After 67 races across seven seasons the V12 Vantage makes its final British GT appearance as Aston Martin’s frontline GT3 entry this weekend. Tom Hornsby pays tribute to the championship’s most successful GT3 car.
Motorsport: the never-ending pursuit of speed, marginal gains and innovation. It’s a hyper competitive arena that forces designers to fettle and refine their creations, wringing whatever performance they can before the cycle must, inevitably, begin again.
But a rule requires an exception. For occasionally a machine comes along that somehow defies the passing of time. Think Porsche 956/962. The Cosworth DFV. And Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage GT3.
It’s been seven seasons since the six-litre V12 first screamed in anger at a British GT event. It took just three races to record the first of its 22 wins and 63 podiums, totals it could increase again this weekend at Donington where the car, in its final outing before Aston’s new V8-powered Vantage takes centre stage, could add a fourth Drivers’ and third Teams’ title to a list of domestic accolades also featuring 26 pole positions. More could follow in 2019 when the car remains eligible.
Such a remarkable innings already makes the Vantage the most successful model in British GT3 history, while a V12 soundtrack and drop-dead looks also ensure its status as a firm fan favourite.
The opportunity for Pro and Am drivers to shine has certainly been key to the Vantage’s longevity. Just ask Jonny Adam, who claimed its very first British GT win at the Nurburgring in 2012 before adding 11 more victories and two Drivers’ titles.
“I was actually the very first driver to shake it down in November 2011; the car’s career essentially encompasses my own involvement with Aston Martin Racing,” says Adam, whose British GT exploits with the Vantage led to a full manufacturer call-up. “I remember doing about 200km on the first day, which was pretty good for a new car with no baseline. Remember, back then GT3 wasn’t like it is now: we were working from the DBRS9, which was more of a road car that had been turned into a racer. But I remember it being very good straight out of the box.”
Further development followed before Adam’s long-time British GT co-driver, Andrew Howard, secured the very first V12 Vantage for 2012. Beechdean AMR is still running the same chassis seven years on.
“X3 was the development car, which has paved the way for the 40 or so customer chassis built since,” reveals Howard. “We worked closely with Aston in 2012 racing and testing the car as part of its development programme, and although we had some success I never thought we’d still be here seven years later with the same car. Some manufacturers have introduced two GT3 models since then! It really is testament to the foundations we laid back in 2012.”
Adam continues: “We won on the car’s second weekend at the Nurburgring, which was pretty amazing, and had some more good races that season. We could see the potential and learnt plenty but were the only team running it in year one. That experience paid dividends during 2013 when Beechdean won the Drivers’ title, which really made everyone else sit up and take notice. Aston haven’t stopped selling them since!”
GT3’s development into a global class and business has forced many manufacturers to introduce evo kits or upgrades that bridge the gap between outgoing and incoming models. Not so the V12 Vantage, which – aside from switching dampers and drop gear – has remained unchanged since 2012. And according to Adam that’s no coincidence…
“Aston discussed an upgrade in 2015 but were concerned that any changes could make it less amateur friendly,” he says. “It’s not as aero-dependent as some of the other GT3s, which means Ams are generally more comfortable while good Pros can still extract enough performance to make the difference. It also benefits from a big set-up window, carries weight very well and has won races with all sorts of tyre suppliers around the world. In short, it ticks a lot of boxes for independent teams running Pro/Am line-ups, as we have in British GT. Prodrive’s Technical Director Dan Sayers, who’s also designed the new GT3, really understood what was required probably long before the other manufacturers. He future-proofed the V12 Vantage.”
Howard agrees: “I’ve driven a few of the Vantage’s contemporaries and none of them offer the same balance between Pro and Am ability. That helps amateurs improve because the set-up can be adjusted to suit their experience and confidence, while it’s also forgiving and rewarding when trying to find the limit. Look at the lead battle I had with Derek Johnston at Snetterton earlier this year: that was two Ams going wheel-to-wheel for 25 minutes without making a mistake or contact. I finished second but it was one of the best races I’ve ever had. It’s what keeps amateurs coming back for more.”
Of course, customer GT racing’s Balance of Performance tweaks help cars remain competitive. But the Vantage is still a potent weapon in its own right across a wide range of circuits regardless of driving style, as evidenced by four crews claiming victories with it this year alone. Two of them – Adam and Flick Haigh, plus Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim – are both in title contention this weekend.
“You’d assume that a car of its age would rely on BoP to stay competitive but that’s not the case at all: there’s actually a lot of performance we can’t use,” counters Howard. “It’s still a hugely capable car and one we’d be happy to run next season.”
So, while Donington might signal the end of its tenure as Aston Martin’s flagship GT3, the V12 Vantage could very well be winning long into its eighth season of British GT and beyond.