Factory tour on repeat, but not the same

No matter how much I like factory tours and which companies I visit, Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. in Gaydon will probably always be my favourite.
Enter factory visit number four.

One of the reasons this doesn’t get old is that each tour is different. This time we met up with Steve, who showed us around twice before and Sam, who is an apprentice. It must have been our lucky day, because the group consisted of only five people. Out of these only one had not been to the factory before. And that shifts the focus of the tour entirely.


Two of the cars in the reception area.
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The usual programme starts with a drink in the atrium, followed by a quick overview of the company’s history and then the factory tour which typically takes up 60 to 90 minutes. This time we started the tour a little bit late, because Steve and Sam gave us some insight into their respective careers. Steve has been with the company for quite some time now and Sam is one of the many apprentices. It was very interesting to hear how progressing in a career has changed through time, but also to get further details on how the apprenticeships work – something Aston Martin is quite keen on.

We also spent more time than normal at the heritage line. The boards on the wall have now been replaced by new ones, allowing space for the latest developments like the DB11 and Valkyrie.
The cars on display in the line were all familiar to me, but still a very welcome sight. As one of the guests in our group has a keen interest in classic cars some interesting views were shared about classic cars, but also how the Aston Martin brand has survived where other car manufacturers have not.


The heritage time line
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The ‘brand’ Aston Martin is something fairly new and possibly alien to the public. Of course AML is a car manufacturer, but it has been branching out for some time now and should now really be seen as a luxury brand. In case you are not familiar with this: you can now buy an Aston Martin powerboat, a submersible, a pram, clothes, travel accessories and much more. Actually, it has already gone as far as luxury condos!

Even though we were at the factory only eight months ago, some things had changed a little. It’s quite visible that Aston Martin is a company which is moving quite quickly at the moment. For one, this was the first time we had trouble finding a parking space!
As an enthusiast it’s great to see it so busy and that so much is going on. It’s quite evident from the various Aston related social media accounts as well.


Aston Martin DB11 Volante
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During the time we spent in the factory we had the luxury of discussing some current developments. On my car related social media I have not yet spoken out about the news regarding Aston Martin, Red Bull and F1. If we are to believe the media Aston Martin will be developing an engine to be used by Red Bull’s F1 team. Judging by the timeframe alone that would seem unlikely, but you’d also have to consider the amount of money that would require. In addition I have to admit that I find F1 a bit of a beast. If things go well in F1 world the fame is quite far reaching. However, if it doesn’t go well, who knows what damage will be done?

As such, the entire development worries me a little and I found out that I’m by no means the only one. Of course I’m fully aware there’s only so much the public can possibly be told, but it’s to Steve’s credit that he tried to put things a bit into perspective and reduce the concerns expressed by one of the other guests and me. I think it’s sufficient to say that we should certainly keep in mind that media have not changed; you cannot take what’s printed for gospel. And somehow it is comforting to be told to ‘just trust us’. Actually, I have no issues with that at all, because in recent years it has become apparent we (the Aston Martin fans/enthusiasts) can trust the people within the company to do the right thing.


One of the new developments this year is the AMR brand.
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It may sometimes seem difficult to understand what’s going on or where they are going (yes, I did raise my eyebrows the first time I heard about Miami), but it seems to be working out for the better.
Like everyone else I will have to wait and see what comes next, but it is very clear that a lot of exciting new things will be coming our way. And I’ll be coming back for another factory tour to see it happen (a little) with my own eyes.

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Last AMOC racing meeting of 2017

Perhaps it sounds a bit dramatic: ‘last’ AMOC racing meeting of 2017, but unfortunately it is true. I wish it wasn’t, because – as always – it was a wonderful event.
I’ve been to quite a few AMOC race meetings now (last year and this year) and I am never disappointed. Some races happen every time, but they also manage to come up with different combinations or add a different race. In this case, for example, the last race of the day was a 3 hour relay.
And, as before, there is much more on track than Aston Martins. So much to see!


This Aston Martin V8 Vantage has a very unusual colour, which came out even better when it was on track racing in the sunshine.
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It’s always a good idea to get to the track early for events like this.
Chances are it won’t be too busy, so if you’re early you have plenty of time and space to walk around the paddock and get a good look around.

Some of the race cars will be in their boxes, with others in tents or in the open air somewhere else in the paddock. Either way: race cars galore!
The cars entered in the AMOC Intermarque Championship, Aston Martin GT Challenge and Pre-War Team Challenge are by now well-known to me. Especially in the case of the pre-war cars I specifically seek them out. These are, as the name of the race suggests, all pre-1940s and without exception stunning. For this day there were 16 cars on the grid, because the pre-war race was combined with the St John Horsfall Memorial Trophy. The majority of cars were Aston Martins and Bentleys, but the others (Invicta, Talbot, Alta and Austin) are equally wonderful to watch.


The Pre-War Team Challenge & The St John Horsfall Memorial Trophy is like stepping back in time.
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Of course the attending AMOC members brought their cars and these were on display throughout the day. They also went on track during the track parade, which is always a wonderful sight. Many, many Aston Martins of all types and ages go around the track for a few laps. In most cars you can see smiling people (no one is in the car alone) and around the track the smiles are returned, especially when the engines are being revved, generating gorgeous sounds.
The track parade is during lunch time, so if you decide not to get a meal you can walk around the paddock again. However this time you can go into the boxes to see the race cars up close, or walk to the pit wall and view the parade from there. The atmosphere is relaxed throughout and the owners really don’t mind if you take photos of their cars during the break. I personally love going into garage after garage and see the cars up close. I tend to find my favourites first and then have a look at as many additional (for me sometimes new) cars.

The first race was before lunch, so after lunch I had to quickly make my way back to the grand stand to watch the remaining races.
This time the afternoon races were a bit eventful. During the Pre-War Team Challenge two cars were fighting a bit too hard for the same part of the track, resulting in a crash. It didn’t seem to serious. The drivers were out of the cars quite quickly and the cars were retrieved later. However it does make you think about the question: should a classic race car be in a museum or should it be raced?
On the one hand I believe they should be raced. It’s what they were built for. But when you see two come together the first thought is ‘they should put them in a museum’. It’s a question that will be answered differently by everyone and, if you’re like me, the answer may change depending on the situation.


The cars are lining up for the start of the track parade.
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Speaking of crashes, the AMOC Intermarque Championship/GT Challenge didn’t even finish one lap. On the first lap several cars came together, causing some serious damage on some who could not continue in the race, and this caused the red flag to come out. Even though these cars are considerably younger than the pre-war cars, it is still very painful to see a beautiful Aston Martin with damage on almost all sides. I saw one of the cars that could not take part in the restarted race afterwards in the paddock and I can confess it almost brought tears to my eyes.
It was also an eye opener, as I could see underneath the car’s bonnet and it seemed the engine was unaffected due to additional bars added to the engine bay.
Also not unimportant: all drivers are fine. Some even managed to patch up the car and still compete.

This particular race was absolutely spectacular. Two Ferraris were battling for the lead, weaving their way through a very large grid. This battle continued until the chequered flag. One of the cars spun and lost the lead quite late in the race, near where I was watching. These people may not be professional race car drivers, but they do know how to race! Traffic was very effectively used to keep the opponent behind and next traffic was the cause of the second placed car catching up. The applause by all the people on the grand stand was very well deserved.


These two Ferraris were battling until the very end of the race.
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This season has truly gone out with a bang and I am a little bit sad to see the end of it. Thankfully there will be more racing next year and I will certainly be there to watch it!

Mini Festival, Oulton Park, 19 August 2017

This year’s Mini Festival of Oulton Park was a strange one. I don’t want to link it to the weather (even though it is – a little), but it never did settle down. We’ve had rain, wind and sunshine in any combination. A lot of umbrellas did not survive the day.
It was very good to see how many people braved the weather, though, as even at the end of the day it was still quite busy.

During the very first race of the day a four car crash happened which took quite some time to clear up. One of the new Minis (or Binis as they are also known) went off track just after Knickerbrook, went partly onto the grass and lost it. It had been raining before, but the track had dried enough. However, the grass was still quite wet, which is very likely what caused the loss of control of the car. The car bounced against the tyre wall, right back onto the track where it was collected by a few oncoming cars. The result was a mess which also required the assistance of two ambulances.
Unfortunately I did not hear anything while there or could find anything online about how the two drivers who were taken away in said ambulances are doing now. I’ll go with ‘no news is good news’ and hope for the best.
The additional result of this was that all the races afterwards were affected. Most were shortened.


Great teamwork from everyone at the track to deal with the aftermath of a crash during the first race.
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I have to say I was very impressed with the teamwork of everyone involved.
The marshals immediately made their way to the area and started directing the oncoming race cars to ensure the recovery trucks and medical car could get through. The course maintenance team arrived on the scene and just started fixing the barrier, no promt required. And afterwards, as you can see above, everyone worked together to get the cars on the trucks and out of the way.
It is very common to hear the commentators thank the marshals during race day, but this really drove the point home.

The day remained strange throughout with many races ending with a red flag or interrupted by a safety car period.


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It’s easy to mark the day as a loss, no fun or even a waste of time. But that wouldn’t be true.
The racing I have seen was, as always, brilliant. Whether the cars were classic or new Minis, the racing was usually close. Each driver out there seemed motivated to make the most of it. Of course that at times results in going off track or worse, but that’s part of the entertainment (as long as no one gets hurt).

In addition the club parking has expanded. The club area is quite large, but there was also a parking area for Minis whose owners are not a member of a club. At the end of the day all of the Minis were allowed to go onto the track for the parade. That was a large number of cars!


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Overall I have to say the day was quite well organised. The way things were amended and picked up after the first crash of the day was quite impressive. Apart from the weather being the main cause of further issues, we had races to watch all day long.
The off track activities seem to be expanding as well. It’s not my cup of tea, but if it is yours, it could be a good additional reason to go next year.

AMOC Racing, Brands Hatch, 12 August 2017

At 8:30 the day already promised to be a good one. The clouds were losing their greyness. Soon after the sun was smiling upon Brands Hatch.
The open practice session provided an easy start to this action packed day. After that the rest of the morning was dedicated to qualifying sessions.
I spent the morning exploring the track, trying to find various viewpoints for my photos. Brands Hatch is one of the most accessible tracks in that respect. There are many places you can access and usually you can see about 75% of the track. For spectators without cameras it is even better as the mesh surrounding the track is less of an obstacle.

The track parade during the lunch break was simply magnificent. There were so many cars on the track the first ones were right behind the last ones. Compared to last year there were more newer models, but I certainly spotted a few less common cars.


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The first race of the day was the Pre-War Challenge. It’s one of my favourite races. With one Talbot and several Bentleys and Aston Martins – all built in the 1920s and 1930s – it was nothing short of epic. They used the handicap format for this race: the slowest car started first and the rest were released at different times. These times were calculated with the aim of having all seven cars battling it out at the end. That didn’t quite work out, but it was a spectacle nonetheless.

Next up was the AMOC Intermarque Championship. Very early on there was drama when the #44 and #144 Porsches came into contact. The whole grid was very close together so for the cars nearby this was a near miss. The Porsches ended up in the gravel with damage that looked quite severe. They had to be recovered, so for some laps the rest of the field had to follow the safety car. Both Porsche drivers had by then walked off together, both unharmed.

The single Aston Martin in this race (the #007 V8 Vantage) had been next to the #44 when the Porsche lost control. It seemingly got away unscathed, but did retire from the race later on. I do not know why.
This left the race to the remaining BMWs, Porsches and Ferraris. The race was won by #170 BMW Evo M3 which was clearly going very fast and finished with a 40 second lead.


The #007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage in iconic Gulf livery.
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The AMOC ’50s Sports Cars race was no less spectacular. The yellow Turner Sports (#27) gave the #18 Cooper Monaco good chase, but could eventually not keep up. In turn he found himself under threat from the #26 Cooper T39 Bobtail. The Turner had to come in for an unscheduled stop, but later rejoined the race. The entire race was a wonderful battle until the end in a field with gorgeous cars. The #18 won the race.

More drama happened in the Aston Martin GT Challenge. The #007 Vantage GT4 (known as James) had one car less in front of him due to the #71 Ferrari not making the start. The Ferrari had trouble during the green flag lap and only managed to join the race after a few slow laps and two visits to the pit lane. James had lost quite a few positions at the start and was pushing hard to regain these. However, mere moments before the pit stop window closed it ended up in the gravel, which ended his race.

The #169 Ginetta seemingly had a bit of a misunderstanding with the #71 Ferrari which caused the Ginetta to momentarily try a career as a lawnmower – unsuccessfully. After an unscheduled stop it rejoined the race.
The #199 Lotus Evora was happily going around the track, apparently oblivious to the all the drama and eventually lapped the entire field. It drove off into the distance to victory. Aston Martin team mates #12 and #24 fought over second position as true sibling rivalry, but the #12 car kept his brother at bay and won the second spot trophy.


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The last race of the day was the Innes Ireland Cup. Unfortunately I only caught bits of this race as I was on my way to leave the track, but it was certainly good enough to stop here and there to appreciate the track action. There were only a few cars in this race, all lovely examples. The #85 Lotus Elan was the fastest and therefore the winner.
This fifth race concluded yet another brilliant day organised by the Aston Martin Owners Club.
I’ve been to quite a few race meetings now and I will continue to go, because the racing is superb, the cars on track are gorgeous, awesome or both and the atmosphere is always relaxed and welcoming. Bring on Silverstone in September!

British Motor Museum

It has been quite some years since I first visited the British Motor Museum.
After attending the AMHT’s 19th birthday party we found the museum to be on the way home, so we stopped for a visit.

I remember the museum being in the same building it is now, but containing considerably fewer cars. Now it is a treasure trove!
There are hundreds of beautiful examples from British car history across various categories. In addition there is now a second building open to the public which holds more cars from the collection. The ground floor is entirely dedicated to Jaguar. Upstairs there is a variety of marques represented covering decades.


The Jaguar E-type is of course very well known, but I prefer the D-type ‘long nose’ as pictured here.
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As is to be expected, there are quite a few classic Minis on display. Three of these are Monte Carlo Rally winners. I always did like a Mini with seemingly too many headlights. They just pull off the rally look quite well.
There are also several film cars; from Back to the Future to Thunderbirds and Judge Dredd.
And let’s not forget the speed record attempts! Those cars look positively futuristic. They are also considerably smaller than I imagined.
There is a cinema which shows car and race related old films all day long. Obviously I didn’t want to stay in the cinema too long, but it is tempting. There are some interesting features on offer.


Two of the classic Minis that won the Monte Carlo Rally in the 60s.
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I realise I cannot possibly do the place any justice by trying to describe everything I saw. There is simply too much.
It’s wonderful to see so many marques represented that no longer exist. There are also many that were still around in my lifetime, but are now gone. It’s a bit nostalgic, but also a wonderful trip down memory lane.

The information provided is quite extensive, which I always find important in a museum. I suppose the only ‘downside’ is that I couldn’t really find a logical route through the museum. That didn’t make the experience any less fun, however, as you can easily find your own way. With a map you can even decide what marques or categories you’d like to see first.


In 1907 the car’s interior and ‘dashboard’ were distinctly different from now! (Rover 20hp)
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Even though we had several hours to explore the museum we did not see everything. This is a museum I’ll want to visit again, not in the least due to the sheer number of cars and variety. There is a car to love for every petrolhead out there.

AMHT’s 19th birthday party

The Aston Martin Heritage Trust (AMHT) was founded in 1998, which means it was time for a party.
Located in what is known as ‘the barn’ in Drayton St Leonard (Oxfordshire) is the Aston Martin Museum and the trust’s archive. For some time I have wanted to go there, but due to the fact the museum was only open during weekdays I hadn’t had the chance yet. This was the perfect opportunity to go.

I don’t know why, but I expected the museum to be larger. This is perhaps because the photos I see give the idea it’s a spacious place, but it actually is not. It is also very full. There are seven cars (for argument’s sake: let’s call the clay model and cutout cars too) in there, taking up most of the space.
In addition there is a very large number of memoribilia: from car models to games, from trophies to furniture. Upstairs is the archive with a wealth of information. And it’s all about Aston Martin.
So yes, this is probably what heaven would look like to me.


The A3 is the oldest Aston Martin in the world and one of only five prototypes created by Bamford & Martin.
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On the trust’s birthday they unveiled a new exhibit: the Vanquish Volante which was driven by Daniel Ricciardo in the YouTube video with a caravan race (yes, really). It was a test car and it sounds like it has been through a lot (filled with water?). Nevertheless, it is a beautiful car and a lovely piece of unique history the AMHT has now added to their collection.

They do have more cars, but they are elsewhere. Some are in storage, some are at Aston Martin’s headquarters at Gaydon. I do hope AMHT will find bigger premises to move to so we can see more on display.


Aston Martin Vanquish Volante – the new exhibit
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Of course several visitors arrived in their own Aston Martins, adding even more fun to a pretty good party. There is a lot to take in due to the sheer volume and even after spending two hours there I know I haven’t seen everything. It was a joy to finally see the collection which is currently on display and I will certainly make an effort to go back at some point.

Nürburgring – Ring Taxi and a 6 hour race

For the fourth time since 2015 I travelled to the Nürburgring. It is one of my favourite tracks, mainly because it is so accessible (even if you don’t have a ticket) and there is lots to do. In addition it is in a beautiful area of Germany; the surroundings are stunning. The atmosphere has so far been very relaxed during race weekends and I enjoy driving a rented car from Düsseldorf Airport to the track.
Last year I was lucky enough to find a hotel at walking distance from the track which of course enhances the luxury aspect even more.
With a visit of five days it is practically a holiday and for me it truly is just that.


Part of the Müllenbachschleife and the surrounding area in the background.
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Like previous years I went for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the World Endurance Championship race. Unlike before, however, I went one day early and arrived on the Thursday. This happened to be my birthday and I treated myself to something special: a lap around the Nordschleife, also known as Ring Taxi. I opted for an Audi R8 V10 for additional enjoyment (the ‘standard’ car is a BMW).

The Nordschleife is the largest part of the Nürburgring. It is visible from the Müllenbachschleife, but I had not been there yet. It is quite thrilling to go to such an iconic track with such a rich history, but also a reputation of being tricky to drive and downright dangerous.
Of course I trusted my driver to be experienced, but when we arrived there were well over 100 cars out on track and obviously I didn’t know how many of those drivers knew what they were doing. This track is notorious for having very few run off areas, so there were some nerves before we took off.

The video can be accessed by clicking the link above, but I have to say that the video doesn’t do the experience any justice. There is no indication on the video how fast we were going and I only peeked every now and then, as I didn’t want to miss the drive itself. I do know that we went into some corners that seemed safe at 50 km/h with a speed of 90 km/h or more and on the final straight we did reach 260 km/h. The speed was also noticeable under braking. I am by no means a feeble female, but I was shaken in every direction in corners and especially under braking. The pressure when speeding up was also considerable and, to be honest, very nice. And of course there is the roar of the engine…

It’s not cheap, but if you get the opportunity I would recommend this experience. It is nothing short of awesome.


One of the Porsches which couldn’t keep all wheels on the track at the Veedol chicane.
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The rest of my stay (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) were all about the WEC 6 hour race.
The weather was changing throughout the weekend, including some serious rain, but Sunday was fairly cool and, at times, windy.
Throughout the weekend I explored various parts of the track and so enjoyed different views wherever I went. The support races were once again very entertaining.
Especially seeing the Porsches almost jumping through the Veedol chicane was a wonderful sight. They were all racing exceptionally hard and quite a few didn’t make it through the chicane and instead had to cut through or go over the grass.

After attending the 24 Hours of Le Mans I was possibly even more excited about this race. Normally there are several months between the races I go to (Silverstone and then Nürburgring), but Le Mans was still very fresh in my mind.
It was strange to realise this would be Bykolles last race of the 2017 WEC season. They will be focussing on next season and testing their car. Even though they compete in the LMP1 class, their car is not hybrid, so they are practically a subclass by themselves.


The Bykolles LMP1 car.
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This race was unusual in the sense that there was no Full Course Yellow, no safety car and no red flags at all. The result was of course 6 glorious hours of uninterrupted racing. It was a rare treat to see what would happen when teams had the opportunity to fight it out on track without the race-changing possibilities mentioned above. As always it was beautiful to watch and it was a bonus to watch it at such a wonderful track.