Aston Martin Dumps Le Mans Valkyrie Hypercar, Focuses on Formula 1
Aston Martin confirmed today that it won't be racing its Valkyrie hypercar at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year in favor of making Racing Point F1 its works Formula 1 team.
The Valkyrie was supposed to make its racing debut in August 2020 as part of the World Endurance Championship's new top Hypercar class. WEC's seasons now end with the most famous endurance race of them all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in late spring.
In today's announcement, Aston Martin highlighted the recent addition of the LMDh spec to the Hypercar class as part of the reason they're reevaluating the Valkyrie as the basis for a Hypercar program:
Aston Martin Lagonda has postponed development of its World Endurance Championship (WEC) Hypercar race entry, following the recent decision by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) to harmonise the Hypercar class with the so-called LMDh prototype category in the WEC from 2021 and the US-based WeatherTech Sportscar Championship from 2022.
LMDh is heavily based on IMSA's current top class, DPi, and was created jointly with IMSA to allow teams to compete in both series' top classes with one car starting with the 2021-2022 WEC season. It could be a more cost-effective way to enter the Hypercar class than racing the bespoke Valkyrie, given that LMDh manufacturers partner with one of four approved chassis constructors to race.
Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer reiterated in today's announcement that the marque still wants that coveted overall Le Mans victory, but that it didn't make sense for them to keep going with the Valkyrie for 2020-2021 with LMDh cars shaking up the immediate next season.
"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," Palmer said. "The situation has changed and it makes sense for us to pause and reconsider our options."
Yet Aston also announced that it will increase its involvement in one of the most expensive series of them all, Formula 1:
Aston Martin Lagonda is poised to re-enter Formula 1 next year as a works team for the first time since 1960, when the Racing Point F1 team becomes Aston Martin F1 works team. The British sportscar manufacturers’ focus will thus be defined by its activities at the highest level of both single-seater competition and endurance GT racing, for which it has earned a rich pedigree over the past 15 years
There's a lot to unpack in that part of the announcement thanks to billionaire Lawrence Stroll's recent $657-million bailout of Aston Martin from financial distress. Stroll owns the Racing Point F1 team, where his son Lance Stroll is a driver.
The 1,160-horsepower Valkyrie was a joint project with Aston Martin's current partner in Formula 1, Red Bull Racing, through the Red Bull Advanced Technologies squad. Red Bull finished third in the constructors' championship last year behind the powerhouses of Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG, but of course, Stroll doesn't own that team.
That's why Racing Point, a team which finished seventh out of tenth in last year's constructors' standings, is getting Aston Martin's works deal. I'm sure Stroll will be one proud papa when he gets to call his son a works driver.
The decision announced by Aston Martin is very regrettable but perhaps not unexpected in light of the persistent rumours over the last six months concerning the fragility of the brand’s exposure in the rapidly evolving automotive market, together with its decision to enter Formula 1 as a works team in 2021.
It is, however, the hope of the ACO, FIA, and WEC that a solution will be found to bring this program to fruition and the Aston Martin Valkyrie to the racetrack.
WEC CEO Gérard Neveu reiterated that disappointment, but stated that the Hypercar class should still be fine regardless of what Aston Martin ultimately does:
This is not good news for the WEC in the short term, but it doesn’t change our mid and long-term plans. We still have Toyota and Peugeot plus other entrants who have expressed an interest for Le Mans Hypercar and, with the arrival of LMDh, we will welcome many new manufacturers. Of course, it would be better if Aston Martin was present as well, but it’s important that we have as wide a range of manufacturers as possible and that is the strategic plan we are working on for the future.
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon recently took the roadgoing version of the Valkyrie on track at Silverstone, so at least that's still going to happen. Customer deliveries of the Valkyrie will commence later this year, with Valkyrie AMR Pro deliveries starting in 2021.
Aston Martin isn't pulling out of endurance racing entirely, as the marque reiterated its commitment to its WEC GTE-class teams today. The marque has been heavily involved in GT racing since 2005 and boasts a huge presence in WEC's GTE Pro and GTE Am classes. The Aston Martin Vantage GTE debuted in WEC's previous 2018-2019 season, where it collected four wins in GTE Pro and two in GTE Am. This season, Aston already leads the GT Manufacturers' championship.
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