British car maker has motorsport ambitions beyond Formula 1 and GT racing
Aston Martin is closing in on a return to the premier category of the Le Mans 24 Hours with a race-spec version of its Valkyrie hypercar in 2025, in a bid for its first overall victory at the French classic since 1959.
The British firm had announced plans to develop a Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) version of the Adrian Newey-designed Valkyrie, a joint project with top Formula 1 squad Red Bull Racing, back in 2019. These were later put on ice – but Autocar sources have now confirmed that the project has been revived.
As first reported by Autosport, the new project would be a partnership between Aston and US-based sports car squad Heart of Racing, which currently competes in the GT class of sports car racing, and could involve Valkyrie LMH cars racing in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the US-based IMSA championship.
Aston Martin would not confirm the Valkyrie LMH project, but in a statement said the firm was “encouraged” by the growth of the Hypercar division at Le Mans, adding that as “a global hypercar brand we continue to play close attention to the class.”
The LMH rules allow manufacturers considerable free rein to produce hybrid prototype racers, with Balance of Performance (BoP) rules then used to level their performance. Ferrari, Toyota and Peugeot currently build cars to the LMH rules.
There is also a cost-controlled LMDh category, which features entrants such as Porsche and Cadillac and uses spec chassis and hybrid systems.
Autocar first revealed Aston chairman Lawrence Stroll’s interest in reviving plans to compete in the LMH class of Le Mans in February 2022. Speaking at the launch of the Formula 1 team’s 2022 AMR22 car, the Canadian billionaire made the admission that the British car maker has greater ambitions than simply maintaining its presence in GT racing.
“We fully intend to go back to racing other than in F1,” he said. “We’ve never stopped racing in GT3 and GT4, and we won [the GTE Pro class at] Le Mans two years ago. That programme will continue and be enhanced.
“Now that I’ve started Aston Martin Performance Technologies as a division of the F1 team, it will get a lot more involved in the development of our mid-engined programme out of the new F1 factory [being built near Silverstone].
“In addition, we are in discussions to go back to Le Mans.”
Stroll refused to be drawn on a timescale for the return. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “I’m a racer myself. I have been all my life. Racing is in my blood, which is why I’m here. We should be racing in whichever category aligns with the message we are trying to deliver for Aston Martin.”
Aston Martin had been primed as one of the first manufacturers to enter the new Hypercar era, which began last year at Le Mans and in the World Endurance Championship. But a programme based around the Valkyrie was scotched by Stroll following his consortium takeover of Aston Martin Lagonda early in 2020.
The two hypercar classes have sparked considerable manufacturer interest in Le Mans. Lamborghini will enter an LMDh car next year, with BMW, Acura (Honda) and Alpine all working on entries. Bentley and McLaren entries are also future possibilities.
If – and it is believed when – Stroll presses the button on a Le Mans programme, he is expected to commit Aston Martin to the same LMH class that Toyota, Peugeot and Ferrari have chosen, with a car based on the Valkyrie AMR Pro. Pitched as the ‘ultimate no-rules hypercar’, the 1000bhp hybrid-enhanced V12-powered car was built with a specific target to lap the 8.5-mile Le Mans circuit in 3min 20sec. Last year, Kamui Kobayashi took pole position for the race in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR010 Hybrid in 3min 23.900sec.
Aston Martin has a long and prestigious history at Le Mans, and yet despite a number of class wins in the GT category, it can boast only a single overall success: when Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby steered a DBR1 to victory in 1959.
Additional reporting by Damien Smith