Testing the Aston Martin Vulcan on an F1 track: Driving the 820 BHP V12 racer in Yas Marina
In the Vulcan, Aston Martin offers its customers far more than just a bona fide racing car: the sale price of 1.9 million euros also includes track events on a series of spectacular routes. 1st port of call: Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi. auto motor und sport was there to take the 820 BHP Vulcan for a spin.
Oh to be a millionaire: Aston Martin gave us a taste of the high life, without asking us to pay the 1.92 million euros the car is worth, oh, and of course the circa 365,000 euros in VAT that the German government would have “requested”. We were flown to Abu Dhabi in order to have a spin in Aston Martin’s hottest hypercar – the appropriately named Vulcan. Featuring a seven litre V12 generating 820 BHP and 780 Nm, and weighing in at 1,360 kg, this monster is constructed from carbon, aluminium, titanium and steel.
We touch down in Abu Dhabi at 6:35 a.m. Brilliant morning sun makes a nice change from the wintry grey that we have become accustomed to, I note as we roll along the tarmac. The airport – overseen by the sabre-like control tower – is big, and getting bigger. We continue rolling to the 80 gate Terminal 3. The capital of this Emirate doesn’t skimp on the status symbols, and has an apparent penchant for the gigantic – it feels like we’ve been driving for quarter of an hour by the time we leave the building site of the airport extension behind us, and I lean back in my seat in back of the long S Class that takes me into the city.
Testing the Aston Martin Vulcan on the F1 track
Our destination is the Hotel Vice Roy, located directly next to both the yacht marina and the Formula 1 track “Yas Marina”. You know, the one with the bridge over the track. It feels as if one of the 20 Vulcans sold so far belongs to me. Aston Martin has organised three track events in the Vulcan’s first year, to which owners of the hypercar need only organise their own transport. Transport of the cars is organised by Aston, as is the rental of the track and personnel including mechanics and race instructors. Food and lodging is also provided by the British car manufacturer. The term “lodging” may be insufficient here: my suite in the Vice Roy is around 100 metres squared, with a bathroom the size of your average living room. From my balcony I can see the marina and corner 18.
After a quick shower, I cross the famous glass bridge over the straight between corners 18 and 19 and am led to a rooftop terrace behind the pit lane. The view extends over the water towards the hotel bridge and the following straight. Then I hear it for the first time: the bellowing of an angry animal as it tears under the bridge towards corner 19. It can only be a Vulcan. It fires down through the gears of its sequential Xtrac six-speed gearbox ready for corner 19 – fourth, third, second – and on the following straight I catch a glimpse of the Vulcan’s long flowing roofline above the barriers as it accelerates towards corner 20 – bam, third gear, bam, into fourth. And then the cacophony of the V12 vanishes behind the media centre, the odd roar finding its way through gaps between the buildings
The Aston Martin Vulcan is 2.16 metres wide
A short while later, it sits next to a couple of its brethren in the pits. The outer shell – designed by Marek Reichmann – is just as beguiling as the sound of the V12. To describe it as aggressive would be a massive understatement. The two metre wide typically Aston grille reaches down to the splitter which almost grazes the asphalt. With its gaping mouth it looks like it’s ready to devour the asphalt. Indeed, the cacophony heard a moment ago could have been a prolonged and satisfied belch after it had tucked into the track. I could fit my upper arm – and possibly my thigh – into the opening of the fully integrated titanium–aluminium alloy side pipe. It’s not too big a stretch of the imagination to picture it spitting the chewed up asphalt out of it. The rear lights consist of individual orange optical fibres and look just like the spikes on the back of an iguana. The rear spoiler could moonlight as a tailplane for the Airbus A380 – how on Earth did this monster fit between the building? Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating. The Vulcan is “only” 2.16 metres wide, the spoiler up to a metre wider. Ok, I’m exaggerating again. In my defence, it is hard to get past the sheer animality of this car – it’s easy to hallucinate!
On the inside await bucket racing seats with side protection resembling the ears of an elephant, as well as a 36 kg high-strength steel rollcage which envelopes the two passengers. On our first venture out onto the track, I take the passenger seat. The drivers seat is occupied by Darren Turner, Aston’s WEC driver that also played a considerable part in the development of the Vulcan: 12,000 kilometres of testing. He just might know this car. He just might know this track. He just might have been in this car devouring the track as I arrived. I sit beside him, kitted up in my overalls, gloves, helmet and HANS (Head and Neck Protection System). I tighten the six-point harness. “Can you hear me?” asks a voice through the radio in my helmet. I give a thumbs up – nodding is impossible, so strapped in am I. “I’ll show you the track and a little of what the Vulcan can do”, says Darren. The rest is lost in the whine of the gearbox and the gruff rumbling of the V12.
From 280 km/h to 60 km/h in 180 metres in the Aston Martin Vulcan
“Pull the red knob up there on the right, it’ll limit your speed in the pit lane, but you knew that, right? This tunnel with its 90 degree bend crosses beneath the track. Be careful, it’s in the shade here, and if your tyres are cold you’ll lose grip and end up in the wall – you’ve got to warm up slick tyres”, Darren’s voice announces through my helmet speaker. We begin to come up and out of the tunnel and onto the track, but at first all we can see is sky. Darren pushes the red knob in and stomps on the accelerator and the V12 reacts with a mighty roar. It feels as if we’re strapped to a cruise missile. It’s unbelievable how linear the power development is – you feel every single one of the V12’s 820 horses galloping to the rear wheels. Equally unbelievable is how violently I am thrown into my harness as the 38 centimetre carbon ceramic disk brakes up front are activated, the six pistons pressing into the pads as Darren prepares to go around the hairpin in front of the northern stands. “I always go for first here”, Darren says casually whilst I have my head unmercifully pressed into the right-hand side of the elephant’s ear side restraint. Darren accelerates out and onto the back straight – the longest on this 5.5 kilometre course. Between 7,500 and 7,600 rpm he pulls the right shift paddle. The V12 revs up so incredibly fast that this happens in the blink of an eye. The shift light helps. This happens another four times, by which time the Vulcan is hammering along at 280 km/h. The 200 metre sign flies past us, Darren brakes for corner 8 and I end up looking straight down towards my feet – your head doesn’t get strapped in. Just before this 90 degree left-hand bend we are back in first gear and we fly round it at 60 km/h.
Following the left, it’s a right, followed by a drawn out left-hander, a right-left-right combo and then, after another 90 degree left hand bend we head inland, away from the water. I’ll have stacked it by the time we get to here, I tell myself. The corner combinations are just too similar. I enjoy the rest of my rollercoaster ride and upon exiting the car, try to stop the corners of my mouth from touching my ears. My host interprets this as nausea and within 20 seconds I’m holding a plastic bottle with a mineral solution. “This will help you recover quickly.”
The Aston Martin Vulcan – remarkably well mannered
I feel fantastic however. It’s only later that I notice that my chest is bleeding – from the harness. Right now all I can think about is driving though. Thankfully I’m able to test out and explore the track with a Vantage GT12 and a Vantage V8 GT4 on slicks first. Aston Martin Instructor Joe Osborne is my passenger, and explains key points of the track at moderate speed. This too is a service included in the price of your Vulcan.
Finally, I’m ready, and take my place behind the removable steering wheel of the Vulcan. Cost: 6,000 pounds. The interior is what you would want for the price tag. There isn’t a trace of that bitter charm that you get with other dedicated track “tools” – everything is expertly assembled and the switches and dials are precisely fitted, even if they are somewhat chunky so that you can use them with gloves on.
The clutch needs to be depressed to start the car, after that it can be forgotten. I get underway without any major embarrassment, but discover second gear is not suitable for the pit lane – the Vulcan ambles along jerkily, but needs a little more speed in order to be able to change back down. Once we are through the tunnel with its tight corner and the Vulcan is able to pick up some speed, the ride is considerably smoother. I push in the red knob and press the accelerator – we’re off. I do my first session not on slicks but on road-legal sport tyres, a quality the Vulcan lacks. But the profiled tyres have more forgiving limits and warm up quicker too. Power is set to the lowest level. Still, 500 BHP is nothing to laugh at, and I certainly didn’t feel like anything was lacking on those first few laps. The Vulcan drives fantastically, it’s even comfortable! Visibility is great, despite the size, and the contoured bonnet is great to use as a scope, lining up the next target to bound towards.
I never have that “whoah” moment that you often feel when playing with the limits of a car. The Vulcan’s limits are just that far away. I drive a little gingerly, taking a line that isn’t going to cost me 1.9 million euro – even if the Vulcan is insured. Nevertheless, My lap time in the second session was four seconds faster. On the back straight, Joe turns up the power to 675 BHP after the second gear change. After the third he ups it to the full 820 BHP. Each time it feels like we’ve taken a rear hit from a short range missile, and the Vulcan devours the asphalt ever more voraciously with its collossal mouth. I’m unable to see if, as I suspected, the asphalt is then ejected through the side pipes. I look straight ahead, braking at the 200 metre sign and charge downwards through the gears: fifth, bam, fourth, bam, third, bam, second, bam, first. Joe does a fist pump at every gear change and enjoys the animalistic roar of the side pipes. As do I. Aston Martin Vulcan: a cool 1.5 million pounds. Driving the Vulcan: priceless.
Maybe the Vulcan isn’t worth two million euros. But that expenditure needn’t stay one for long. The strictly limited production run of 24 cars is likely to force up the resell price in the near future. The Aston Martin One 77 was built between 2009 and 2012 in a production run of, wait for it, 77 cars. The price? 1.2 million pounds. The current value of the One 77 is north of two million pounds. So all you millionaires out there should pay attention – four Vulcans are still waiting on owners. If you have a handy 2.4 million euros (incl. VAT) lying around, you could turn that into 3.25 million in as little as four years. And the best part? There are eight track events included on top.
Date24 February 2016