Saturday, November 14, 2009

Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4

Hang on a minute, here I am, strapped in and ready to go, but where’s the starter button? Ah, I see, it’s by a key. Hence the expression ‘turn-key’ racer.


Nicholas Mee Racing’s Team Manager Craig Dawson soon comes to the rescue and the 430bhp, 4.7-litre Aston V8 fires up. The car, an ex-Aston Martin Asia Cup chassis, bought this year by the team for a long-standing customer and upgraded to full GT4 specification, has been transported to Goodwood and is just one of several – mainly road – cars attending a private event organised by the West London-based marque specialist.

The fabulous circuit, which was just being prepared for the Revival, is a rewarding track but has to be handled carefully. Building up the pace in the yellow Aston, you soon realise how much potential it has as a club racer, track-day car or an entry into relatively high levels of motorsport, such as the FIA/SRO GT4 Championship.

I decided on setting the traction control to ‘on’, flying in the face of regular racing practice but done out of respect to the Sussex track’s very fast, flowing sweeps and curves. In fact, after just a couple of familiarisation laps you soon understand why it’s normally bypassed, as the frequent slides are arrested by the electronics leading to a series of twitches across the Tarmac.

No, on another day it would be traction control ‘off’ – at a nice open circuit with plenty of run-off to explore the limits of the car; limits that are probably quite high but well matched to the output of the engine. For the cognoscenti, the Asia Cup cars differ slightly from those competing in European GT4 rounds by having a characteristic roof-mounted air scoop, bigger front discs and revised suspension.

Strapped into the racing seat, the view ahead is familiar V8 Vantage but with all the beautiful leather and wood trim removed. It really does start with a key and the gearlever (and ratios and final drive) is standard, too. This car is a manual, although many were raced with the Sportshift (paddle) transmission.

All the controls are similar to the road car’s so there’s no heavy clutch or too-solid brake pedal to contend with. You can just get in the V8 Vantage GT4 and drive it. Which is the whole point.

Please be careful with kerbs, though. Getting into the swing of things I allowed myself a trip across the edge of the track on the turn-in to St Mary’s. This resulted in a big hop that may have been caught by my innate car control.

Or the on-board electronics. So maybe the traction control decision was correct, after all...

Coming out of Lavant the power can be gradually poured on and by the end of the straight the Aston is really moving. Braking for Woodcote and steering back through the chicane, there’s more (controllable) slipping and sliding and, with a nod to an admiring pit crew, it’s off for another enjoyable lap.

In fact, the whole Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 experience is entertaining and to be recommended. Nicholas Mee can sell you a 2010-spec, 4.7-litre car, or there may still be one of the paddleshift 4.3-litre Asia Cup cars available at a considerable saving over new.

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