. It was this event that made Shelby a recognized motorsports personality and made it possible for him to launch his British/American Ford-powered Cobra three years later.

But the newest Aston Martin venture will be in the style of modern endurance sports car racing. GTC Motorsports was also contemplating powering its new car with a specially-constructed racing engine that would wear the MG logo on its camshaft covers. That project has been abandoned in favor of the Aston Martin powerplant.

Aston Martin engines have been used in more recent years in a Lola T70 MK III in 1967 and then in the five Lola "Nimrod" (a name biblical scholars will recognize) Aston Martins that were built between 1981 and 1985 to compete in IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) racing in this country or in international FIA Group "C" endurance events in Europe.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show last month, a representative of Aston Martin stated that after the three-month evaluation, the company will decide at what level the company will participate in the project, if at all. Hopefully, it will be in a full-fledged factory sponsorship. It would be great to see the Aston Martin winged logo back on pit lane come June doing battle again with Bentley, Chrysler, Ferrari and the other old-time names.