Palm Beach, Florida — Everybody knows that cars and alcohol don’t mix. But since rules are meant to be broken, the owner of California’s Adobe Road Winery – who also happens to be a former car racer – is currently setting up a North American series of monotype races specifically for Aston Martin Vantage vehicles (which are slightly modified for competition). Yes sir, we’re talking about the same car used by James Bond in most of his cinematic escapades.
This initiative is not unlike the Ferrari Challenge series or the Porsche GT3 Cup events, as the English brand plans to offer clients the chance to test their vehicles’ performance capabilities – as well as their driving skills!
100th anniversary celebration
There’s already a series like this in Europe, with Kevin Buckler, founder of TRG-AMR (The Racer’s Group – Aston Martin Racing) and a Sonoma wine producer, plans on recreating the races in the United States and Canada. And it just so happens that 2013 is the right year to make it happen, as Aston Martin is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The CEO of TRG has impressive credentials, including a 2002 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (GT category) and a 2003 first-place ranking at the 24 Hours of Daytona (overall). Buckler intends to leverage his racing experience to launch this new series with Aston Martin, for which he will be the team leader. His recruits include Kuno Wittmer from Quebec and David Donahue, the son of one of the 1970’s most talented racers, who died at the wheel of a Penske during the Austrian Grand Prix. In all likelihood, David, who has earned several spots on the podium driving Daytona prototypes, will instruct the less experienced gentleman drivers wishing to participate in the Vantage US Cup. Six races have already been scheduled, and they expect to sell roughly 20 of the vehicles half-way through. This means that the competitors can, if they want, drive their Aston Martin to the track, without spending tons of money on shipping and mechanics. But what’s it like to actually drive a Vantage GT4?
Behind the wheel of a Vantage GT4
A dozen laps at Palm Beach International Raceway was enough to convince me that this Aston Martin’s performances are nothing short of exceptional, as it handles beautifully at very high speeds. The first thing you need to know, however, is that you don’t climb aboard a Vantage GT4 like a normal Grand Tourer. To say you enter through the "door" may be technically accurate, but it doesn’t convey the contortions required to get past the bars of its roll cage – a feat not so easily achieved by those of us with ageing bodies. Using all my remaining flexibility, I folded myself into the narrow Recaro seat. Next came the equally cruel sausage-link test, during which any excess weight you may be carrying is pinned down by the six-strap safety harness. The rest is child’s play. Just press a button and the engine roars to life with enthusiasm. The 4.7-litre V8 has not been modified much and, with 450 horses, it resists stalling even when it’s not revving like a real race engine. Shifting is incredibly simple, since all you have to do is use the wheel-mounted paddles to change the gears on this six-speed automated transmission .
This car’s accelerations are lightning-quick now that it has shed about 400 kg to compensate for the more reliable but less powerful standard engine. All the windows are now made of significantly lighter polycarbonate. Another contributor to the GT4’s weight loss is its battery, which is made by Prodrive (overseen by Dave Richards, former head of Bar). On a straightaway at 250 km/h, I was especially impressed by its braking capacity. This Aston stops on a dime, confusing its rivals with its deceleration force. On corners, you get the sense that its adherence is infallible, while altering its course is disconcertingly easy. If ever the rear starts to slip, all you need is the slightest correction to bring the car back in line. This speaks volumes for the suspension whose modified shocks and springs control roll impeccably while banishing any semblance of comfort (unless you’re driving on flawless pavement, the likes of which are non-existent here in Canada). If ever there was a car designed to make its driver look much better than he or she really is, it’s the Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
If this article has whetted your appetite for the Vantage GT4, TRG management would be very pleased to have you as a member of their race team and Californian Wine Club. At a cost of $195,000, the experience is not for all budgets. Nonetheless, it’s actually not that expensive when you consider how much is usually invested in auto racing. This amount covers the bulk of the investment, as the car doesn’t require much more maintenance than a regular road vehicle. We’ll toast to that!