London – Aston Martin will challenge for outright victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 2021 with its Valkyrie hypercar, the British supercar maker announced on Friday, after organisers rewrote the rules.
The governing FIA, which oversees 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 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 (R46.7m).
"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.
Current champion Toyota is 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."
Toyota staying put
Meanwhile Toyota has committed to staying in Le Mans after 2020 when rule changes come into force.
The Japanese manufacturer said in a statement before this weekend’s race at Le Mans’ Sarthe circuit that it would continue in 2021 with a hybrid-powered prototype based on the GR Super Sport road car.
Toyota will start on pole position on Saturday after sweeping the front row in qualifying for the third year in succession.
"This new era of competition is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate our credentials not only as a race team against some of the best in the business, but also as a sportscar manufacturer," said Toyota Gazoo president Shigeki Tomoyama.
Track testing of the new car will begin next year.
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