My Dear Beloved Reader,
The other day, well actually it was June 4, I found myself hurtling around “The Bowl” at Millbrook Proving Ground in a brand new Aston Martin Vanquish at speeds of just under 100mph with my arms folded while driving and I was quietly confident! Not a bead of perspiration was dripping from my brow and I will tell you why. First, however, a few words about what I was doing and why.
When Ben Lowden of my favourite motoring web site, http://www.pistonheads.com suggested that I might like a day out driving an AM Vanquish with a few other “enthusiastic drivers” I had to give myself a really good pinch. To make it really interesting the event was going to be at The Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. Getting into this high security facility, unless you have the right introduction, is absolutely impossible. This proving ground is used by the industry and the M.O.D. to try out and test their vehicles. You see all sorts of interesting and interestingly weird vehicles either trundling or zooming around one of the five tracks on this seven hundred and sixty acre site. Photography of any description is absolutely forbidden and it was made abundantly clear that any breach of this rule and I would be summarrily dispatched. So, it was with a great deal of reluctance I had to leave my photo and video gear in the Aston Martin Clubhouse which is in the only clubhouse actually on the site!
I was treated to a number of drives around three of the tracks. My first drive was around The Alpine Track. This twisty, hairy, glorious track is famous for the “Ski Jump” where it’s really easy to take off but it’s a completely blind crest and if you do become airborne you better have the take off just right! Further down from the “Ski Jump” is the famous stretch that was used in the famous car chase in Casino Royal. This stunt holds the record for the most complete barrell rolls of a car. Seven in all and was achieved by setting off a nitrogen charge under one of the rear wheels as the car in real life would not have tipped at all! The stunt was completed by a driver in a modified car, complete with roll cage and no CGI effects were used.
You can watch this fantastic stunt by clicking this link: www.https://youtu.be/YTYwDTRv0XI
Although the Alpine Track was challenging after the third lap it became hugely enjoyable and the bellowing sound of the V12 six litre engine working its way through the fantastic eight speed gearbox was simply awesome, especially as this session was in the Volante and as it was a beautiful day we had the roof down!
I have to thank my co driver/instructor Alan White a.k.a. Dr. Evil for his guidance throughout the day. You might wonder why Alan is known as Dr. Evil? He’s the examiner for all the drivers on the Aston Martin racing team so I was doubly lucky to have him guiding me round all the tracks that day.
After a short coffee break in the club house we strapped ourselves into the coupe and at this point Dr. Evil was driving and he informed me we were going to “Do The Bowl”.
We meandered from the clubhouse passing a convoy of Mercedes white vans that were being tested and obviously well trained, driving very close together and not bothering to signal when turning right or left and then we entered a slip road and joined the traffic in The Bowl. The Bowl is like a giant porcelaine tea cup and from memory it’s three kilometres in circumference and marked with 5 traffic lanes. Dr. Evil quickly moved through the traffic to the top lane at the rim of this giant tea cup and having reached his cruising speed Dr. Evil removed his hands from the steering wheel, folded his arms and proceeded to converse on the subject of driving with a balanced throttle. To say my chin hit the floor would be most appropriate. I must have looked like a goldfish midway through pronouncing the name “Bob”. Then we left The Bowl and it was my turn!
I was in the driving seat and Dr. Evil and been on his walkie talkie to notify the other vehicles being tested that I was about to enter the bowl and I proceeded along the slip road just like joining a motorway except I knew that I had to avoid a pair of camouflaged Lotus cars, a Rolls Royce covered in a Zebra wallpaper (which looked rather foolish) and a Maclaren F1 that was being tested enthusiastically to the point of mechanical failure. I smoothly took my position up on the rim of the bowl and was instructed to maintain a speed between 93mph and 98mph. Having quickly attained the required speed Dr. Evil asked me to remove my hands from the steering wheel and fold my arms and then I had to drive with a balanced throttle. Too much power and I crept towards the rim and too little I would begin the decent into the lane of the insane Maclaren! Knowing these facts concentrates the mind and I was soon getting the hang of driving with a balanced throttle which if you’re ever with me in my Aston Martin DB9, I will be happy to demonstrate balance throttle control to you while negotiating a roundabout. Then it was time for lunch.
Lunch was a hurried affair not because the food was poor indeed it was very good, nor was the conversation dull, in fact it was fascinating. It was just that I was eager to get back on the track! My final track of the day was to drive this beautiful Aston Martin Vanquish Coupe down a mile long straight as fast as I could.
Well that sounds easy but at the end of the mile long straight is a right hand banked curve and you need to enter the bend at the right point and at the right speed. Of course I was confident because Dr. Evil would tell me when to start progressive braking prior to the bend. I had a number of runs down this straight and upon each one I was getting progressively faster and then it was time for my final run having already clocked speeds above 150mph.
The final run was to be done with the gearbox in automatic mode rather than manual, with the sport setiings switched to race mode and the suspension settings set for the track. The clock counted down and we were off. The engine howling like a deep throated banshee as we raced through the gears. Faster and faster so the landscape in my peripheral vision was becoming a blur and racing towards that right hand banked curve. Surely, Dr. Evil should have told me by now to start the progressive braking process, he must do it now, I mean it really has to be now but my foot has the pedal pressed to the metal and I begin to feel like Luke Skywalker on his final run to drop the photon torpedoes to destroy the Death Star. Brake, brake, brake utters Dr. Evil and I enter the right hand banked curve using a balanced throttle, out of the bend to a progressive stop. I’d hit 168mph and it was a blast!
Sitting in the car parked in the lay bye watching some weird electric motor bikes that looked like old fashioned ice cream salesman with Darth Vader helmets on hurtling past at high speed the notorious Dr. Evil told me that I was a pretty cool, confident, customer. Apparently, most drivers on the course didn’t manage the number of runs that I had taken nor had they hit such a high speed and often they were returned to the clubhouse in a pool of sweat in need of a cup of tea. It was at this point I had to tell Alan a.k.a. Dr. Evil the truth. You see dear reader, I had worked out that no one was going to let me total a new Vanquish and I had learnt early on that Alan was married with children and it was unlikely that he had a death wish. So, all I had to do was to follow his instructions and borrow his confidence in the car and his knowledge of the tracks that we had driven on that glorious day.
So, dear reader, the next time you feel a little low in confidence find someone that has gone down the path, listen to their wisdom and borrow their confidence!
Until my next post……..Toodleoo!