The Aston Martin Vantage GT3 fielded by the Heart of Racing Team has been quietly moving up the pecking order in the GT Daytona (GTD) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
With a solid start to the 2021 campaign that includes a pair of top-five finishes for the No. 23 car, driver/team manager Ian James likes what he sees so far. The No. 23 opened the year with a fifth-place showing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and followed it with a third-place result in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. That comes after the team notched four top-four finishes in the final five races of 2020, including a runner-up in the Sebring finale.
“This year has gone exceptionally well,” James said. “We finished on the lead lap, close to the leaders in fifth place at Daytona with great execution. Third at Sebring was great, so we’re maximizing the package we have right now.
“Obviously, things ebb and flow with the performance of the cars, but as a team we feel like we’re doing pretty well.”
One factor in the Heart of Racing’s success was the recruitment of co-driver Roman De Angelis. Despite being just 20 years old, the native of Windsor, Ontario, already has a wealth of experience in Formula Fords and sports cars ranging from Porsche GT3 Cup to Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) cars. De Angelis won the Platinum class titles both in the 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama, a year after finishing second in both championships.
James discovered De Angelis in 2017 and has proven the perfect mentor for the young racer.
“Roman has been exceptional,” observed James. “Last year, he just got better and better. His age has not shown in his maturity behind the wheel. He’s not only really fast, he’s making good decisions. Super happy with the job he’s doing, and I think people are noticing him every race now.”
That assessment is borne out by the fact that the No. 23 Aston Martin duo holds second place in the GTD standings after the opening two endurance races. Ross Gunn shared driving responsibilities in both events, with longtime Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner added to the lineup at Daytona.
De Angelis is proud of how the Heart of Racing entry has completed 36 hours of racing this year essentially without a scratch to the car.
“We haven’t necessarily had the strongest car, but we’ve always been the next guy up and we got to that position by not making mistakes,” De Angelis said. “The more points you can get in the bag early, the more it will pay off towards the end. We’ve had some clean races and some standout results. What we’ve been doing so far has been pretty flawless.
“To take the next step, we need a weekend where we come out swinging,” De Angelis continued. “We’re learning the car every time we get into it and we’re slowly getting better and better. I think we can go from a car that got a couple podiums last year to contend for a lot of them this year.”
James is convinced that the Aston Martin’s best chances for victory in the closely fought GTD class will come at the faster, flowing tracks that dominate the summer portion of the WeatherTech Championship schedule. As one of the lighter cars in the category, the Aston enjoys an advantage in tire wear that becomes more obvious in the summer heat.
“It wouldn’t take much different for things to go our way,” he said. “At Road America, I think the car will be really strong, even Mid-Ohio.”
“The Porsche, Mercedes and Lexus tend to be strong in hard braking sections, but we have strong front grip and rotation, so the Aston will definitely be strong in the faster places.” De Angelis added. “We’ll be able to show our true colors, for sure.”
As a driver who takes on many responsibilities of the team principal, James is one of the busier people in the IMSA paddock.
The 46-year-old from England has been racing sports cars in America for more than 20 years. Since 2014, he’s enjoyed support from Heart of Racing co-founder Gabe Newell.
The Seattle-based team uses the promotion and exposure from its international motorsports programs to raise funds and awareness for the financial demands of quality pediatric medical care. Since the program’s inception, more than $8 million has been raised for Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Starship Foundation.
“Our mantra is we have fun, we do the best we can, and we help the kids along the way,” said James. “Nobody stands out above anybody else, and we all work for each other.
“It’s amazing when you enjoy your job and you’ve got a good spirit, how results follow.”
The WeatherTech Championship returns to action May 14-16 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, with the Acura Sports Car Challenge. The Daytona Prototype international (DPi), LMP3 and GTD classes will be in competition. The race airs live at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, May 16 on NBCSN. Tickets for the race weekend go on sale Tuesday, April 6 at midohio.com