By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Aston Martin will challenge for outright victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 2021 with its Valkyrie hypercar, the British luxury sportscar maker announced on Friday after organisers rewrote the rules.
The governing FIA, who oversee the World Endurance Championship, and race organisers Automobile Club de L’Ouest, revealed earlier that hypercar derivatives would replace prototypes as the top category from the 2020-21 season.
Aston Martin will field two works Valkyries, powered by V12 normally-aspirated engines, as part of a multi-year commitment to a championship currently dominated by Japanese manufacturer Toyota.
The announcement comes 60 years after Aston Martin’s sole overall triumph at Le Mans in 1959 with Britain’s Roy Salvadori and American Carroll Shelby.
The 2021 Le Mans will also be the 100th anniversary of Aston’s first entry at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
“I think you’d say from the brand’s point of view, there’s a little bit of unfinished business to be done,” Group Chief Executive Andy Palmer told Reuters.
Top Formula One designer Adrian Newey, who has won championships with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, helped create the Valkyrie.
The limited edition road legal version costs in the region of 2.5 million pounds ($3.17 million).
“We don’t under-estimate the difficulty of an outright win at Le Mans and you never under-estimate the tenacity and resources of Toyota,” said Palmer.
“On the other hand, we’re not coming just to make up the numbers. We’re coming here to give it a bloody good shot.”
Palmer said the new regulations would significantly reduce the costs of competing, without giving details about the likely budget, and hoped commercial rivals McLaren and Ferrari would take up the challenge.
“It’s not going to cost a shed load of money because that’s the way the regulations have been written,” he added.
The luxury carmaker, which floated on the London Stock Exchange last year, posted an adjusted pre-tax profit of 68 million pounds ($90 million) in 2018.
It also reported 136 million pounds of one-off costs due to its initial public offering, pushing it to a reported pre-tax loss of 68 million pounds.
Champions Toyota are currently the sole manufacturer in the top LMP1 category and Palmer said the new rules would breathe fresh life into the series.
“Very clearly you want to get passion back into the series. Having an almost fait accompli winner slightly takes the polish off the win, doesn’t it?,” he said.
“There’s a huge British fanbase that goes down to Le Mans, so hopefully they will be cheering for David in the David and Goliath competition.”
Aston Martin, title sponsors of the Red Bull Formula One team, have a new mid-engined Vanquish model in the planning pipeline to take on Ferrari and Palmer said the company’s motorsport ventures laid the groundwork for that.
“It’s all about seeding the ground, making it not unexpected for Aston to come with a world class mid-engined car because we’ve proven it in Formula One and at Le Mans,” he said.
“And therefore it becomes a natural competitor to a Lamborghini or a Ferrari or a McLaren.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)