Twitter has given me many of the most wonderful opportunities. Some as simple as making new friends with whom I speak with on a daily basis now, to rejuvenate my support of Formula One – again through interaction with friends and fellow minded people, and to attend some fantastic events. To be honest if it wasn’t for Twitter, I would never have attended a Grand Prix, let alone three British Grand Prix in a row!
My fondness for Aston Martin began as a child, growing up watching James Bond prance around in them. This, coupled with a growing interest in the WEC lead me to Silverstone in April for the 6hr Silverstone race, which was red flagged with less than half an hour to go because of torrential rain. I remember that day the noise the Vantage GTE V8 cars made, so distinctive and they looked gorgeous!
It was through Twitter that I was fortunate enough to be offered to attend one of Aston Martin’s Partner Days, held at the Prodrive Performance Centre near Warwick. A breakdown at the end of the A40 postponed my trip from the originally planned Thursday to Friday – I cannot thank the Aston Martin marketing team enough for offering me a second chance to attend!
After the standard briefing to start the day, those who were attending the day were split up into several groups to go off and participate in different experience, the first experience for myself was with Prodrive’s Land Rover range, which I am now ashamed to say, was the part that I initially wasn’t the most excited about – 4x4s have never been a type of vehicle that I’ve ever been keen on, but I think I may have been turned now! After choosing which of the range to sit in – without any prior knowledge of any of the three Land Rovers I chose the Range Rover Vogue SE Model L405, which may have been the most inspired accidental choice ever, for reasons that I will go on to shortly. Our instructor was Edd Cobley, who himself has raced in the legendary Dakar Rally, has performed stunts for Top Gear, and currently races in the Defender Challenge.
It is a big irony that I cannot drive. Despite my love of motorsport and fast cars, I have never even had a driving lesson in my life, my work in London has practically made it pointless for me to do so. After navigating us around the off road course, while pointing out the Vouge’s extensive features and capabilities (including one that braked for you if you were on a step decline, preventing the car from rolling away from you!), Edd asked the others in the vehicle with me to have a go as well. I sensed the awkwardness coming when my turn was coming. Although it turned out that the Vouge was an automatic and this particular vehicle had dual control, so even after explaining that I had no prior experience of any sort, Edd offered me to drive this £80,000 4.4L monster! I’m sure for him it wasn’t a big deal. After all, the off roader was fully equipped for a driving lesson and Edd is an extremely experienced instructor himself. Nevertheless I was and still am ever so grateful. Not many people could say that their first driving lesson was in a car so expensive and so well equipped.
The skid track was the second port of call, With the artificial wet track making a good opportunity for drivers to develop their skills in tricky conditions. Naturally I was mainly on the sidelines for this one but it was still fun watching many of the participants often losing control of their cars and most probably wrecking the tyres at the same time. Following lunch – which I was careful not to indulge myself with by the way, as I knew what was coming in the afternoon, was a Q&A session with Aston Martin’s works driver Darren Turner.
Darren explained the path that lead him to be an Aston Martin driver, which included him winning the 1993 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award and worked his way up through Formula Renault and Formula 3. After winning the award Turner was soon out testing with McLaren, Arrows and Jordan, until McLaren signed him up as a test driver until 2006. 2014 is now the tenth year that Turner has been with Aston Martin Racing, which he has been a part of since it’s return to motorsport in 2005. The experience day came just after it was revealed that the entry of Parabolica corner at Monza had been resurfaced, mainly to provide a safe run off area for motor bikes. When asked, Darren expressed his concern that many of the traditional racing tracks had been tamed perhaps to too much of an extent, to the point that the risk/reward scenario practically no longer existed, and drivers who made an error would lose very little in time to those whose execution was more precise.
The first half of the afternoon was with Darren Turner in the Aston Martin Vantage GT4, we all took turns as Darren drove a couple of hot laps with us in the passenger seat. I have to admit I thought I would be terrified, I had never been in a vehicle with that much power, speed or with a driver of Darren’s quality. It couldn’t have been more of the opposite. After telling him of my fondness for his helmet design, the hot laps begun. For the first lap I just couldn’t stop laughing, I felt completely safe despite being pulled around in some high-G braking points. During the second lap I was able to prepare myself more to the G-Force stresses, although the braking point at the end of the back straight still caught me out! Safe to say I didn’t want to get out.
The final activity was to either drive or be a passenger in two of three of Aston Martin’s current car range. All if the Aston Martin Racing instructors were racing drivers themselves, a few of them racing in Formula Renault before moving to sportscars, and eventually where they are now. Seeing as I can’t drive, I got a few passenger laps around the track in the Aston Martin Vantage N430, a surprisingly quick and agile car that is well suited for track racing, inspired from the GT3 race car. The other car I believe was the Rapide S, both cars amazed me as to how much the drivers could throw the cars around the high speed corners, I thought that the stress of the corners would rip on of the tyres off!
That concluded a magnificent day. I quick picture with Darren Turner and an Aston Martin goody bag I was off home, how seven hours go so quickly! The biggest of thank you’s again to the Hackett and Aston Martin marketing teams, Edd Cobley and Darren Turner – it was a day I will never forget!