Track day #4 – three cars, triple the fun?

For my fourth track experience I decided to treat myself to three cars rather than just the one. It wasn’t easy deciding what to drive after the Aston Martin DB9 and Audi R8. I ended up booking the Bentley Continental, BMW i8 and Nissan GT-R.

Bentley Continental

Ever since I saw a Bentley Continental race in Blancpain I was a little bit in love with it. It’s a massive car and it’s almost inconceivable that it can be fast. But it is!
I went on a factory tour at Bentley in Crewe to see where this beast was born. And then I decided I wanted to drive one.


Bentley Continental
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The Continental available for a driving experience is of course nothing like the race car. A bonus however is the fact that this particular car is a convertible. My friend drove it first and since the rain had just stopped she opted for the top down. I couldn’t fault that, so the top stayed down for my two laps.

The Bentley is an extremely smooth drive. Like most cars at this venue it has shift paddles, so you keep your foot on the accelerator while gearing up. It’s quite snappy for a big car. At no point did it feel sluggish. It’s not extremely fast, but that was not the reason I wanted to drive it. I simply wanted to find out how it handles. And it handles really well. It’s fun to drive and doesn’t feel as big as it actually is. At the end of the drive you have to park the car (forward, nice and easy) and that’s when I found out how extremely small the Continental’s turning circle is.

Overall I really enjoyed driving this car. The one comment I have is that under braking the car noticeably dives down. It’s not a bad thing, but I would expect a less aggressive move from a car in this price range.

BMW i8

Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact I am not a fan of BMW. Their look simply doesn’t appeal to me.
This is different for the i8. The lines of that car made me look twice the first time I saw one.
Now liking a car is usually not just about looks, and I’m no different. The fact this is a hybrid car made me curious. So I decided to drive one.


BMW i8
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The i8 is a big and low car. Emphasis on ‘low’, because it’s best to sit on the ledge of the door, slide your bum into the seat and then pull your legs in. Imagine getting out again…

The engine is a modest 1.6, but the electric motor provides boost…quite a lot. Even though this is also not the fastest car available at this venue, it is not slow by any means. It speeds up rapidly, but is as quiet as you would expect from a hybrid. There is some engine sound, but not that much. The drive is smooth. In short, it’s a fun drive.

The car seems to move effortlessly and responds really well to whatever I ask of it.
Of all the cars I’ve driven so far (including on public roads: rented or borrowed) this one is fun, but not much more. I’m happy I’ve driven it, yet it is unlikely I’ll ever drive it again. But that is ok with me, because I really wanted to drive it for the experience. After this I’ll stick to enjoying watching it; it’s still a good looking car.

Nissan GT-R

To complete my set of three cars I had hoped the Aston Martin DB11 was available, but it wasn’t on this day. McLaren 570 s? No, not available.
Had I ever considered the GT-R? Well, not really. I mean, I like the look of it and I had seen it go around the track in quite an impressive way. But driving it hadn’t occurred to me.

My doubts continued almost until the moment I got in the car. You can upgrade and swap on the day and I almost did. I am very happy I didn’t!


Nissan GT-R
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The instructor for the Bentley already commented I would probably enjoy the Nissan. He was right. What a beast!

When I was about to drive off I was told the car would respond choppy in first gear, but would be better in second. I hope that’s not normal for every GT-R, because it does make you feel as if you’re in a car for the very first time without any notion on how cars actually work. It’s almost embarrassing.
But the instructor was right; as soon as I geared up to 2nd (shift paddles again) the car started behaving. And when I took it out onto the track it ran off with me. The cars I have driven so far are not slow, but nothing compared to this!

The power you control is almost overwhelming. The GT-R speeds up like nothing I’ve driven before, brakes incredibly hard and is loud. I absolutely loved it.
Whereas the previous cars were smooth and behaved perfectly well, the Nissan had more of a ‘you want a piece of this?!’ attitude. I had a grin on my face for quite a while after my drive.

The car handles great, but very direct. For example: I commented on the handling under braking of the Bentley. In comparison the DB9 brakes more evenly; you can’t really feel the nose going down at all. The Nissan just gives it to you straight. You tell it what to do, it does it. No questions asked.
Incredible handling, great sounds, considerable speed (despite the short track and my lack of experience) – I would jump into a GT-R again in a heartbeat.

I do believe I should go for ‘double the distance’ next time, because two laps per car is not really enough. Other than that I had a great time, as before.
Next on the list: DB11. And maybe another trip in that crazy Nissan.

If you want to see the videos of the drives, have a look at my YouTube channel.

Old and new at Morgan

Visiting car manufacturers is rapidly becoming a new hobby.
Initially I expected to see the same thing over and over, but nothing is further from the truth. At Audi I saw a lot of robots and automated systems at a vast location with thousands of people. In contrast, Lotus, Bentley and Aston Martin prefer the human approach; a lot is done by hand. Their factories are also quite small in comparison.
At Morgan it’s like going back in time. And it’s great.


A Morgan three wheeler at the museum
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Either before or after the factory tour you can visit the museum. As I was early I went there first to see the vast amount of information on display. There are a number of cars, all either significant or just plain gorgeous, and a lot of smaller items. It’s not a very big museum, but it’s filled to the brim with Morgan related stuff.

The factory tour takes you through the entire company minus the paint shop. A very nice difference is that at Morgan they encourage you to take photos throughout. This allowed me to update the social media channels that go with this blog while the tour was ongoing. A very rare treat indeed.

Martin Webb, Morgan’s archivist, was our tour guide. Considering his role I expected him to have a lot of knowledge of the company and I was not disappointed.
For example: he told the group that the company was founded in 1909 by Henry Morgan and it has been in its current location for 103 years.


The creation of the wooden frames.
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Currently Morgan has four models and each is built differently. The tour took us through each area so we could see the chassis being built up to a complete car. The aluminium panels are laser cut by another company, but other than that everything is done by hand. You will not find an assembly line or a robot in this place!

And while I’m at it, let me set the record straight. Apparently a lot of people think the chassis is made of wood. This is incorrect. The frame is made of wood – ash, to be exact.

Despite the fact building a Morgan is a very manual thing, modern techniques are used. For example: there are old fashioned methods being used to change several layers of quite flexible ash to one very sturdy part of the frame. However, they also use a modern method of putting wood panels which need to be moulded and/or glued together in a big bag and then sucking the air out (see below).


A modern method in old fashioned surroundings.
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Needless to say the roof and interior of the cars is also made by hand. While walking through the trim shop you get to see the various materials and their colours. Martin enlightened us with a story of a customer who wanted a pink car with a pink roof. Unsurprisingly it’s not most people’s first choice, but it does illustrate you can choose things which are normally not on offer.

After the trim shop the last work is done on the cars before they go to the inspection area.
After that we got treated to a quick look in the workshop of the three wheelers. Obviously Morgans stand out between other modern/new cars, but the three wheelers are a world onto their own. A car with three wheels and a motor engine on the outside (up front) – so confusing you can choose to use it as a car (wear your seatbelt!) or a trike of sorts (wear a helmet, but not your seatbelt).
I’m not quite sure what I would do, but I have to admit that they look like a lot of fun. I certainly wouldn’t mind driving one just to see what it is like.


The bays in the inspection area.
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Morgan is one of the companies where you can easily get a factory tour. They are very proud to show around 30,000 per year – they do several tours per day.
Considering its lengthy history and the fascinating manufacturing method I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in cars. This tour was great fun and very insightful. I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

Blancpain GT Series Endurance, Silverstone, 13/14 May 2017

The Blancpain Endurance race at Silverstone is one of the hightlighs of the year. The grid is massive and the cars diverse. The racing is unpredictable (as is the weather), so excitement is as good as guaranteed.
This time around we decided to also get grid walk tickets.


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Support races

Blancpain always has a number of support races which are highly enjoyable. My favourite however is still Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Almost any type of race is great to watch, but there is something special about a large number of Huracans on a track.
I can only assume the cars’ specs will be fairly similar, but even if that’s not the case, racing is always quite close, causing some very exciting moments. There’s a lot of good action to watch. And of course the cars look amazing on track…as if they were built for it.

Pit walks

There were two pit walks during the weekend.
On Saturday there was no autograph session. It was therefore rather quiet, but it did give better access to the cars.


The #8 Bentley – VERY up close and personal – during the Saturday pit walk.
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The second pit walk was on the Sunday which included the autograph session.
I always enjoy the pit walks, with or without autograph session. It’s a good time to get a bit closer to the cars and, if there is an autograph session, have a chat with the drivers. Most really seem to enjoy the interaction (read: banter). I always make a point of seeing my favourite team/driver(s) to wish them well for the race.

Grid walk

This was the first time we got grid walk tickets, just to see what that is like.
As expected it is nothing like the pit walks. During a pit walk the garages are open, sometimes the drivers will be there and it’s quite relaxed overall.
A grid walk means you are walking among the cars ready to start a race. There’s team members working on the cars, drivers are preparing to get into the cars and it is very busy!


The one and only Aston Martin on the grid during the grid walk.
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Of course you can get really close to the cars on the grid walk, but at the same time it feels a bit rushed. You have to wait at the side of the track for all the cars to arrive and only have a few minutes to walk the actual grid.
It understandable the public have to be out of the way when the cars drive up and you also don’t want to be in the way of the people working on the cars or preparing to drive. But simply due to the number of people I didn’t find it as amazing as I was told it would be.

I would say it’s an interesting experience and I wouldn’t advise against it, but it’s not really for me.

The main race

Blancpain never disappoints.
I think the races are unpredictable due to the large grid and the variety of cars. In the races I have seen so far you usually cannot predict who will win. Silverstone was no different.
It seems inevitable the safety car will come out, but usually not so often it impacts the viewers’ enjoyment.


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I cannot put into words how exciting it is to see that enormous grid come around the corner, preparing for the rolling start. When those lights turn green all hell breaks loose (including the thunderous noise that goes with it!).
For three hours I find myself at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with the changes in position.

I’ve seen a few Blancpain races now, both at the track and on television, and I am certain I will be seeing quite a few more.

British GT, Oulton Park, 17 April 2017

After three days at Silverstone I decided another day trackside wouldn’t hurt and I travelled to Oulton Park for British GT’s race day.
British GT has some very nice supporting races, my favourite being the Ginettas. Call it luck if you will, it was raining. Somehow these cars just seem to enjoy a wet track. The action doesn’t stop at all. They’re all racing as if their lives depend on it (the drivers, of course, not the cars).


The Ginetta G40 of Jose Antonio Ledesma during the Ginetta GT5 Challenge
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Another support race is BRDC British F3 Championship which is also always good to see. With fewer cars on the track it seems a bit less tight, but the racing is equally passionate.

I always enjoy seeing the Volkswagens race. This year they were joined by two Audi TTs which makes a nice change too.
Quite frankly, there is so much going on on track it would take too long to write about every race in the action filled day. So let’s move on to British GT. After all, that was the reason I went.


There is some incredibly close racing in British GT.
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Last year Jonny Adam became the first driver to win back-to-back championships in British GT. At the start of the 2017 season he had WEC duties for Aston Martin Racing at Silverstone, which meant he missed the qualifying session for British GT. As a result of that TF Sport had to start from the back of the grid in their class – the 11th position overall. Sounds like the ingredients of something very exciting to me…
Together with teammate Derek Johnston Jonny managed to grab a podium spot in both races on Monday. Some start of the season!

This year will very much be about Jonny. As said, he’s racing in WEC and British GT, but he is also joining Oman Racing again in Blancpain GT Endurance Cup. I follow all three series, so I will be seeing quite a lot of Mr Adam, I reckon.


The Academy Motorsport Aston Martin lost its bonnet very early on in the race, but they – seemingly quite happily – carried on without it.
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To be honest, there are other Aston Martins in British GT, so I have more than just one reason to go. One of the main attractions I find the sheer variety of cars. The Bentleys are always a joy to watch and even more so to hear. I might not be a fan of Mercedes, but on track they look pretty awesome. The McLarens always look good and you can’t go wrong with Lamborghinis in race attire.
Oh, let’s not forget that British GT also has its fair share of Ginettas.

All these different cars with their different specifications in two different classes make for a spectacular and unpredictable race. Even without the Aston Martins I would probably follow this series anyway. Additional incentive not required…

6 Hours of Silverstone 2017

You’d think that after last year’s snow I’d be able to prepare for pretty much anything Silverstone can throw at me. You’d be wrong.
It is surprising how cold it gets when it’s grey and windy for three days in a row. But of course that doesn’t stop a motorsport fan from being trackside most of the day every day of that three day weekend.


The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.
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With it being Easter weekend I expected a busier weekend than before. As it turned out there were 2,000 people less over the weekend, which could be due to Audi not being there this season.
It also felt less busy, probably because more grandstands had been opened. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see the action on track from various locations. I believe I went to almost every stand that was open throughout the weekend.

As always it’s a joy to be able to access both the WEC and the ELMS paddock whenever you want. The teams are approachable, so you can have a chat with your favourite drivers if you want. That’s an opportunity I never miss.

The Sunday pit walk was planned very early this time and the autograph session was moved to a later time and to the paddock. As a result the pit walk was extremely quiet. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you the time and space to check out the cars in the garages. The autograph session was a bit messy, depending on which team you visited, but not as busy as I expected. There was still plenty of time to have a quick chat with the drivers and wish them luck for the upcoming race.

I also did the ELMS pit walk on Saturday. This also doesn’t attract that many people. So again, plenty of time and space to check out the cars and talk to some of the drivers.


Vaillante Rebellion’s #31 car which would end up in second position in class.
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Throughout the weekend the position lights on the LMP2 cars did not work, which meant we couldn’t really keep up with who was in what position in that class. That didn’t take away from the enjoyment of seeing them go. Apparently the new chassis in the LMP2 class meant that the cars were 6 seconds faster on average than last year. That’s a big difference!
As in LMP1 there has been some movement with teams leaving and, thankfully, LMP2 also sees some new teams this season.

Even though GTE Pro and Am are my favourite classes, I do enjoy the LMP classes as well. There’s always plenty to watch during a 6 hour race and this time was no difference.
It was interesting to see it took quite some time before the safety car was needed. Usually there seems to be more drama earlier on. But no safety car means more racing, so no complaints from me.


WEC provides some very close racing indeed!
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Unfortunately this was not a good race for Aston Martin Racing. The #95 had taken pole during qualifying, but both GTE Pro Astons ended up outside the podium positions. It seems they simply lacked the overall pace, even though it was never explained why this was the case. There have been speculations that the lower number of tyres allowed have an impact, but this has not been confirmed or denied.
This year sees the introduction of ‘automatic BoP’ (Balance of Performance). It will be very interesting to see what the consequences of that are for following races.

AMOC Spring Concours 2017

In 2016 Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. told the world that they would open a new site which would become the factory for the DBX. The location was an old MOD site at St Athan, Wales.
In early 2017 the site is still mostly empty so the Aston Martin Owners Club took the opportunity to host their Spring Concours there. Let’s see: AMOC (very good at hosting ‘parties’), AML (very good at being at the right place at the right time) and AMHT (very good at displaying the best of Aston’s history) together at one location. Yes, that’s a must see.
So off to Wales we went.

AMOC hosts a Concours twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. If, like me, you don’t know what that is: the club’s members bring their cars and these cars are judged. In short: there’s prizes up for grabs in several categories. One thing is for certain, you can expect the best examples to be there.
In this case reportedly around 700 Aston Martins were present. Considering several halls were in use, each of them huge, I believe that number to be accurate.


One of the halls was only beginning to fill up when this photo was taken. The entire hall is twice this big.
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The Aston Martin Heritage Trust was also there with, among others, a DBS display to celebrate this model has now been around for 50 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, there were several very special cars to be seen. There was the unveiling of the Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S, while previous special editions were on display nearby.


Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S
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I was very happy to see the Valkyrie. Even though I had already seen her in Geneva, I thought it was very good that people who may not have had the opportunity (or the wish!) to go to Geneva now had a chance to see her to. She got a lot of attention, which is not surprising. This car is something else.

My personal highlight was definitely the CC100. This car was created for the company’s centenary celebrations. Only two were made, so chances are very slim indeed to ever see this one anywhere other than in a magazine. But there it was.
An added bonus is that one of the designers involved in that project was at the Concours. It is a very welcome extra being able to talk to him for a while and get his perspective on the project and the car.


Aston Martin CC100
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And the list doesn’t end there: DBR1, Lola Aston Martin, One-77 and the Vulcan. All present and set up in such a way that everyone had a chance to have a good look. There were several Lagondas and I even spotted two Cygnets.
There was so much to see that after 4.5 hours I had to give up. Not only did I have quite a drive back home, but the sheer number of cars was a bit overwhelming. However, that drive (several hours) was very much worth it.

Just think: that very same evening they probably had to clear everything out, because the next day construction on the factory started. The Concours will very likely never be held here again.
It was an epic and unique event.

87th International Motor Show, Geneva

After a long break I went back to the Geneva International Motor Show last year. Aston Martin presented the DB11 and I thought I couldn’t be more excited. I was wrong.

Initially I was not planning to go to Geneva, but then Aston Martin broke the news they were bringing three premieres to the show. I got the chance to go on Tuesday (press day), which meant I could not possibly resist.
I did mention last year that the show elements I had grown accustomed to have mostly disappeared. This is not the case for the first press day. Everything starts on Monday afternoon, as in the evening the Car of the Year is revealed. On Tuesday the day is filled with press conferences and these are shows! The manufacturers bring often more than one of their VIPs, promotional videos are shown and most don’t shy away from a light show.


The quiet before the storm, or – in this case – the Aston Martin stand before the press conference.
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It is impossible to see all conferences, because they follow each other in quick succession and you’d have to run from one hall to another at times. I managed to catch the conferences of Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin.
Especially Lamborghini stood out for me. The actual presentation itself wasn’t that long (as in: not a lot of talking). They alternated between live presentation and a few videos and it was one of the videos that got my attention.


Video courtesy of Lamborghini

After leaving WEC at the end of last year’s season Audi Sport have now presented their DTM challenger: the new RS5. They presented the car simultaneously with its road going sibling. In addition they confirmed their manufacturer team entry for Formula E’s 2017/2018 season. There’s a lot going on at Audi.

Bentley presented the EXP 12 which is an electric car. Style wise it fits in perfectly with the Continental and the Mulsanne. It looks amazing and I hope we get to see and hear more about it soon. Between the BMW i8 and Bentley EXP 12 I think we can safely say electric cars are stepping away from looking boring.

I didn’t make it to the Volvo conference, but was right next door (at Aston) when their conference happened. I had already seen all the Volvos were wrapped up in cocoons (different, to say the least). The presentation seemed to focus mainly on how natural the car is, how great it feels, etc. Considering they were presenting the XC60 I think they totally missed the mark.
Having owned a Volvo 440 and test driven the S90 I am amazed at how horrible the XC60 is. However, I should take into account it’s an SUV and I’m not a fan of SUVs in general. There’s only a few I like, for example the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. They at least prove that an SUV can still have nice lines and it doesn’t have to be massive.


Volkswagen Arteon
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Volkswagen and I are not really friends, but there are a few models I like. On trips to the Nürburgring I have driven an EOS and a convertible Golf. I fully believe they should have left the Scirocco alone. I also think the CC is one of the sexiest things on four wheels ever built. Safe to say I haven’t quite made my mind up about VW.
When strolling over their stand I was pleasantly surprised by the Arteon (pictured above). It has all the things I like about the CC while still being recognisably Volkswagen. Very nice indeed.

It was great to see so many race cars at the show. Ford brought their WEC racer, Rebellion brought their LMP1 car. Abt was there with their Formula E car. Toyota had their LMP1 car at the stand including a part-car display where you could have a better look at the cockpit.


A look inside the Toyota LMP1 car.
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Last year Aston Martin shook up the car world by presenting what was then called AM-RB 001. It’s low, it looks mean (yet smooth), its aerodynamic characteristics are created by Adrian Newey, it’s very fast and will be road legal (yes, really).
The day before Geneva they revealed the lady’s name: Valkyrie.

Not surprising then that it was very busy at the Aston Martin stand when the time for their conference came. Even though the car has been shown already and further details have been released in the past year, it still draws the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to see this with their own eyes?
Now I have seen the car for myself I can confirm she’s a sight to behold. I find it unbelievable that you can sit behind the car and look underneath it from rear to front. Especially the rear is quite high, despite the car being very low overall. It will be very interesting to see (and hear!) this car when a working prototype is completed.


Aston Martin Valkyrie
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Aston Martin also had a surprise for us: AMR.
They took the opportunity to launch a new brand which will be bringing racing technology directly to road cars. The Rapide AMR looks surprisingly sporty for such a big car and wears its makeover quite well. I understand the Vantage AMR Pro will be track only whereas the Rapide AMR will be a road car.
As if this wasn’t enough they also brought a special Q edition of the DB11 and a Vanquish S Volante. I am still drooling now…

Going to the Geneva International Motor Show on press day has been a privilege. It gave me the chance to have a much better look at the new cars and to hear the details from some pretty important people.
I can’t make any promises, but I will certainly try to get press passes to this show and other shows/events. It will allow me to get that just that little bit more to write about.