The Time Aston Martin Threw A Tracksuit On The DB9
It was a rare and amazing beastby Michael Fira, on
While on the list of Aston Martins eternally forsaken by Britain’s best-loved and most famous spy, Agent 007, the DB9 marked the company’s proper entry in the new millennium with a V-12-engined grand tourer boasting a more resonant public appeal. Three short years after the car’s formal introduction to the world, Aston Martin’s newly-formed racing department was already churning out not one but two racing versions of the DB9 and the DBRS9 was the more popular of the lot.
With a front-mounted, naturally aspirated, 12-cylinder engine, the DB9 is the modern interpretation of an all-British GT car: elegant, fast, comfortable, and luxurious. In production for a staggering 12 years, the car made a lasting impression on the automotive world as the epitome of four-wheeled cool and, apparently, over 16,000 people agreed with that view since they went in and bought a DB9 during its production cycle that ended in 2016 when the DB11 was introduced. By comparison, the race-going DBRS9 was made in under 30 copies including the development prototypes.
GT racing through the changing times of the noughties
Racing’s always been expensive but, as technology advances, the sport keeps getting more and more pricey to take part in compared to the average cost of, say, a house, a normal sedan, or a plot of land of a decent size.
If, for instance, the Ferrari team would kneel down and work on Le Mans’ dirt and grass preparing the cars for ’Les 24 Heures’ some 50 years ago when Steve McQueen filmed his legendary motion picture, now, that same Ferrari team hauls the cars in immense trailers, unloads them and parks them in thoroughly prepared pit boxes then proceeds to plug dozens of wires into them to see what’s what.
Technology made the cars faster, safer, but also harder to run unless you happen to have some shares in Apple or Microsoft.
You need all the computer-based paraphernalia to even run most of today’s high-end race cars and it’s the same computers you’re bound to refer back to when something goes wrong by checking what a ton of sensors are telling you. What all this means is that professional racing is a distant dream for most of us especially because we can’t afford to get in on the fun.
Michael Schumacher once said that, while he's regarded as the greatest F1 driver of all time, it doesn't mean he's the greatest in the world right now.
The German seven-time F1 Driver’s World Champion argued that, unbeknownst to all of us, an undiscovered talent can hide under the dirty shirt and muddy jeans of a trucker in Montana or some farmer in Italy but the poor guy never got the chance to drive a car fast to show the world his innate talent while Schumi was given the opportunity and he firmly grabbed it with both hands. So, while all of us can, within reason, dream of living our lives as world-famous racing drivers on the basis that, somehow, we are talented enough, it’s way harder to lie to yourself when it comes to finances. You may think you’re as good as Vettel or Leclerc, but you sure won’t think you’re as rich as the ’The Captain’.
That’s why it’s frustrating to see a GT3 race car go for well over half a million a pop and that is before you buy any spare parts or the truck, the equipment to keep it on the road, and everything else in between. McLaren’s 720S GT3, for instance, is $564,000, some $265,000 more than a street-bound 720S Coupe. But it wasn’t always that expensive. Dial your time-traveling Delorean’s clock back 15 years and you could get your hands on a race-ready Aston Martin DBRS9 for just £175,000 which amounts to roughly $330,445 today.
That’s not much and, unlike the road-going DB9 on which is based, the DBRS9 didn’t lose any of its value in the past decade-and-a-half with cars such as this ex-Barwell Motorsport example selling for over $340,000. So, you may be wondering, how come the price of a car went up 1.5 times in just 15 years? Well, as ever, the manufacturers’ arms race led to this - allowed, of course, by the rules.
In the beginning, the GT3 cars were meant to be about as fast as a then-new Porsche 911 (997) GT3 Cup car and, as such, each car would feature a rather minimalistic aerodynamics package. This was enough to ensure they are friendly to drive as the formula catered towards wealthy gentleman drivers and not professionals.
SRO’s Stephane Ratel, the man behind the GT3 class, was well aware of how out-of-control costs can effectively kill a series. Some 11 years prior to launching GT3, he, Patrick Peter, and Jurgen Barth created the BPR Global GT Series which thrived as a series revolving around privateers and wealthy gentleman drivers, not factory teams. Ratel, who’d been appointed Head of the Competition Department at Venturi merely a few years prior, set about creating a one-make series running Venturi cars to increase the visibility of the new French automaker.
The Venturi 400 GTR Cup that came as a result of his efforts pitted wealthy gentleman drivers against one another on some of Europe’s best well-known tracks. Barth, who was running Porsche’s similar (in that it was also a one-make championship) Porsche Carrera Cup at the time, joined forces with Ratel to create the BPR championship that only faltered after being taken over by the FIA who, in turn, allowed for thinly disguised prototypes to race as grand tourers in the flagship GT1 division. GT3 would be the fruit of Ratel’s experience in organizing a globe-trotting championship. Cars would be homologated to race a few seasons without major updates and no factory teams were allowed, each automaker having to sell the cars to privateer teams.
The Aston Martin DBRS9
Aston Martin was one of the earliest adopters of the GT3 formula alongside Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Nissan, Chevrolet, and Venturi.
The DBRS9, effectively a toned down DBR9, was fastest of the bunch when the GT3 cars first rolled on the track during the initial tests at Paul Ricard in the hands of Christophe Bouchut in December of 2005, merely days after the new championship was launched in Monaco.
The GT3 European Series, as it was known then, would run as a support series to the FIA GT Championship that featured the more expensive GT1 and GT2 categories of racing cars. Max Mosley, FIA President at the time said GT3 "fills a gap in the market and provides the possibility of very good and very entertaining races for competitors and drivers who might otherwise be left out in the ever more professional top end of GT racing." But Aston Martin didn’t pick some newcomers to run the DBRS9 in its inaugural season, instead going the way of BMS Scuderia Italia and Barwell Motorsport, two well-known outfits who also ran the DBR9 at the time.
In all, Aston Martin Racing built 26 customer DBRS9s, all of which started life as standard DB9 shells that were then dispatched to AMR’s Banbury headquarters. There, the bonded aluminum chassis of the DB9 would receive a full-blown roll-bar attached to the roof, sills, and pillars, and all of the creature comforts would be dumped to shave 948 pounds off the road car’s 3,769-pound dry weight. While light by road car standards, the DBRS9 was still some 400 pounds heavier than the DBR9 as the latter featured bodywork made entirely out of carbon fiber while the DBRS9 did not.
The engines in the two cars were different too. The DBR9 ran a 6.0-liter V-12, an enlarged version of the DB9’s engine, while the DBRS9’s 5.9-liter unit was identical in terms of capacity as that on the road car. However, due to a variety of new, performance-oriented parts, the engine cranked out 550 horsepower, up by a healthy 100 horsepower on the DB9. All that power and 457 pound-feet of torque were sent to the back wheels via a six-speed manual with a floor-mounted H pattern shifter and shorter gear ratios or a six-speed sequential box with flappy paddles behind the wheel.
The suspension was modified with racing in mind as well, featuring a rose-jointed double-wishbone layout with Koni adjustable dampers and stiffened springs that lowered the ride height considerably. The brake rotors were sizeable at 14.96-inches in the front and 12.32 inches in the rear. The steel discs were hugged by multi-piston calipers (six-piston in the front and four-piston in the rear) and Brembo also offered carbon rotors as an option. The options list included air-pressured jacks, single-nut rims for quick wheel changes during pit stops, and endurance racing refuelling nozzles, as well as a passenger seat for those that wanted to take a friend out for a ride in the DBRS9.
While not among the cheapest GT3 cars (the Lotus Exige GT3, Nissan 350Z, Chevy Corvette, and Dodge Viper Competition Coupe were all cheaper), the DBRS9 was still more than 50% less expensive to buy than its GT1-spec sibling and the parity was about the same when it came to running costs.
So, in other words, at $909,000 in today's money, a DBR9 was as expensive to buy 15 years ago as a GTE-spec Ferrari 488 is today...
The DBRS9 was a rather successful race car in its own right as evidenced by the fact that Aston Martin could sell 26 chassis until 2008 when it refocused to developing the V8 Vantage into a GT2-spec race car and, later, the V12 Vantage into the DBRS9’s successor in the GT3 class. Barwell found victory lane quite early on with the DBRS9 scoring its maiden win in only the fourth round of the FIA GT3 European Championship en route to fourth in the teams’ championship. At the same time, a full-season campaign in the British GT Championship yielded a podium spot in the GT3 class for the team against stiff opposition from Ascari, Lotus, and Porsche on top of first place in the drivers’ ranking.
The Barwell Championship Winner
The DBRS9 seen here is one of the cars campaigned by Mark Lemmer’s team in the mid-noughties and achieved championship glory in its native UK. The car is chassis #2 and was seen racing in both the European and the British championships in 2006. Driven primarily by Leo Machitski of Russia, the car was always in contention winning its class at Donington (Round 2) and again at Brands Hatch (Round 7) in both heats.
Machitski was partnered by a number of drivers throughout 2006 including future Drayson Racing stalwart Jonny Cocker and British GT regular Piers Johnson. In all, Machitski only contested five of the championship’s nine rounds and, at Rockingham, he and Cocker piloted a Tech 9-entered Porsche 911 as Barwell decided to skip the sixth round 6 of the season due to its European GT3 commitments.
In fact, pulling double duty proved tough for Lemmer’s team who didn’t take part in a number of rounds of the British championship that year but, thankfully, Matchitski and Cocker’s rivals were unable to string together decent enough results in the rounds that Barwell missed and British/Russian duo came out on top. In the European championship, meanwhile, Matchitski’s best finish in chassis #2 was fourth place scored in the first heat at Dijon-Prenois where he and Cocker started from pole position. The Barwell team-mates were also the highest-placed of those running the DBRS9 in race one at Oschersleben in Germany.
At the end of ’06, Barwell sold chassis #2 off to Australia and proceeded to enter the British GT in 2007 with a trifecta of cars: chassis #01, #03, and #10. John Kaias, who bought the car, entered it in the Australian GT Championship in both 2007 and 2008. Out of the four races in 2007, the highlight was a dominant weekend at Philip Island that saw Kaias win thrice in the Victorian State Circuit Racing Championship. The following season, Kaias scored multiple podiums aboard this car in the Shannons National Motor Racing Championship at Eastern Creek and again at Philip Island.
By 2010, the DBRS9 had been sold on to Eggleston Motorsport that brought it back to the Australian GT Championship numerous times between 2011 and 2014 with team boss Ben Eggleston always doing the driving. In its first new season in new hands, the aging Aston finished fourth at Winton and then, in 2012, a return to Philip Island ended with a P2 finish in the second heat for Eggleston. Another podium finish was bagged by Ben next time out at Winton and, amazingly, two years down the road, in 2014, Eggleston returned to competition with his DBRS9 (now in ’G’ specification developing about 600 horsepower sans air restrictor) and finished third overall and first in GTT (a class for older GT3 cars) at Sandown.
Since returning to the UK, the DBRS9 was given a thorough once-over and was dressed up in its old 2006 Barwell livery although the latest-spec 'G' components still hide under the skin.
Dylan Miles doesn’t specifically mention the price of the car but, considering its long and storied career, it must be worth at least as much as the ex-Belgian Racing example we’ve mentioned before. Sure, spending $300,000+ on what is, effectively, an outdated race car may seem ludicrous but remember that you can still race it in the Invitation Class of Peter Auto Endurance Racing Legends in Europe and also the Aston Martin Masters. In the US, the car is most likely eligible to race in the Masters Historic Racing and SVRA.
Source: Classic Driver