Aston Martin returns to La SarthePost-war sports car racing was all about Le Mans. The races that made up the championship calendar were important and national pride was on display. However, an outright and overall victory in Les 24 Heures was for life. The '50s were an almost mystical time at La Sarthe. Ferrari, Jaguar, Mercedes, even Talbot Lago got the main honors. Aston Martin closed out the decade with a stunning victory 50 years ago with a DBR1 driven by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori. The legendary John Wyer, who was later to lead the Gulf-livered Ford GT-40 and Porsche 917 efforts, managed the David Brown team. Now, under the guidance of David Richards and Prodrive, Aston Martin Racing, along with the sponsorship of Gulf, will run in the top LMP1 class with hopes of winning it all. Again.
David Richards C.B.E.: A Sporting Manner
What happens when you major in accountancy and want to go rallying? Being David Richards would be one way to pull it off. After sharing the World Rally Championship title in 1981, Richards embarked on a mission that resulted in the formation of Prodrive, with numerous successes leading up to the chairmanship of Aston Martin. Even with the huge amount of employees and projects throughout the world, it all starts with David Richards.
EC: Given the state of the world economy, this is a brave move for a small firm. So we have to ask, how much of this is emotion-driven given the significance of Aston Martin's win at Le Mans 50 years ago?
DR: There is no question that the 50th anniversary of Aston Martin's win at LeMans was an influencing factor in us going ahead with an LMP1 entry this year.However, our plans for racing have always had to be carefully balanced against the funds available as the program is financed by Aston Martin Racing.
EC: When did you first consider to taking Aston Martin into LMP1? Were there any plans on running the American Le Mans Series or shaking the car down at the 12 Hours of Sebring?
DR: Last year's LMP1 entry by Charouz Racing was a precursor to our plans for this year.We had alwaysconsidered that if last year's program ran smoothly we would try and raise thefunds toparticipate with a full Aston Martin team this year. It was originally hoped that the program would be signed off in good time so as to enter Sebring, but unfortunately this was not possible.There is, however, a hope that we will race in America later in the year.
EC: Given the disparity of the ACO rules since the diesel brigade debuted versus the gas boys, how has the lobbying been going to make a more even playing field for Le Mans?
DR: There is, in our view, still a significant performance advantage for the diesel engine cars. However, the ACO has been slowly adjusting the regulationsso as to reduce this advantage and the hope is that we will arrive at an even playing field in the near future.
EC: Was the choice of using an existing platform for the LMP1 simply one of financial constraints? It's not like you don't have the talent at Prodrive. If you are successful this year, could there be a full in-house car in the future?
DR: The decision to use the Lola chassis was based on our experience from last year coupled with both financial and time constraints in manufacturing a completely new car.We have carried out substantial modifications to the Lola chassis to accommodate the new technical regulations and a body shape that reflects Aston Martin styling.
EC: No doubt you hear this a lot; the Gulf colors are well known, especially through the John Wyer years with Ford and Porsche, so there is a tradition with British motorsport, but an Aston Martin effort that isn't in the traditional green?