If you were looking forward to watching Aston Martin’s Valkyrie compete in next season’s World Endurance Championship, including Le Mans, we’ve got some bad news for you. As of today, Aston has withdrawn its entry for the 2020-2021 season, while it “considers” its future participation.
The famous British brand has had a rocky old time of it lately. After sinking a lot of cash into a variety of new projects, including the construction of an entirely new factory for the DBX crossover, its fortunes swung the other way.
Over the last few months, Aston Martin has had to prop itself up with extra borrowing, and the situation almost became critical. Canadian clothing billionaire Lawrence Stroll stepped in to pick up a controlling stake in the brand — after doing the same to the Force India F1 team in 2018 — and steadied the ship. While it seems safe for now, and the DBX is likely to sell faster than Aston can make them, fans and onlookers have raised question marks over the brand’s expensive racing programs.
However, according to Aston Martin Lagonda’s CEO Andy Palmer, it’s not about spending, but about who Aston would race against. While Palmer holds up the Vantage GTE as an example of a successful race car which competes with its peers in the road car category, his statement seems to question if AML will get the same value from the hypercar class:
“Aston Martin’s ambition to compete for the overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans remains undiminished, but it is only right that we reassess our position in light of a significant change in the landscape that was not anticipated when we committed last year. We entered Aston Martin Valkyrie in WEC and at Le Mans with the understanding that we would be competing with similar machinery and like-minded manufacturers. The situation has changed and it makes sense for us to pause and reconsider our options.
“Meanwhile, we’re extremely proud of Vantage and what it is achieving against our most direct competitors. GT racing has always been positioned at the core of what we do, for it bears the closest link to the cars that we build for the road. Both the Vantage road car and the Vantage GTE are borne from the same aluminium body structures that originate in Gaydon. When we win in WEC, it is a victory for Vantage, for our customers, and everyone at Aston Martin Lagonda.”
The issue for Aston Martin boils down to a change in regulations. In essence the FIA and the ACO, which governs the 24 Hours of Le Mans, agreed with North America’s IMSA to create a unified hypercar category, to allow for a level playing field between the two top-tier endurance categories. This agreement will see the DPi class rebrand as LMDh, allowing DPi cars to join the Le Mans Hypercars in the World Endurance Championship for 2021-2022.
That change seems to rankle with Aston Martin, and it’s easy to see why. The Valkyrie would no longer be racing against just similar cars from other brands but custom-made prototype race cars that have no road car. Indeed bringing road relevance back to endurance racing over bespoke race machinery appeared to be the whole point of the hypercar class in the first place, with a requirement for brands to make a minimum number of production vehicles with the hypercar power units.
For their part, the FIA and ACO have responded, mentioning AML’s recent cash flow issues. Richard Mille, president of the FIA Commission, said:
“While it is disappointing that a manufacturer that faces difficult times has to re-evaluate its commitment, I remain confident that the Hypercar platform is the right, long-term solution for the FIA World Endurance Championship. The category, with its aggressive style, is a very attractive proposition at the same time maintaining excellent cost to competitiveness ratio.”
Pierre Fillon, president of the ACO, adds:
“For a few months now, we have all been aware of the economic difficulties of Aston Martin, and the subsequent questions raised about its future motorsport programmes, namely endurance racing and F1, as well as its strategic path forward. Contextual developments linked to economic and industrial parameters can always occur for a manufacturer during the implementation of projects.”
Aston Martin is still pressing ahead with the Valkyrie project as a whole, with first customer deliveries expected in the latter half of 2020. It will also continue with its GTE race program with the Vantage, and enter F1 next season when the Racing Point team becomes Aston Martin F1.