“We want to win the GT4 Championship. That’s absolutely our goal for this year.”
Them’s fightin’ words, the likes of which both Yosemite Sam and Grampa Simpson would be proud. But there’s also every reason to believe this isn’t just big talk from PROsport Performance team manager, Steve Buschmann.
For starters, PROsport is one of the most respected GT teams currently competing in Europe. Officially founded as PROsport Racing in 2006 (the ‘Performance’ name would arrive four years later), the roots of the Nürburgring-adjacent team date back to team founder Christoph Esser’s own racing exploits in the 1980s, a tenure that included entries in the DTM, the European Touring Car Championship, the Spa 24 Hours and the 1000km Nürburgring.
From these humble beginnings, the Wiesemscheid-based outfit – located just 5km from the Nürburgring paddock – has collected more than 50 class wins in the VLN, a further 10 in the 24H SERIES, and multiple strong results in both the ADAC TCR Germany and the GT4 European Championship, the latter of which PROsport won outright in 2013 and 2016. In 2017, the German squad collected a category win at the Bathurst 12 Hours at only its second attempt, the same year as its most recent Nürburgring 24 Hours class victory. That the German team is also the reigning European Champion and Champion of the Continents in the 24H GT SERIES should speak volumes.
The second, and arguably more significant, point is the armoury at the team’s disposal for this year’s 24H GT SERIES. It’s a brand new Aston Martin Vantage GT4, one of four track-focused models – including another GT4 and two GT3s – delivered to the German team as part of a new partnership with Aston Martin. So, first things, first, how did that come about?
“That’s really easy to explain, because Aston Martin was the first manufacturer to come to us, and not the other way around,” Steve explains. “We started talking and they were really interested in supporting us. There was maybe six months of negotiations, but from November onwards, we are now officially a Race Partner of Aston Martin Racing.
“You have different levels of support, and the highest one is to be an Aston Martin race partner. There were only two others in Europe when we made the deal – this is TF Sports in Britain, and R-Motorsport in Switzerland – and now there is PROsport Performance in Germany. Basically we’re given all the support we need in terms of spare parts, engineers, and factory drivers, so it’s the complete package.”
And within that ‘complete package’ lies, possibly, the most significant Aston Martin in a generation.
At the base of the GT4 is the new Vantage road car, which made its official debut in November 2017. And we really do mean ‘new’, by the way, given that the only thing that transitioned from the ‘AMV8’ Vantage to its successor were the badges. So keen was Gaydon’s PR crew to whitewash from our mind’s eye with bleach all traces of the previously dubbed ‘baby Aston’, company CEO Dr Andy Palmer himself proclaimed the new Vantage to be “the Aston Martin pure driving machine enthusiasts have been waiting for” repeatedly before the silks were finally dropped. Gone was the Vantage left trailing in the wake of the Porsche 911 Carrera. This new “true sportscar” was a 911 Turbo assassin.
The bonded aluminium chassis has been borrowed from the company’s DB11 grand tourer, but renewed focus on “handling purity” and performance means 70 percent of even those components are new and exclusive to the Vantage. There’s new driver-focused suspension geometry and dampers, plus new subframes both front and rear, the latter solid-mounted to help sharpen the handling and create a more linear connection for the driver. Even the knockout new looks were designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. The low and wide front end incorporates a new splitter to channel clean airflow and significantly improve the Vantage’s downforce over its 12-year-old predecessor, hence also the tapering midriff.
Alongside this is the Vantage’s brand new beating heart. Aston’s previous V8 model’s 4.7-litre unit has been chucked in favour of a 4-litre example complete with twin-turbochargers – pause for purist horror – sourced from, and developed by, AMG, courtesy of a new technical partnership between Aston Martin and 5 per cent stakeholders, Daimler. Mated to the new V8 is a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, an altogether more rapid alternative to the outgoing seven-speed gearbox. Producing 503bhp and 685Nm (505lb ft) of torque, punch is on par – give or take a stallion or two – with the outgoing V12 Vantage, and being mounted low and far back on the chassis means 50:50 weight distribution. Out of the box, expectations were already high for the Vantage’s track-based brethren.
Prolonged homologation deadlines though meant the GT4 didn’t arrive until March of this year, five months after the brand new GT3’s maiden run in the VLN, and almost a full year after the World Endurance Championship-contending GTE, on which the GT3 “drew heavily on the design logic”, made its debut at the WEC season opener at Spa. Unsurprisingly, the differences between all three of Aston’s track models is stark...
“The GTE car is kind of a prototype with a revised engine, but the look is very similar. You can compare the GT3 with the GTE, because they have the same base, pretty much the same Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox, an Alcon clutch, Öhlins adjustable dampers, etc. The knowledge and experience Aston already has with the GTE and a lot of development into the GT3 has also gone into the GT4, but it’s a very different car.
“The engine is still a twin turbo V8, but in the GT3, it’s about 535bhp, and in the GT4, it’s nearer 473bhp, depending on each series’ [balance of performance]. So, both cars share the same engine, but the ‘environment’ is different. In the GT4, we are running turbo-mapping, which limits us based on the class regulations, so we could run with a lot more power. The suspension is a two-way kit from Öhlins, the dampers are from Öhlins too, and the brakes are Alcon. Interestingly, the gearbox is actually from the road car, and it’s really strong. We haven’t had any problems with it so far.
“Actually the whole car is very, very reliable. We’ve now done a lot of kilometres with the GT4, and we haven’t had any issues. We are still learning how to handle the car, but it’s already given us a lot of confidence.”
Fast forward to Mugello, and the Aston’s maiden series outing (Orlando-based Automatic Racing had already taken the new Vantage GT4’s first podium on its maiden outing at the BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona in January). With only one three-day pre-race test session with the GT4 under its belt at Barcelona – and even that was done one week prior to the 2019 Hankook 12H MUGELLO – the reigning champions’ pace is strong from the beginning. Rodrigue Gillion, Nico Verdonck and Akhil Rabindra secure 2nd on the GT4-class grid, and even lead the class during the early going only for a niggling fuel problem to drop them back down the order.
An impressive 2nd in-class is PROsport’s reward for a solid opening race weekend for the Aston Martin after, let’s not forget, a full season running the Mercedes-AMG GT3 last year. Turns out the Daimler-infused development of the Vantage doesn’t make the learning curve any easier for Steve and his boys.
“At Mugello, we struggled a little with the Aston and an issue we had with the fuel pumps. That was on us, not the car. It was completely our fault, and we’ve made sure that won’t happen again. But that is just part of the experience. We are in the middle of the learning curve right now!
“When you compare the AMG with the AMR, it’s… it’s difficult to compare, because the design of the Aston Martin is so different to the AMG. Our guys told us that potential of the GT3 car is very, very high, so we’ll see in the near future hopefully, how much potential we have, but you cannot really compare both cars. They’re so different!
“Technically, our mechanics are more happy with the Aston than with the AMG because the Aston is more ‘friendly’ for mechanics. Some parts are easier to reach for example than in the AMG. But the performance? We really don’t know yet.”
That promised pace would shine at round two of the GT4 European Championship at Brands Hatch when the team took class pole position for the first race (equalling their qualifying result for the first round of the ADAC GT4 Germany) and claimed a second consecutive podium. At the time of writing, the team – competing as ‘PROSpeak’, just FYI – is still waiting for its breakthrough moment in the ADAC GT Masters after the opening round, following Aston’s return to the series for the first time since the season opener in 2013.
Headier heights were to follow just a couple of weeks later at Spa-Francorchamps, when the Vantage GT4, now with three days-worth of testing kilometres under its chiselled beltline at Oschersleben, claimed the GT4-class pole position, led the TCE division outright during the opening stages of the race, and came through to claim both its first class win of the season and finish 4th on the road.
An impressive feat and a relief for Steve Buschmann. As an experienced race team, a reigning double champion, and an Aston Martin partner, the pressure is on to deliver results. A tough enough ask to begin with made even more difficult by the fact that 2019 will mark the third year in succession that the team has competed with not just a different manufacturer but in a completely different category as well.
“The year we ran with the 991 was a really good year for us. We won every race, apart from one, which was Dubai. But we wish there had been more competitors in our class at the time. When you look right now, in ‘991’, it’s full! That would have been great back in 2017.
“The GT3 class last year was very competitive, with a lot of rivals all in with a shout of winning. And if you have a look right now at the entry list, there are a lot of A6 competitors. GT3 is booming right now in the 24H SERIES, and we hope that will soon be the case in ‘GT4’.
“We still want to beat whoever we’re racing. Aston Martin has given us its trust, so have a lot of pressure to perform. And we’re getting there. At the GT4 European race at Monza, we finished as the best Aston Martin team, so this was a good sign for Banbury, and hopefully we will continue like this. It’s pressure, of course, but we think we can handle it.”
As a three-time title winner in the last two years, and with “the pure driving machine enthusiasts have been waiting for” at their disposal, we’ve no reason to doubt that either.
*Road car only, GT4 TBC
V8, twin-turbo, 3982cc
503bhp @ 6,000rpm
685Nm (505lb ft) @ 2,000-5,000rpm
ZF eight-speed automatic
Independent double wishbone (front), multi-link (rear)
Ventilated, 400 mm (front), 360mm (rear)
20in, front and rear
255/40/20 (front), 295/35/20 (rear)
PROsport Performance (#1)
1st pole position, ADAC GT4 Germany (Florian Thoma / Jérémie Lesoudier)
1st class win in the 24H SERIES, SP3 (Rodrigue Gillion / Nico Verdonck / Akhil Rabindra / Michael Munemann)
1st class podium in the 24H SERIES, GT4 (Rodrigue Gillion / Nico Verdonck / Akhil Rabindra)