Reigning IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD class champion team, Heart of Racing [HoR], will make its FIA World Endurance Championship [WEC] debut at Spa-Francorchamps, in Belgium, this weekend.
The North American squad already runs multiple Aston Martin programmes with its fleet of Vantage GT3 and GT4 race cars in IMSA and the US-based SRO-run GT World Series GT4 categories, as well as the 2022 Spa 24 Hours. It now adds WEC to its roster with Anglo-American driver and team principal Ian James, IMSA GTD Pro class race-winner Alex Riberas (ESP) and Italian GT racer Daniel Mancinelli. Heart of Racing’s WEC campaign will run through to the end of the season, and will include the team’s first attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the centenary edition taking place on the 10-11 June.
Heart of Racing joins two of Aston Martin’s other regular partner teams on the WEC grid – ORT by TF Sport and D’station Racing – but is only able to do so by taking over the entry from NorthWest AMR, owned by Paul Dalla Lana. Following a glittering GT career, the Aston Martin Racing legend is retiring from racing to give his full focus over to his multiple business interests. The 57-year-old entrepreneur contested the first two races of the season alongside Nicki Thiim (DEN) and Axcil Jefferies (ZIM) in his team’s Vantage GTE but has decided he no longer has the time required to prepare fully for competition at an elite level.
Dalla Lana’s record since joining the Aston Martin Racing driver roster is enviable. The most successful Amateur racer in WEC history, the Canadian’s 17 class victories put him fourth on the all-time winners’ list, behind Sebastian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Dalla Lana’s old team-mate Pedro Lamy (POR).
‘PDL’ as he is affectionately known within Aston Martin, can look back proudly on an astonishing 54% WEC podium strike-rate, including the one he took on his world championship debut at Silverstone alongside Lamy and Fred Makowiecki (FRA), in 2013. He went on to record 36 more podiums in a 69-race WEC career – including those 17 wins (all achieved racing an Aston Martin Vantage). His most successful period of racing came between 2015-2017 when partnered with fellow AMR works drivers Lamy and Mathias Lauda (AUT). Between them the trio collected 12 victories and finished off the podium only seven times in 26 races. This remarkable run also accounted for 17 of the 23 pole positions Dalla Lana was associated with. This golden sequence of form ultimately led Paul to his coveted GTE Am Drivers’ World Championship title, in 2017, aboard his beloved #98 V8 Vantage GTE.
Dalla Lana’s other great dream was to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and while sadly this never quite came to pass, despite him coming close on more than one of his ten attempts, his final appearance at the ‘world’s most famous race’ last year netted him a brilliant GTE Am class podium finish alongside works driver Nicki Thiim (DEN) and David Pittard (GBR).
“To race for Aston Martin, compete at Le Mans and win a world championship title, has been one of the greatest adventures of my life and has given me so many memories that I will cherish for the rest of my days,” said Dalla Lana. “But the racing always had to stop at some point, and for me, that time has been coming for a while now. It has become increasingly challenging to find enough time to prepare and compete at the highest level; and to fight for a world championship you must be able to give your all. I’ve been lucky enough to race alongside some great drivers and great friends and compete against the very best in sportscar racing. I’ve been there as WEC has grown in stature and I’ve been able to drive the mighty V12, V8 and now the turbo-charged V8 Vantages at places like Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. It’s been one hell of ride and I’m very grateful to have been able to take it all on board an Aston Martin. Thanks to all the incredible fans that have come out to watch us over the years, and I’d like to wish Aston Martin luck in the future. I’m sure going to miss it!”
Ian James added: “The Heart of Racing team has had ambitions to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the FIA WEC for some time. We are an ambitious group and to add WEC to what we have been fortunate to achieve in our other programmes over the past three years is an honour. Going for the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona/24 Hours of Le Mans double is very exciting. I’d like to take the opportunity to wish Paul well in the future, and to thank him for giving us the chance to take over his entry for the rest of 2023. It will be a baptism of fire in Spa, but we hope to continue the successful heritage of the #98 plate in WEC.”
Spa will be the first time that HoR has raced the Vantage GTE; the prototype version of the British-built race car derived from Aston Martin’s critically-acclaimed ultra-luxury sportscar. The car shares the same aluminium body-frame and a specially-tuned version of the four-litre V8 turbo-charged production engine. Under regulations, the HoR entry will continue to compete under the NorthWest AMR banner and use the #98 plate.
HoR is joined in the Aston Martin attack at Spa by the WEC GTE LM reigning champion, the #23 ORT by TF Vantage GTE driven by Omani driver Ahmad Al Harthy, Michael Dinan (USA) works star Charlie Eastwood (IRL), and the Japanese entry, D’station Racing, whose owner Satoshi Hoshino (JPN) regular co-driver Tomonobu Fujii (JPN) and rookie Casper Stevenson (GBR) are looking to improve on their best result of seventh in Belgium.
Huw Tasker, AMR Head of Partner Racing, said: “What Paul has achieved in his career with Aston Martin is quite simply outstanding. He is a legendary AMR driver and world champion, and the standards he has set as a ‘Bronze’ driver over more than 10 years of racing in WEC are unbelievable. We are unlikely to see anything like it again. To win 25% of all the races he contested in WEC is an amazing record, and to finish on the podium 37 times is equally astonishing. Aston Martin owes Paul a great debt of gratitude and we will miss his competitive drive and indubitable spirit inside the garage. On behalf of all of us at Aston Martin, thank you Paul, and congratulations on a fantastic career, you have done us all proud. We’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome Heart of Racing into the WEC paddock. The team has been doing a stellar job in IMSA for some time now, which was clearly shown by its victory in the Rolex 24 and IMSA GTD title, and we have every confidence that it can grow and develop to mirror those championship-winning achievements at world level.”
Source. Aston Martin
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