It finally happened, my first track day in an Aston Martin!
Last Tuesday, this year’s series of Aston Martin Big 5 events was kicked off with the track day at the Nürburgring. A last minute sign up (monday morning!) and suddenly I found myself driving my V12 Vantage on the GP Strecke, together with 30 other Aston Martins.
First track day in an Aston Martin?
Yes, this may sound strange, but up until yesterday I had never driven one of my Astons on the track. The problem: I just don’t fit in the car wearing a regular full-face or jet helmet.
I do have some track experience though, driving other cars that either provide more head space or more flexible seat adjustments. But in my Astons, both having the fixed carbon fibre lightweight seats, it just didn’t work out, my head being squashed against the ceiling.
Two weeks ago, I told Petra Fiermann (Marketing Manager Aston Martin Europe) about this problem and she recommended that I looked at getting a chopper helmet, also called a half-helmet. These would have a thinner shell and should give me more headroom.
Frankly, I had my doubts it would make much of a difference but I ordered one anyway.
In the meantime, because of my doubts and because time was running out, I had already given up on joining the Nürburgring track day.
However, on Monday morning this week, the chopper helmet arrived! Curious to see if it would fit, I tried it on inside the car. And it worked! The thinner shell gives me just enough space between the helmet and the ceiling to move my head, even without changing my normal seat position. Very cool, but was it too late?
I contacted Petra immediately, asking if she could still get me a spot in the track day on Tuesday and a hotel room for Monday night. She responded instantly, telling me “Yes and Yes”!
So I quickly packed a small bag, jumped in my red V12 Vantage and three and half hours later I arrived at the Dorint Hotel at the Nürburgring. Just in time to do a quick shower, then join the group for the pre-trackday dinner at the Aston Martin Test Center.
Dinner at the Aston Martin Test Center
A quick bus ride (just a few kilometers from the Dorint Hotel) and we were welcomed at the Aston Martin Test Center by a hostess, several Aston models and champagne.
Dinner was great, especially because I happened to be seated next to Jeffrey Scott, Managing Director at Aston Martin Europe. Jeffrey is a nice guy and very passionate about the Aston Martin brand and the cars they make. It was interesting to hear his ideas about the current Aston line-up and the future of Aston Martin.
After dinner, all guests got a guided tour around the Test Center facility, the place where all current and future Aston Martin models are being developed, tested and tweaked, including the Aston race cars.
Track Day Morning
The next day was the track day itself, and we woke up to beautiful sunny weather. Forecasts for the afternoon were bad though, lots of rain was coming. After a quick briefing, participants were split up into 5 groups, each with their own instructor, then off to the track we went.
First part of the morning was spent doing section training, to get to know the track. The total length of the GP Strecke (5.1 kilometers) was split up into 3 sections. Then we got to practise each of sections separately, the instructors giving us tips on the ideal lines through the corners. Very useful, because the GP Strecke has some tricky corners where the usual out-in-out is not the best line possible.
Later in the morning, we moved on to practising the entire track, with the instructor car leading the way, the other cars in the group following as closely as possible, learning the ideal lines.
But then, the promised rain arrived…
Track Day Afternoon: Tire Troubles
Track days are more fun in good weather, but a bit of rain shouldn’t be much of a problem. Just brake a bit earlier, slightly modify your racing lines and be careful accelerating out of corners.
However, it gets really tricky when you’re driving a car equipped with semi-slick Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires (standard on the V12 Vantage) that are completely worn…
You see, the rear tires of my V12 Vantage really needed replacing. My attempts at drifting at the Spring Event, plus the following weekend roaring through the Ardennes had worn them to a tread depth that was just above the minimum. In fact, I already had an appointment to get them replaced.
Initially, doing a track day now looked like perfect timing. Just remove the last bit of tread on the track, drive home (carefully), *then* replace the tires.
It would indeed have been perfect if the weather was nice. But on a wet track, especially during a rain shower, worn P-Zero Corsa’s are not ideal at all 🙂
The rear end kept losing grip. When accelerating out of cornes, but also when braking hard in a straight line. I was slipping and sliding, even when not braking or accelerating, just carefully going round a corner.
Here’s a video of me tiptoeing around the GP Strecke during a rain shower:
So how was my first Aston Martin track day?
The first time driving my Aston on the track, and I loved it. I really enjoyed how the V12 Vantage felt on the track. It’s not the easiest car to drive, with the heavy V12 in the nose and of course the manual shifter. And the rain combined with the worn semi-slicks made it even harder.
But still, I had a lot of fun trying to keep it under control in these circumstance. I probably learned more about track driving then I would have had in sunny weather driving a car with new tyres.
Overall, this was a well organized track day, with lots of driving time. Very little time was wasted with briefings, coffee breaks or long lunches. I did 270 kilometers on the track this day. With a track length of 5.1 kilometers, this comes down to over 50 laps!
Here’s some photos I took during the day. I know, mostly static pit lane pictures. I was too busy driving to take action pics. I’ll post more action photos of this day as soon as I receive some from the “official” photographers.