Revered British marque Aston Martin has confirmed that it will return to the world of motorsport in 2004, following the creation of a new division to be known as Aston Martin Racing.

In the past two-and-a-half years, the sportscar builder has undergone some of the biggest changes ever seen in its 89-year history, with the launch of no fewer than six new production cars and the official opening of its new headquarters at Gaydon, in the UK. With the make-over complete, however, it is now set to turn its attention to production-based sportscar racing.

The arena is one in which Aston Martin has already made something of a name for itself, having taken both the World Sportscar Championship title and Le Mans 24 Hours in 1959. The marque's new DB9 model will form the basis of this new challenge for 2004 and beyond, with one eye on returning to La Sarthe for the 24 Hours.

"Aston Martin is an exclusive brand, but we cannot be exclusive without being visible and motorsport is a way to heighten our profile," said Dr Ulrich Bez, the company's CEO, "Production-based sportscar series are growing in stature, with many leading manufacturers returning with their own factory programmes. By competing with them, we can demonstrate that our cars are not only the best on the road, but also on the racing track.

"We are keen to see new regulations for 2004 that will allow true production-based sportscars to compete on a level playing field. The new rules from the [Le Mans organiser] Automobile Club de l'Ouest [ACO] clearly provide this, and we hope other sporting organisations will follow their route and encourage sportscar racing to grow in importance and profile."

The Aston Martin Racing programme will be overseen by Aston Martin's product development and motorsport director, Jeremy Main, and run in conjunction with Prodrive, one of the world's leading motorsport specialists. The Banbury-based company - already renowned for its work on Subaru's rally programme and for fielding Ferrari 550s in both the ALMS and Le Mans 24 Hours - will be responsible for the design and development of the cars, as well as overseeing their performance when racing.

Work on the design of the Aston Martin DB9 competition car will begin shortly, and it is planned to race the first car towards the end of 2004. Aston Martin Racing is aiming to run a number of teams in various sportscar series around the world, and will use the time between today's announcement and the completion of preparatory work on the care to evaluate these.

In addition to the private teams, Aston Martin Racing has also intimated that it will produce a number of cars for sale to individuals and collectors.

Further details about the Aston Martin Racing programme will be announced in early 2004.



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