In production: 1987– 1989
Chassis numbers: AMR1/01– 05
Design of the chassis, to be known as the AMR1 was entrusted to Canadian Max Boxstrom, previously with the Brabham F1 team and founder of Dymag wheels, whose contract began on 22nd July 1987. The first quarter scale model was completed by September and went straight into the wind tunnel for testing. The advanced design comprised a carbon/Kevlar tub of coke-bottle shape behind which the engine and transaxle would be tilted up towards the rear leaving the driveshafts to run at a 3° angle. All this was to give the maximum space for underbody tunnel at the rear for greatest ground effect which was now permitted in Group C.
Ecurie Ecosse and Ray Mallock were contracted to develop and test the prototype and get it to the point where the go ahead to race could be given. Ray Mallock Ltd. built the first prototype and designed and developed the all independent suspension. Richard Williams oversaw the assembly of the subsequent chassis with Ray Mallock coming in as Engineering Director and test driver.
The engine was based on the new 4 valve per cylinder V8 developed for them Virage scheduled tobe launched publicly in October 1988. This was because FISA technically required the intention to build 200 production units for homologation although that number were not actually built until as late as 1991. As the upcoming four valve cylinder heads had been developed by Callaway Engineering in the USA, Reeves Callaway also got the job of developing the racing versions. Engine management electronics was provided by the British company, Zytek. Initially,plans were for a 5.0 litre version suitable for IMSA racing in the US and a 6.0 litre version for FISA Group C but, early on, the smaller version was dropped and the team solely concentrated on the World Sportscar Championship and Le Mans.
The first racing versions, RDP87-1 (Racing Design Project 1987) built in the USA with 5.34 litre capacity producing 550 bhp @ 7000 rpm and ran for the first time on 15th April 1988. A second was ready and tested on the 1st May 1988. A pair of 6.0 litre versions followed on August 1st. These produced 60 bhp @ 8500 rpm but 7500 rpm was likely to be the rev limit in early races as reliability was a first requirement.
The wide, low radiator was mounted above the rear axle line and behind that a huge wing was centrally mounted on the transaxle. The design of the five-speed transmission with its unequal length driveshafts was exclusive to the AMR1 especially to allow for the underbody tunnels.
The prototype AMR1/01 was presented to the AML board and top Ford personnel at Newport Pagnell on 23rd October 1988 who approved of the sensational new Works racing car. AMR1/01 then ran for the first time at Silverstone on 28th November driven by Ray Mallock and David Leslie, fitted with a 5.3 litre 530 bhp engine. Testing proceeded throughout the winter sufficiently well for an official announcement to be made on 25th January 1989 that Aston Martin would race the 6 litre car officially at Le Mans and in the WSC Championship for which it was eligible during 1989 and 1990. After that, a new 3.5 litre limit would come into force requiring an entirely new engine design. A five year £26 million programme was envisaged, underwritten by the Livanos family and to begin with limited sponsorship from Mobil Oil.
The car would race with Mobil 1 synthetic oil, Dymag wheels, AP brakes and Goodyear tyres. Regular drivers engaged for the season were Brian Redman and David Leslie. For Le Mans, two cars would be entered and Ray Mallock and other drivers were to be recruited into the team.
The first race car, AMR1/02 was built up at the Proteus team’s superb new 37,000 sq.ft. factory at Milton Keynes by many of the same staff who had previously worked on the Nimrod, Ecosse C2 and for R S Williams.
The weather was kind throughout the winter of 1988/9 so intensive testing of the prototype continued at Silverstone and Donington Park without the need for a planned trip to Florida in mid-January.
But just at the wrong moment a bad testing crash for Leslie at Donington Park due to a rear hub failure, forced the team to miss the first round of the Championship in Aprilat Suzuka, Japan. The tub had been damaged and AMR1/02 never returned to the race track. As a result, the prototype, AMR1/01 (#18) with a 6.0 litre, 670 bhp engine raced for the first time at Dijon on 21 May where in great heat Redman and Leslie finished 17th, 8 laps behind the leader, having discovered that the suspension was too hard for the bumpy track. Thereafter the learning curve was very steep!
For the Le Mans 24 Hours in June another car AMR1/03 was hurriedly built up but completed so late that scrutineering had to be specially extended for it! The new car weighed 40 kg less than the 980 kg of /01 according to its makers (but not the ACO, whose scales were malfunctioning at the time). The driving team was Brian Redman, Michael Roe and Costas Los in AMR1/01 (#18) and Ray Mallock, David Leslie and David Sears in AMR1/03 (#19).
The new car, /03, had not been tested so practice revealed many small problems and it was well down the starting grid beginning back in 40th place. In the 24 Hours it was sufficiently improved over the first car to clock 217 mph on the Mulsanne straight and lap within 10 seconds of the new lap record in its first race. That said, the downforce of the AMR1 was really far too great and this cost the car at least 20 mph from its true potential. However, the engine of /03 failed after 10½ hours at 2.30 in the morning leaving the car stranded at near the Mulsanne Corner. AMR1/01 started at 32nd on the grid and went on to the end, in spite of a half hour stop to replace a rose joint, finishing 11th overall and 10th in the C1 class on only its second track appearance. The AMR1 had completed 340 laps in total although this was 49 laps down on the winning Sauber-Mercedes.
Further intensive testing over the following month enabled improvements to be incorporated into a new car AMR1/04, with weight now down to 920 kgs which was entered for Brands Hatch at the end of July. For the first time, the team had the use of a T car, probably AMR1/03, although it was only used during the practice session. Redman and Leslie drove an outstanding race against the strong field starting back from 14th position on the grid to finish 4th overall - this was real progress! The same car AMR1/04 was entered for the same drivers at Nürburgring in August where 24th position on the grid resulted in 8th place which was snatched at the final corner.
In early September, at the Donington round for the Wheatcroft Gold Cup, another new, lighter car, was debuted. Chassis AMR1/05, was using carbon brakes was raced. AMR1/03 was the T car and was only used during the practice session. AMR1/04 was raced by Redman who was joined by David Sears. AMR1/05 was driven by David Leslie and Michael Roe. The final result was 6th and 7th having been 5th and 6th until near the end.
Two Astons were again entered at Spa where Le Mans winner Stanley Dickens took the place of Sears. After a wet practice (their first ever in rain) the Aston team started very well back but made terrific progress in the race.
Leslie and Roe (in AMR1/04) were easily holding 8th place on lap 44 when a conrod let go. The other car, AMR1/05, started 32nd so Dickens and Redman worked well to bring it home in 7th at the end of 480 km.
For the final round at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico on October 29th only AMR1/05 was entered but was now fitted with the ’Version 2’ engine. This had been enlarged to 6.3 litres and gave 740 bhp but such was the progress in electronic engine management, aided by on-board telemetry, that the full race distance could still be completed on the same amount of fuel. In addition weight was down to 904 kg, virtually on the minimum allowed for the C1 class of 900 kg. From 12th on the grid the Aston was at one time 3rd when others refuelled,but finally finished 8th.
This gave the fledgling team eight results (including Le Mans) out of ten starts while in the World Championship Aston Martin was placed 6th in spite of omitting two of the rounds, one of which was permitted.
In their short life the four cars completed 14,163 miles racing and testing of which over half (7,184 miles) were by the prototype AMR1/01 chassis alone.