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.

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Aston Martin factory tour no. 3…but why?

A few days ago I went to Gaydon for my third factory tour there. How much can you write about an experience you have just had for the third time? Not much.
So instead I decided to explore my fascination with Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., because my love for the cars goes beyond just that. The company itself is of interest to me, which is why I have recently returned for another factory tour within a year after the previous visit.

Sometimes this discussion comes up: what is it about this company that keeps me interested and makes me want to visit it so often? Most people immediately assume it’s because ‘everyone loves an underdog’. Hold on! What is an underdog exactly? An underdog is a person or group of people with less power, money, etc. than the rest of society. Well, that is certainly not true for this company, is it?
I guess in the world of car manufacturers Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. (also known as AML) is a very small company. It’s also widely known they have yet to make a profit.
However, I would argue that they have a considerable status in this world (equals power?) and it probably requires quite a lot of money to manufacture the expensive cars they create (so no profit, does not equal no money).

The atrium at Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd., Gaydon
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The main thing that got me hooked on this small car manufacturer is the fact they are such a commanding presence in the car world, despite being small and not being able to make a profit (yet!).
Here is a company which has survived 100 years, because people believe in it. Because they don’t want to see this brand disappear. Because they want to see these cars on the road.
It used to be quite normal for several people from the same families to work for Aston Martins, therefore providing generations of workers with a passion for Aston Martin. So it is apparently more than a company, a factory. It’s a family too.

They used to produce only small numbers of cars. They even sold cars under production price. From an economic perspective that is unheard of. And AML did almost go bankrupt a few times in its history. Almost.
Because every time there was someone who would buy it or put money into it, so it could keep on going.
These guys just don’t give up.
That is probably the short and narrow of it. They simply do not give up.

The ceiling of the DB11.
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The people who put money into this company are probably not sentimental fools like me. They want something in return…or so I assume. There must be more appeal than just the company’s fighting spirit. Well, there is.
I have not met many people who do not at least like Aston Martins (there are a few, believe it or not). There is something about the cars that makes heads turn. They are desirable.
Even if you can’t afford one, you want one.

I think the combination of style and detail is the cause of this. Aston Martin has stayed true to their heritage. You can clearly see the older models (specifically DB4 onwards) in the new ones. And yet they manage to move on into a new age. Due to some automation they are able to create more intricate designs in the interior (see photo above). The number of items you can specify on the DB11 is huge.

The Aston Martin Vulcan. Even this beast has lots of typical Aston Martin features, yet it looks nothing like the classic models.
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It’s this same combination of old and new that draws in the more romantic among us. Yes, there are machines in the factory. Yes, there are robots. But most is still done by hand, by human beings. The atmosphere in the factory is calm, despite the noise. The people are happily (because there are quite a few smiles) going about their work.
Despite the more modern way of working the factory churns out in a year what other car manufacturers produce in a day.

Let’s face it: if you see two equal products and one was mass produced and the other by hand, you’d instinctively have more faith in the handmade one.
And there is no equal to an Aston Martin.

Aston Martin DB11
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The factory in Gaydon is a great place to be. It is that simple.
You get to ‘play’ with the cars in the atrium, you get told about the history, you get to see these wonderful cars being built by people who love building them.
I’ve been three times now and I will go again, simply because I can’t get enough of it. And I want to see what this second century will bring.
There have already been reports of a big turnover boost and several new models in coming years. There will be a new factory in Wales and the list of vacancies in Gaydon is ever growing.
It seems AML is doing well. Hopefully we’ll see them make a profit one day.

Bond in Motion

I was in London. I was on my way to the London Transport Museum. And then I almost passed the London Film Museum. Almost.
Because when I realised their current exhibition is ‘Bond in Motion’, I also realised there is a DB10 in there. I went in to have a look.

Not sure how many people know this, but it is said that the first car manufacturer to be offered having their car featured in a James Bond film was Jaguar and that they turned that offer down. If true…ouch!
It is now well known that the Bond franchise has a very strong connection to Aston Martin for several decades, so it’s no surprise that at an exhibition about the James Bond films you will find several Astons.
Previously the films would feature a model of a car (not just Aston Martin) which you could buy, minus all the weaponry and toys, of course. For Spectre Aston Martin built the DB10. Two of the ten cars built have been used for promotion, so people have had a chance to see them. I would say not many people had that chance though, because these promotional events were usually in big cities etc. I live in the UK, but not in or near London, so no chance! This exhibition was possibly a once in a lifetime chance to see a DB10 for real. But let’s go back to where it started for a moment.


Aston Martin DB5 (Goldeneye)
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Say the name ‘James Bond’ and, if you’re after word association, a lot of people will say ‘DB5’. It has gotten to the point where people see a DB5 in the wild, point at it and say ‘That’s James Bond’s car!’. It could be an interesting discussion about how iconic the DB5 would have been without James Bond. Of course that’s impossible to say now, but the association is quite strong and I’m sure it has done the company a lot of good.

In the same vein I get the idea that the other models used in the films never were that well known to the general public. They still know they are Astons, but not which type.
And I shouldn’t forget to mention that other car manufacturers feature in the Bond films too, most noticeably Jaguar.
In that ever growing group of cars the DB10 may well be another game changer.

The exhibition features the vehicles of the James Bond films. Of course my main focus is the same as always, single-minded as I can be, but seeing other cars, boats, the cello case and motorbikes is a great feast of recognition. Because of course I have seen James Bond films; quite a few of them. When you see any of these vehicles/modes of transportation you get that deja vu feeling of being in the cinema again and watching the most memorable scene in which it featured.


The Aston Martin V8 which featured in The Living Daylights, with the cello case in the background.
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I remember visiting Aston Martin at Newport Pagnell (mere months before they closed the factory) and a ‘James Bond’ V12 Vanquish was on display at Works’ reception, rockets and all. Of course this car is part of the exhibition as well.
Unfortunately (because, oh, how that hurts to see!) there are also two ruined examples (both DBS). I hoped they were made to look like that, but according to the guide book the cars really sustained this damage during filming.

Now, what about that DB10? The exhibition shows two of them. One of them is a rig which allows them to film the actor(s) while ‘driving’ the car. It’s therefore incomplete and has no windscreen. It is insightful, because you do get to see how that works. There is a lot more involved than an incomplete car and the entire camera setup etc. is not included in the exhibition, but from the car alone you get an idea. It did make me wonder why the tail end of the car is complete…


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It really is a pity I can only offer video footage and some photos of the DB10.
The reason I say that is because I didn’t like it at all when I first saw it. The grille is much wider and lower than on any other Aston, the headlights are a lot smaller and there didn’t appear to be many outstanding features at all. I’ve changed my mind completely now I’ve seen the car.

There definitely are outstanding features. They are just more subtle than we are used to seeing. On the nose, for example, there are no slits/gaps with mesh, there are perforated holes.


Detail of the DB10’s nose.
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The lines on the nose continue on the roof, but this is not very visible on photos or film. The lines at the side of the car are quite sharp and guide the eyes beautifully from the front to the rear.
The parts of the car which are made of carbon fiber are also wonderful details that usually would remain unseen.

The thing that stood out to me first and foremost is the car’s width. I have seen many Aston Martins, old and new, and this one just seemed much wider. Predictably the internet is uncharacteristically quiet about the DB10’s details, but I managed to find out that the car is about as wide as the One-77. And the One-77 is 30cm wider than most modern Astons.
This is a big car. It looks mean (apologies to the sharks it resembles), it looks dangerous, but it is absolutely stunning.


The imposing glare of the DB10 in full force.
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The DB10 truly is the DB11’s forebear. I think the DB10 is uncompromised. With that I mean that the DB11 is a wonderful combination of the One-77, the Vulcan and the DB10; almost as if the most popular features were put in one car, ensuring its success. However, the DB11 has its main look from the DB10. The DB10 is raw and possibly an acquired taste.
If you ever get the chance, I suggest you go see one and decide for yourself.

Autosport International 2017

Another Autosport International show at NEC, Birmingham. I could complain about the same things I complained about before, but I did go. Begs the question why I would go anyway. Here’s why.

I’m still not happy with the fact the information on which I base my decision to go or not to go on is released far too late. So again I got my tickets very shortly before the show. But to be fair to them, the rest is all good.
Last year it seemed very busy, so busy I wasn’t quite comfortable to walk around and enjoy the cars. This year it must have been as busy, but it didn’t feel that way. The atmosphere, as always, was relaxed and people in general gave others the time to have a good look at cars or take photos. Perhaps it helped that we arrived earlier than last year. We were there just before it opened at 09:00. But then again, we had to – Dario Franchitti’s first signing session was at 09:55!


Lotus Type 49
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This year there was quite a list of things that attracted me. The fact they had all seven surviving Lotus 49s there (see photo above) was certainly a bonus. Now I’ve been to Classic Team Lotus’ home I am even more interested than I was before and this is a sight to behold.
There was a reasonably large number of Aston Martins, always a good thing in my books, and looking out for the hordes of classic Minis (racing or otherwise) is good fun.

Because I was so early I finally got a chance to get in a Ginetta. After the Caterham experience in 2014 the hall which also holds the karting track has been host to the Ginetta Experience. It’s basically the same as the Caterham experience – donuts! – but then in a Ginetta. And who doesn’t love Ginettas? I have a huge soft spot for these fearless cars with faces.
I can now tell you they are as much fun to be driven around in as they are to watch while they’re racing. I guess it’s time I book myself a chance to drive one, right?


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This year I didn’t see the show at the Live Action Arena. We had booked it for very late in the afternoon, because we already knew there would be a chance we wouldn’t go to see it. But with paddock passes you can still see what’s happening backstage at the show. And as before a lot was on repeat. I don’t think it matters much, because there will always be people who visit for the first time. The racing series which are represented in the show seem like fun and who would want to deny them a chance at a bigger audience?
I did spot an Aston Martin DB11, which was a bonus.
I didn’t find the electric GT car, which I am curious about. Thankfully the Formula E car was easier to spot, as that was positined near the F1 grid. The car of choice was a Jaguar. And Jaguar is this year’s newcomer in the series.
It was parked right behind James Hunt’s Hesketh, so the show’s combination of old and new was very evident.

Coys had a lot of nice classics on display which were going under the hammer that weekend (as in: auctioned off, not destroyed). One of them caught me off guard. It looked like an Aston Martin Ulster, but turned out to be a gorgeous replica. Still an absolute joy to see!


A 1987 Fergus Ulster – a replica of the Aston Martin Ulster
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A large part of the show is filled with stands of companies specialising in stuff we petrolheads without a project car wouldn’t be interested in. If you’re such a petrolhead, like me, do look around. Some of these stands have amazing cars on display. You might be missing out if you don’t go and have a look.

Overall this year was a better experience than last year, not only due to the less busy feeling, but also due to the diversity. For me personally there were many cars that have my attention and which became the reason for my visit.
I spent five hours at Autosport International and can report I was a happy petrolhead when I left.

AMOC Racing, Silverstone, 1 October 2016

A few years ago, when I was still a member of AMOC (Aston Martin Owners Club), I was aware they organised races. Because I didn’t have a car, I never got to attend any of these race meetings. This year I’ve been to four of them. The last one of this year was at Silverstone and it was quite something.

In 2016 Silverstone has been ‘behaving’. I’ve been several times and we’ve seen snow, rain, wind, sun (too much of it) and more rain. On 1 October it was predominantly rain. It made the racing all the more exciting to watch. I can only imagine what that must be like from a driver’s perspective when you’re trying to keep your classic race car on the track.
Despite the weather the entire day was very enjoyable.


Tom Black’s Aston Martin GT4 during the Aston Martin GT Challenge.
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As was to be expected, it was not very busy. Only one grandstand was open (BRDC Grandstand) and it was not 100% filled. It is however a wonderful place to view a race from due to how much of the track you can see. Luffield corner is a spot where a lot happens normally anyway and this day was no exception.
Several classics did drift off the track, but thankfully most managed to save the car before it went into the gravel and rejoin the race. Often this resulted in applause from the grandstand.

The variety of cars on track is astounding. Of course there are Aston Martins, but this time there were a lot of MGs. The Intermarque Championship/GT Challenge saw the return of the Porsches and BMWs. The 50s Sports Cars race had several absolutely gorgeous Austins and Jaguars. For me the icing on the cake were the pre-war Astons: an Aston Martin Le Mans (1933), Aston Martin 15/98 2 seater (1937), Aston Martin New International (1932) and Aston Martin Ulster (1934). In that race there was one more pre-war car: a Bentley MK VI of 1948 which was unbelievably fast. The sound was a delight…I think I know where the current Bentley team gets their slogan (Bring The Thunder) from.


The Bentley MK VI (1948) driven by Michael Haig took victory in t he Pre-War race. We’d seen this car in the paddock, but on track it is a magnificent beast.
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During the lunch break some of the AMOC members took their Aston Martins to the track for a parade. I was lucky enough to be able (and allowed!) to go to the pit wall and watch them go by (camera in hand, of course).
Some of the boxes were open, so I wandered in here and there to snap a few photos of the cars. It was an amazing opportunity to see some of these classics up close.


The participants in the MG Acers/pre-War race are waiting in the rain for their race to start.
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It was once again a fun filled day with beautiful cars and a very relaxed atmosphere.
I have enjoyed the four race meetings I’ve been to so much I intend to go to as many as I can next year. So keep your eyes peeled for more beautiful Aston Martins of various ages in 2017.

AMOC Racing, Brands Hatch, 13 August 2016

Despite its modest size, Brands Hatch is an iconic track. It has been home to racing since 1926 (pre-tarmac). Its history includes being host to F1 from 1964 and 1986. On this Saturday (13 August 2016) it was home to AMOC Racing. It was the fifth meeting of 2016 and the third I attended. It’s a combination I simply cannot resist: a lovely venue, several cars of my favourite marque and a great club. And this time there was a bonus…

As before there were several other marques on track throughout the day, providing a wonderful diverse display of cars of various times. I can only assume there are more than just Astons on track because there are simply not enough of them to fill the entire programme (if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know). Any chance to race given to anyone I would consider a good thing. It might just introduce AMOC Racing to fans of other marques and non-Aston Martins to Aston Martin fans. After all, we share a passion for cars and racing.


The BMW M3 GT4 of Jeremy Cooke and Mike Dowd during the Aston Martin GT Challenge.
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The weather couldn’t quite make its mind up (then sunny, then overcast, but thankfully always dry!), but that didn’t deter the masses. Maybe it is because this is not the biggest of venues, but it felt a bit busy. Because I was there by invitation I saw a little bit less of the track action than normal. You know: places to go, people to see.

What I did see was, once again, close and passionate racing. It is always great to see cars go nose to tail through the corners; or even side by side! When you hear the commentators calculate, lap by lap, how close cars are, you know a pit stop can and will make the difference between winning or coming in second. Edge of your seat stuff!


Robin Marriott’s Aston Martin GT4 (with tape and all!) during the Aston Martin GT Challenge.
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During lunch there was a track parade. That’s where my bonus comes in.
I was a passenger in a beautiful dark green DB7. And it was awesome. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be on the track in a gorgeous and luxurious car between a large number (an estimated 70) of cars of similar description. To see the stunning DB9, Vanquish S and DBS in front and know there are DB4s behind you, to name but a few. To hear the V8 nearby when everyone speeds down the pit straight. That feeling when the car accelerates and you get pushed in your seat and then the slight movement forward under braking, the car’s nose going down. And this isn’t racing, this is just a bit of fun.
I guess a love for cars is required to understand the grin and goosebumps this causes.


Nicholas King’s Aston Martin DB4
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What more can I say? I’ve just spent a day among Aston Martin enthusiasts, some of whom race during a fun filled day. I think it’s safe to say, after spending three days with them, that AMOC Racing throw a good party.
Bring on Silverstone!

The next and last AMOC Racing meeting of 2016 will be on 1 October at Silverstone.

The wonderful things at Prodrive

Prodrive, the place where dreams come to life.
Well, that is true if you’re an Aston Martin Racing fan, or simply a petrolhead. Or an engineer. Because they do a lot more than ‘just’ run a few racing teams. But let me start at the beginning as I know it.

After a lengthy break from endurance racing Aston Martin returned to it in 2004. Being a bad fan and not looking into any detail at all, I was unaware they had formed a partnership with Prodrive. I had heard the name David Richards, but that was pretty much it.
Fast forward a few years (about 12) and I am a lot wiser, but still not wise enough. There’s only one remedy: a company tour. Today was that day.

Our hostess was the wonderfully opinionated Jackie Irwin who is well known with the people ‘in the know’. She’s been with the company quite some time, is a self professed petrolhead and she knows her stuff. She provided so many historic facts and so many details I would not be able to tell you all of them. What I do remember is that David Richards was a racing driver himself and that the company is now 32 years old young. It has been involved with a lot of different teams/drivers/cars and its history is littered with prizes, winning cars and champions (some very iconic).


Some of the iconic cars from Prodrive’s history.
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Next to the racing cars they are involved in racing boats, but also in creating technically advanced parts for the aerospace industry, several car brands, and even medical devices. The list seems endless.
Through the years this company really has spread its wings and it sounds like they are going from strength to strength.

Being a bit single-minded my reason for visiting was, of course, Aston Martin Racing. I was in luck, as the cars are still in Banbury. They are leaving for Germany this Sunday where they will race in the 6 hours of Nürburgring next Sunday.


The #98 receiving some TLC before she is sent on her way to Germany.
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The place is filled with Aston Martins!
The Aston Martin Racing cars are there, the AMR trucks are there and, even though several parts have already been sent ahead, quite a lot of Aston parts are still there, some packed and ready to go. There were also a few customer cars (like those of Beechdean) and new Astons waiting to be turned into race cars (GT3 and GT4).
And, a bonus, David Richards has a beautiful blue DB6 Volante which was also there.


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I have wondered for some time now what it takes to turn a road car into a race car and the most obvious answer is: money. But it is great to see how much work Prodrive puts into this. So many parts are created there, lots of it by hand. Jackie also mentioned the passion the employees have. They are no strangers to working exceptionally long hours without complaint.

Like with the previous tours I went on, it would go too far to write up everything I have heard today. I am very happy that I now have a little bit of an understanding of what Prodrive does. I am very impressed with what I’ve heard and seen and will probably love those Aston Martin race cars a little bit more from now on.

Speaking of which, one Aston Martin race car graces Prodrive’s reception: the #009 which won Le Mans in her class in 2007 and 2008. And what a beauty she is.


The #009 Aston Martin, a class winner at Le Mans.
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In 11 days it’s race day once again. Being at a track is awesome and pit walks gets you closer to the drivers and a little bit closer to the cars. Being at Prodrive means you get to touch the cars.
And no matter how much we love the drivers (because we do!), the cars are the stars. After this tour I am just a little bit star (car) struck.