Di Resta to lead Aston Martin line-up
Cars need drivers as much as drivers need cars
Just think of Steve McQueen bucking his bottle-green Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco in the movie “Bullitt”. “Back To The Future” just wouldn’t be the same without that inimitable souped-up DeLorean time machine. And Michael Caine and his team of cheeky British bandits elevated the humble Mini Cooper to legendary status when they used it to escape a Turin heist in “The Italian Job”.
Few partnerships, however, have been as iconic as Sean Connery as James Bond 007 and his timeless, tricked-out, slate silver Aston Martin DB5.
That 1964 machine memorably featured revolving number-plates, bullet-proof shields, machine guns, and its very own passenger ejector seat. But, of course, it was nothing without the icy swagger of Connery – the most famous Scotsman to drive an Aston Martin.
Until now, that is.
Step forward Paul Di Resta racing an Aston Martin Vantage for Aston Martin in the DTM.
The Scot has huge DTM pedigree (2010 champion, and 11 victories to his name), and is the first driver to be announced for R-Motorsport’s exciting new DTM assault with Aston Martin Vantage DTM cars, run as a licensed entry by the crack Swiss preparation squad.
“As a Scot driving an Aston Martin Vantage DTM, somebody did say I was following in the footsteps of Sean Connery,” says the 32-year-old. “His are big shoes to fill. Er, I’m not going to live that one down, am I..?”
There’s a wry smile – he’s aware of the peculiarity of the sentence – before he continues: “Obviously, Aston Martin is such an iconic brand. It’s quintessentially British – and, as a British driver, it’s always there in your life. The DB5 in ‘Goldfinger’ is obviously a stand-out, but I also look to the other classic models – in fact, I used to own a classic Aston Martin a few years ago, a DB6 Volante, a proper original car.
“More recently, I’ve seen what Aston Martin Racing has done in WEC; However the DTM project of R-Motorsport running the Aston Martin Vantages DTM cars under the exclusive license of the British manufacturer is something special. And, with the [Adrian Newey-styled] Valkyrie, it’s building what will almost certainly become the defining new supercar in the world.”
Brand recap concluded, and fresh from a winter visit to Switzerland to monitor progress on his new outfit, it’s apparent that Di Resta is fired up for the year ahead.
R-Motorsport’s Aston Martin entry was only announced at the end of the 2018 season, and they start the new year with neither the experience nor the track time of their two main rivals Audi and BMW. Nonetheless, Di Resta feels cautiously optimistic about his prospects.
“To be perfectly honest, I was convinced from my very first meeting with Florian [Kamelger, R-Motorsport team principal] and Andreas [Baenziger],” he says, with unflinching belief. “We had a 20-minute chat over a cup of coffee in the paddock last year, and I was immediately convinced of their ambition and passion for this project.
“It’s worth remembering that I’ve also worked with HWA since my Formula 3 days, and I strongly believe they’re the stand-out organisation in every series they contest. They were one of the big reasons behind Mercedes’ DTM success, and I’ve got absolute trust and belief that R-Motorsport can do the job.
“After Mercedes’ withdrawal last year, R-Motorsport’s Aston Martin announcement really lifted everyone’s spirits – everyone’s so eager to be part of this, and, believe me, they mean serious business. The whole organisation is totally professional and 100 per cent focused. I think we can do this.”
For Di Resta, too, the switch from Mercedes to Aston Martin DTM cars represents a significant career step. His role becomes not only nominal team leader but also the man who will help lead the development path of DTM’s newest marque.
He’s aware of the step, and more than up for the challenge.
“Coming in at ground level with an all-new DTM brand was one of the main things I discussed with R-Motorsport when we started the initial talks,” he admits. “It won’t be an easy task: we’re a relatively small outfit up against two of the best manufacturers in the world, but they need me to help the development of the project. I know what I can bring to this, and I believe this is going to be good.
“Yes, we’re late to the party, but with a good pre-season, we can get on top of things. I expect us to be there at the first race challenging for the win. I believe that’s a realistic target, and I think we have to go into the first race with that mentality.”
There’s an element of timely good fortune to R-Motorsport’s Aston Martin arrival. For 2019, DTM has undergone huge technical rule-changes, introducing an all-new turbo-charged engine and a series of game-changing aero regulations. It means that no team will arrive at the season opener at Hockenheim in May with a fully tried-and-tested package.
“DTM’s new rules are good for R-Motorsport’s Aston Martin Vantage DTM project,” says Paul, “They’re a hard reset for all the manufacturers, which means nobody’s bringing any carry-over into the new season. That means nobody arrives with a clear advantage – that’s good for us.
“The biggest challenge for each manufacturer will be to get on top of the new engine formula. That’s going to be the biggest unknown – it’s already widely used in Super GT, and I’m going to relish the extra horsepower [over last year]. The cars will also be lighter and significantly faster on the same tyres. In turn, that will put a premium on the driver, who’ll have to look after the rubber during the races. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Speaking to Di Resta, you get the distinct impression that he’s completely focused on the task ahead. Of course, he’s already achieved success in Formula 1, and branched out as a popular and incisive analyst for Sky Sports F1’s exemplary grand prix coverage, but it’s in DTM that he has carved a unique role for himself.
“DTM has been a big part of my life and my racing career,” he says. “I don’t think you can under-estimate the significance of this championship: you’ve got Formula 1, and you’ve got NASCAR, and then I think you can put DTM right up there. I think it’s bigger than IndyCar.
“DTM gets a lot of things right: proper wheel-to-wheel racing between some fantastic young drivers who have been singled-out by some of the best manufacturers in the world. The racing is very pure, it’s not influenced by team radio [which is banned in the series], and no single driver is bigger than the team.
“The race weekends are designed to appeal to families – you can get up close with the cars and the drivers, there are no restrictions. It’s all about creating an atmosphere – after all, it’s the fans that best promote the series, and, as a result, that pulls luxury brands like Aston Martin onboard.”
He concludes the conversation with a neat summary of life in the DTM: “When you’re having a good day in DTM, you’re having a great day because you’re beating six to eight other drivers who are all driving an identical car to yours.”
He pauses, then adds with a slightly mischievous smile: “Of course, if you’re having a bad day, it tends to be a terrible one, because you end up right at the bottom of the pile…”
It’s a neat summary, and reminds you that this is a high-stakes game.
With R-Motorsport running the Aston Martin Vantage DTM cars, Di Resta will be hoping he holds enough cards in his hand to win this particular game of poker. Equally, he’s fully aware that both his rivals and his team-mates will be relentless in their efforts to defeat him.
Sounds a bit like a scene from a James Bond movie...