Racing24-7.net met up with Aston Martin Racing works driver Nicki Thiim regarding the preparations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the new car, that the team has entered in the FIA World Endurance Championship, which the French race is a part of.
“We kind of had expected it. We had expected to be in the middle of the field, and that’s were we are, but not as far behind as we are. But we hadn’t been expecting to be at the sharp end here (at Spa, editor). I have to admit that. That is kind of OK with a new car. We came here for the first practice and wasn’t fully sure about the set-up. What we have now, the package for the race, is quite impressive. I don’t think there is much more to get out of the car. That is clear in the second sector, where we aren’t far off. It’s just on the straights or on the climbs, where we are lacking a bit.”
The old version of the Aston Martin Vantage car was faster at the Spa Francorchamps race on both laptimes and top speeds.
“It has always been known for that, the old car, that it was fast, whereas the new car is super impressive. It’s never been as fun as with this car at Spa, at least regarding the corners. That is impressive. When you think about what such a GT car is capable of. It has so much more grip, it’s stiffer in the chassis, there is a lot more downforce. It doesn’t look like a lot from the top, but the complex tunnel system, where it produces vacuum under the car… Yeah, it’s impressive what they can do nowadays.”
The old car got an update in 2016, where a bigger diffuser was added, but it was still the old car, just with a few updates on the aerodynamic.
“It’s small percentages that we are talking about. If you compared it to the new car, we are talking about almost 60 % more stiffness in the chassis. That makes a huge difference. So to compare them is hard to do. Also because it’s built completely different. The old car was more focused on Le Mans, shall we say. The airflow over the car was very much focused on Le Mans. That is why we were beaten by Ford last year (in the FIA WEC, editor). Especially with the rule with four sets of tires per race. So that is actually why Aston has changed the concept, and gone in the direction of Ford, Ferrari and Porsche, with more downforce, so they conserve the tires, too.”
The FIA World Endurance Championship consists of many different tracks. The long straights at Le Mans are only 2/9 of the season, while more twisty tracks like Shanghai or Fuji needs a lot more downforce.
“Yeah, that is what makes this series so great, where you can’t just focus on going fast in a straight line, because it’s going to hurt you in other places. That is what makes this Championship awesome.”
So, what about the engine. Do you have to get used to the turbo, or is it driving just as well as the old one?
“To me it’s the same. With all the technology like we have nowadays, it’s possible to make it almost impossible to feel it as a driver, that it’s a turbo engine. Maybe a bit on the initial input, but otherwise not. The actual power curve is so smooth, that you don’t feel it. By doing that, is saves tires too. If you had that old turbo kick, you would kiss the tires. So it’s all to improve the drive-ability, and to take care of the equipment and all that. We are indeed doing endurance racing.”
But the sound…
“Yeah, that is the usual thing about these turbo engines. I miss the old sound, too. That is as expected. But it’s pretty much only getting worse from now on. Unfortunately. It’s all about enjoying the old one, and especially the old GT3 (V12 engine, editor), that sounds phenomenal. But turbo engines are hard to create much sound with, unless you just pump loads of fuel in, like in the old days – but again, it’s endurance racing, and it’s something the team has worked hard at, not to use too much fuel. Of course we would like to have the turbo spinning at all times, but it uses huge amounts of fuel, so it’s something we really think about.”
And the last subject of the conversation was cars today and in the future.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what happens in the future. Both on the street and in motorsport. There are huge changes at the moment. Motorsport is on the way to a evolution or revolution, or whatever you call it. It’s a change of generation. When you look at what my dad drove back then, where there only was a steering wheel and a rev counter on the dash, and then off you go. But that was a different time.”
On top of the GTE Pro turbo sound, Nicki Thiim will also have the chance to enjoy the GT3 sound, when he participates in the British GT. He is currently 6th in the Championship with his co-driver Mark Farmer, where he races for TF Sport number 11. The team is racing at Snetterton this weekend, before going to the Le Mans test day next weekend. Then he will return to Silverstone for a race on 9-10 June. And then it’s full focus on the 24 hours race in France.