Crankandpiston is back at the Yas Marina Circuit for Pirelli’s launch of the 2012 Formula One tyre compounds. After warming-up in a Renault Clio Sport RS, it was time for a go in the race-spec Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Which, of course, entailed getting in. All 6’ 2” of me.
Derriere first doesn’t work, nor does a poorly timed cannonball. But having successfully inserted my left leg behind my right ear, I am in. My dignity is bruised beyond recognition, going nicely with the contusions inflicted by the bucket seat and well-tightened five-point harness. My instructor glides into the seat next to me as I try to extricate my helmet from between two roll cage support arms, the engine is fired into life (sweet Lord!) and we venture track wards.
There are no dual controls. No access to a handbrake. Save being reachable distance from the ‘Neutral’ button, my instructor’s only controls are a series of hand gestures: a chop means “power”; a flat palm means “brake”; and repeated flailing of the arms means, “for the love of God, stop now!”. Multi-coloured cones tell me where to brake, turn, and where the apexes are. The rest is up to me.
Forking over $170,000 plus tip for wrapping the Vantage around a marshall’s post doesn’t appeal, so we cruise under the 3500 rev mark at first to get the gearbox and engine up to speed. Though my nerves are on edge, the feel through the wheel and immeasurable grip through the tyres boost my confidence quickly, and my gear changes get faster, my acceleration sharper, and braking later. Within three laps, I’m flat down the main straight heading into turn one…
Braking is emergency stop or don’t bother, the momentum switch snapping my head forward at the 150m board/red cone. Brake straight line, straight line, straight line, hard turn left, power on, hit the yellow cone, hard right, keep the power coming, watch the track ahead, hit the green out of the chicane and line up for turn four. Brake at the red, snap the paddles down once, turn and full power to the apex, 420bhp kicking me in the back. Red light, paddle up, red light, paddle up, red light, paddle up, hard right at the red cone, lift at the yellow, power on through the right hander, then hard braking into a tight right, rear gripping, Vantage planted, confidence building.
Into the complex, head snap backward, forward, right, backward. Right foot down, engine roars, gearbox whines, machine-gun like gear changes and 0-100kph in 4.8s. Down the back straight, hard brake, hard brake, lift, yellow cone, hard brake, left hand down, power on, bucket seat grips, focus determined, pit straight, sixth gear, 150kph. Lap two, turn one, 100m board…
Such is the grip, the power, the drivability, the balance, and the competitive stirrings that when the Vantage GT4 bites, heavy black tyre marks erode all arrogance instantaneously: brake where the car will perform, not where you guess it will. Save a palm to the dashboard, my instructor’s recriminations are surprisingly restrained.
But then that’s all that’s required. Knowing all too well now how easily this car will spit you off-track if not respected properly means each corner is a challenge, not an obstacle: feed the power, perfect the line, hit the braking point. Only then does the speed start to rise and the laptimes start to drop. Lap six, and I’m not through yet.