Track experience #5 – The best yet!

1 March 2016
Aston Martin unveiled the DB11 at the Geneva International Motor Show.
It was around lunch time and I was – quite illegally – watching it unfold at work on my mobile. For a very long time indeed the DB4 had been my favourite Aston Martin; my favourite car even, but now? I haven’t forgotten the DB4, but the DB11 stole my heart.

5 March 2016
My best friend and I went to Geneva to see the new Aston for ourselves. We ended up spending about 45 minutes at the stand across several visits that day. We marvelled at the engine which was on display (it’s big!), the car’s cut out model, showing the technology in the bodywork, and of course the DB11s on display.

The DB11 on the Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. stand at the Geneva International Motor Show in 2016.
© All Rights Reserved

13 January 2018
It’s almost 2 years after the car was unveiled in Geneva and I’ve seen my fair share of DB11s – on the road, but also at the factory in Gaydon.
On this day, though, it is time to drive it!

My best friend and I drove 4 laps (approximately 6 miles) each in the car. This is the V12 version, so not the recently released V8 car. Of course there is nothing wrong with a V8, but I was very curious about the 5.2 litre V12 that AML built for the DB11. Apparently it can go from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds. I think that makes it the fastest car I’ve driven so far.
I was not disappointed.

I already knew that when you’re inside the car it doesn’t feel very large at all, even though it is by no means a small car. Being an Aston Martin it’s obviously also not a particularly light car, despite the fact that the DB11 was created as light as possible. When you drive it however it feels like it weighs nothing. The moment you take your foot off the brake it starts rolling quite gently, but when you put your foot down it runs off with you. What a drive!

The Aston Martin DB11 at Prestwold.
© All Rights Reserved

The Prestwold track is approximately 1.3 miles long, so the straight is not very long. Just before the straight there is a safe zone where you are allowed to go only between 40 and 50 mph. Thankfully the DB11 speeds up quite quickly, but the straight is not long enough to make it to 100 mph before the braking point – almost though.
Since I know the track quite well now I am certainly improving which allows me to enjoy the drive more. The shift paddles are not a novelty for me, so that is no longer a distraction either.

The DB9 I drove a while ago is of course a few years older than the DB11, but since they are both Aston Martins I feel it’s fairly safe to compare them. Like the DB9, the DB11 doesn’t dive down when you brake hard. Braking is very level and comfortable.
The DB11 did feel a lot faster, but also lighter than the DB9. If the interior didn’t very clearly look like Aston Martin you could be mistaken and feel it’s a much smaller car. Only when I had to park it did I realise this car has a very long nose. But even at slow speeds it handles really well and as light as a feather.

Overall the handling is very smooth, so you have to waste no brain capacity on driving. It is simply natural. It makes the drive the best I’ve had so far and I got out of the car with pain in my heart.
I’m guessing I will repeat this track experience. It was just too good not to.

The onboard video didn’t turn out perfect, so I have it in three parts. You can watch it here:
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3


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
© All Rights Reserved

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
© All Rights Reserved

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
© All Rights Reserved

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.

Track day #3 – driving an Audi R8

It’s only year three, but this is rapidly becoming a tradition of sorts.
I’ve left it very late this year, but I did go on a track experience at Prestwold (same location as the previous two times). My ‘weapon’ of choice this time was an Audi R8. And the present to myself was a passenger ride in an Ariel Atom.

I suppose that starting with the Aston Martin DB9 was not such a good idea after all. I mean, Astons are my favourite cars and the DB9 was a really smooth and lovely ride. It was always going to be downhill from there. Or was it?

Driving the Audi R8 had been on my list for a while.
© All Rights Reserved (photo by Joanne Loftus)

Of course I am fully aware I should not compare Audis and Astons, so I won’t.
Let’s just say that the Audi R8 has had my attention for quite some time now. I think it looks absolutely stunning. From the moment it was unleashed into the world I was curious what that would be like to drive. It is apparently a very nice and fast car to drive.
So this was my chance to find out.

One of the best things, I think, of driving something fast is the fact that you get pushed in your seat and the engine starts roaring. That is something the R8 definitely has.
Other than that I found the car strangely underwhelming.
Like most cars at Prestwold the car has paddles (or flippers) to change gears. I’ve experienced that in the DB9, so no issues there. What I do think is an issue is the fact that the car noticeably slows down when you gear up. If you check the video above, you can see I even move forward a little when I change gears. Immediately after it picks up quickly and you get that lovely push into your seat, but I expected a smoother gear change.

Handling is otherwise very nice. The car feels sturdy and I felt well in control the entire time. It helps I am beginning to come to grips with the track properly now. Thanks to that I could try a bit harder to get more out of the car.
But there the Audi disappointed as well! The last corner before the straight is a ‘safe zone’, so you are limited to 40 to 50 mph. However, you are allowed to speed up while pulling out of the corner and floor it shortly after. Despite that the car never even reached 90, even though I was pushing the pedal down as far as it would go.
This in my mind now begs the question if the Audi R8 is truly underwhelming or if this seeming lack of performance is due to the car being limited somehow. I have heard from people that during track days elswhere they were told not to go faster than 100 mph. At Prestwold you don’t get that instruction, but maybe they don’t have to if the cars are limited?

Nevertheless I had a great time in the Audi. I haven’t done this type of thing very often, so throwing pretty much anything around a track is fun. I still think the thing looks great and, as I mentioned, it was a lovely drive nonetheless.

But I had more to do that day. I added a passenger ride.

The Ariel Atom just after the ‘safe zone’ corner.
© All Rights Reserved (photo by Joanne Loftus)

During a previous visit I had seen the Ariel Atom go round at what seemed to be a ridiculous speed, so I had to get me some of that. I would never be able to drive that beast like the drivers at the track can, so I decided to get the most of out it by not driving.
When I booked it upon arrival I was assured I would be scared. Defiantly I told the lady I wouldn’t be.

Now it’s all over I can proudly say I was right. Nothing to be afraid of.
But what a ride!!!
This thing takes off like a rocket and you don’t get any time to catch up until it’s parked. It responds incredibly quickly. We were passing some fast cars (like Lamborghinis and McLarens) as if they were standing still. If you like thrill rides you have to try this one.
I was grateful to my driver for trying to impress me (let’s say there were some moves I didn’t expect); it all added to a wonderful two laps which were over too soon.

As before I had a great time at Prestwold, not only while on track, but also before and after when there’s time to have a good look at the cars they have there. I’ve not quite decided what I will be driving next year, even though that Lamborghini Aventador looks very inviting…