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Words: Henry Catchpole
This looks rather serious…
It is. This is the first product in Aston Martin’s new AMR Pro range, which is for cars that will be built in very small numbers but are significantly wilder than anything else coming out of Gaydon. They are the top of the tree.
This has the carbonfibre bonnet and monstrous rear wing from Aston’s World Endurance Championship-winning GTE race car. You might also recognise some of the other bodywork like the jutting splitter and sculpted front arches from the Vantage GT8 road car.
Presumably it’s not just all show, though?
Absolutely not. Lift the bonnet off (no struts or hinges here) and you’ll find a naturally aspirated V8 from the Vantage GT4 race car. The beautiful carbonfibre plenum hides carbonfibre trumpets and the exhaust side is pretty much unfettered, exiting through the titanium back box from the GT8.
As a result, it sounds absolutely incredible. There was a Vulcan at the circuit on the day that I drove the car and the Vantage AMR Pro was louder than that. Significantly louder. In fact, never mind the Vulcan track car, it would probably have drowned out a Vulcan bomber. It’s not road-legal, so you needn’t worry about how upset it will make your neighbours.
The engine is actually in a state of tune that the engineers are calling ‘GT4 plus plus’ as, freed from regulations, they’ve been able to extract more from it. The 4.7-litre engine is putting out 509bhp at 7,250rpm and 415lb ft of torque at 6,000rpm, making it easily the most powerful V8 Vantage ever (although it still falls shy of the heavier GT12, which produces 592bhp). Performance is brisk but not gut-wrenching with 0-62mph taking four seconds dead.
The suspension is also from the GT4 race car with rose joints all round and there is obviously some serious downforce generated by the splitter and rear wing.
So it’s a race car then?
Well, no. In fact, there is rather more road car in its DNA than I expected. The interior is almost identical to the Vantage AMR road car, which in itself is identical to a normal Vantage S save for a few lime green highlights.
Sit in the driver’s seat and provided you don’t glance in the mirrors, you feel like you could pop to Sainsbury’s just as easily as set a lap time at Snetterton. You can spec a proper racing bucket (trimmed in AMR Alcantara) and a GT4 steering wheel to ramp up the race car vibe, but it’s never going to have the stripped-out ambience of a full-on competition machine.
Interestingly the car comes equipped with a road tyre too, albeit a highly capable Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2.
What’s it like to drive? A bit Jekyll and Hyde?
Actually it’s rather an impressive blend of race and road car. The sound is the first thing that grabs your attention, especially if you start it up in the confines of a pit garage. But despite the nerve-wracking amount of noise, pulling away is no more difficult than selecting Drive, releasing the fly-off handbrake and squeezing the throttle.
My initial laps were on a wet track and I was glad that Aston had left the three stages of stability and traction control in place. Struggling to get any heat into the tyres, it was easy to overwhelm the Cup 2s with both steering and throttle.
However, while skittering around on the slippery surface wasn’t ideal, it did prove that the AMR Pro retains the beautiful balance of a normal Vantage. With the engine in front and the rear wheels doing the driving it is a really intuitive car to drive and as such you feel like old friends after only a few laps.
Did you get to drive it in the dry?
As the day progressed so the sun came out and thankfully the tarmac dried. The front end feels much lighter than the road car (the whole car feels lighter than the claimed 1,465kg) and with so little roll compared to even a GT8, the incisive way the Pro turns into corners is quite unlike any Vantage I’ve driven in the last 12 years. Through Coram, the long right-hander at Snetterton, it was easy to feel the downforce helping yet it didn’t bring with it any of the snappiness and nervousness that you might expect.
The gearbox is the seven-speed, single-clutch Sportshift paddleshifter and although this is what Aston supplies with the GT4 race cars, it’s perhaps the weakest element of the whole package. The shifts are fine right at the top of the rev range, but feel rather ponderous if you change up early (as you often need to in the wet). Aston said that it is still working on a final calibration for the AMR Pro so hopefully some more aggression will be added as I think the car can take it.
By my last outing on track I felt confident enough to turn the DSC all the way off and slide it around on the exit of corners. The AMR Pro felt happy to be hustled over the limit too, its 509bhp easily unsticking the rear tyres but the progressive nature of the naturally aspirated power curve then making it easy to ride out the resulting slide.
Although this clearly isn’t what you would do with a race car, let’s face it, this is meant to be a fun track car so it’s nice to have some oversteer adjustability in its set up. If you were solely focused on setting benchmark lap times you’d be eyeing up slicks and stickers and going racing.
It all sounds tremendous, where can I buy one?
Well, I’m sorry break this to you but you’re a little late, and in any case entry to the ownership club isn’t just a ‘no trainers’ sort of deal. In fact Aston Martin has only produced seven Vantage AMR Pros and although we can’t say who the owner of this one is, you can be pretty sure you’re not as well connected to Aston Martin as he is.
There is also the small matter of the price, which is a rather considerable £950,000. Plus local taxes. In the crazy world of track-only limited edition cars, I’m sure some will think this is a bargain, given that Aston’s own Vulcan costs double that…
This won’t be the last we hear of the AMR Pro brand – there’s already been a package of upgrades to the Vulcan under the Pro banner – and that’s terrific. But what we’d really like to see is a little more of this exuberance filtering into the ‘normal’, road-legal AMR range of cars. It would be great to see some variants of the next generation of Aston Martin really tackling Porsche’s GT department head on.