J’AIME’s motors expert and resident racing driver Martin Plowman puts the new Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4 to the test
The racing season may be well and truly be over, but focus has already shifted to 2019 and work typically begins the second the chequered flag drops at the end of the year. Last week I got a call from Aston Martin to ask if I was available to sample their latest offering; the new Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4. The answer was, of course, yes!
I arrived early on a cold, damp and dreary November morning at Oulton Park in Cheshire. There was a touch of frost in the air that chilled you right to the bones, but very quickly I warmed up with the sound of the new car. Before even laying eyes on it, I could hear that it meant business. The distinctive Aston Martin growl was aggressive, intimidating and louder than ever. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel…
The Vantage GT4 retains most of the gorgeous styling elements and curves of the road car version, while cleverly adding in trick aerodynamic pieces to boost downforce without upsetting the car’s aesthetic. It looks the part, sounds mean as hell, but how did it drive?
I set off for two five-lap sessions and straight out of the box the car gave me the confidence to push. The thing that hit me straight away was just how much more mechanical grip I had then with other GT4 cars. The chassis was very stiff and not a lot of body roll that you would expect from a big heavy GT car.
In essence, this felt more like a true racing car. Fast, very nimble, great at changing direction. The traction out of the corner was incredible! The track conditions were not the best with damp patches still on the circuit, but no matter how hard I pushed I struggled to get the rear to slide, and even if I did overstep the mark, it was very, very easy to catch and manage the slide in a controlled drift; no dramas at all. My first impressions were that this will be a car to be reckoned with. In the right hands, this has championship winner written all over it.
An awful lot of development has already gone into this car. Reliability has been a big focus for improvement for Aston Martin. Long gone are the standard road car electronics, replaced by bespoke motorsport engine wiring looms and Bosch Motorsport ABS and traction control systems.
The new Vantage retains the old tried and tested ZF paddle-shift gearbox of the old shape Vantage, but with the new electronics the gear shifts are noticeably smoother and a lot more efficient which is crucial, especially when downshifting as you need smooth gear changes to keep a car stable entering a corner. This particular car has already undergone 36 vigorous hours of testing at the hands of Aston Martin’s factory drivers and, so far, has come through unscathed with only a few minor teething problems, which is to be expected with a brand new car.
The Vantage GT4 racing car uses the same AMG 4.0 twin turbo engine that can be found in the standard road car but is actually detuned from its regular 520bhp to about 470bhp. Why would a racing car detune an engine you may ask? The answer is pretty simple; all GT4 and GT3 racing cars undergo BoP testing (Balance of Performance). This BoP testing performed by the SRO, the world governing body of GT racing, is to ensure that cars from all manufacturers can compete on a level playing field by either adding extra ballast or adding a restrictor to the engines air intake to reduce power.
By self-restricting their own engine performance to a BHP number in-line with the majority of the competition, they hope to avoid heavy weight penalties that will hurt the car’s cornering speed. The Balance of Performance formula is a dark art that requires delicate navigating through the politics of GT racing and is quite the balancing act to get right (no pun intended!).
I feel that Aston Martin’s approach is onto a winner; build a fast car that is very balanced between top speed and cornering ability so that any attempt to equalise it by the championship won’t heavily penalise it compared to its opposition if they were to just rely on one strength.
GT4 racing has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years. It’s the global entry-level class into GT racing and where many amateurs and up-and-coming young drivers start their racing journey. The new Vantage is the latest car to hit the GT4 marketplace, with hopes of taking on McLaren, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes in championships all around the world. With that in mind, Aston Martin has engineered a car that is both very forgiving for an amateur, yet rewards bravery when driven hard by a professional driver. The driveability of the car is arguably more critical than outright performance especially in endurance racing, as driver-errors can be very costly deep into a three-hour race or in the middle of the night at Le Mans, so the more comfortable a car is to drive on its limit, the more consistent a driver can be and not make mistakes.
Of course, as with anything in racing, the faster you want to go the more money you have to spend, so don’t expect it to be cheap. The Vantage starts from a cool £175,000 in its baseline racing spec, but if you want to add on all of the bells and whistles like the quick refuel rig and rear view cameras needed to cope with the demands of fast pit stops and close quarter racing the price creeps up to around £215,000. While that sounds like a big chunk of money (which of course it is), I cannot stress enough how much of a great deal that is for what you are getting. Win the lottery or sell your house and buy this car. You can thank me later!
The AMR Vantage GT4 is the result of what happens when you leave an already very, very fast Vantage road car in the hands of the guys and girls at Prodrive. Prodrive, for the non-motorsport reader, are juggernauts of the motorsport world, currently the brains behind Aston Martin’s Factory race team; they have helped deliver countless World Championships for manufacturers like BMW and Subaru in BTCC, F1, WRC and the World Endurance Championship. In a nutshell, these guys know how to build fast cars. And the Vantage GT4 is just that. Fast.