Goodwood Green: Aston Martin DB4GT and Vantage GT4
“Keep it in a high gear; let the torque of the engine pull you through the bends, and ‘trail brake’ through the first part of the corner before accelerating through the apex and on to the straight.” Top professional driver Anthony Reid is explaining the best way around the super-fast Sussex circuit.
Just moments before, I had been a passenger in Nicholas Mee Racing’s (NMR) newly delivered 4.7-litre Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4. The Goodwood test was to shake down the new car and introduce NMR’s three drivers — Karsten Le Blanc, Christiaen Van Lanschot and Tarek Mahmoud — to Aston Martin’s latest ‘gentleman racer’; one of a two-car line-up scheduled to contest several UK and European races in 2009.
Reid will be acting as the newly formed team’s chief tester and driver coach, with occasional race drives, too, as the year progresses.
In addition to the Vantage GT4, packed with hi-tech electronics, aerodynamic aids and computer-designed suspension, there was also the company’s equivalent model of 50 years ago: a DB4GT. Owner Tarek Mahmoud had brought along his historic racer, a regular entry in the Le Mans Classic and Tour Auto, where the car is headed later this month.
And, while Reid was discussing camber, castor and toe-in with the NMR technicians, Mahmoud takes me out for a few high-speed laps in the million-pound machine. The DB4GT made its racing debut in 1959, driven by Stirling Moss to a win (and fastest lap) at Silverstone. As a shortened, lightened DB4 with a twin-plug head and impressive array of 45DCOE Webers on its 3.7-litre motor, the ‘GT’ was the fastest model in the company’s range.
It was to see extensive action in international racing and it was at Goodwood, in 1960, that Roy Salvadori finished 2nd overall in the Tourist Trophy driving one of the lightweight Essex Racing Stable cars.
Madgwick, the first corner, is taken as a broad sweep and the long right-hand kink of Fordwater has the M-section Dunlops starting to slide. Mahmoud’s a useful driver and negotiates the tricky ‘No-Name’ right-hand entry to St Mary’s, where the track rises and dips like a rollercoaster before some braking for Lavant and the long drag down the straight. The engine pulls with gusto and the car rockets down the fastest part of the course with the familiar fluttering of wipers on screen betraying its pre-aerodynamic-era styling and upright windscreen. It’s then full braking for Woodcote and some more sliding as the car drifts into the Chicane and onto another lap.
Set up for the road-biased Tour Auto, in ‘semi-race’ trim, with more comfortable seats and silenced exhausts, the older car is slightly compromised for pure track work. Its class and breeding still shine through, though: a bespoke two-seater GT.
Wind the clock forward 50 years and we come to the Vantage GT4. As in the ’4GT, Aston Martin has drawn heavily on the tradition of a fast, user-friendly car for an amateur racer. Times have changed, so it’s no longer realistic to drive a car to a circuit, race and drive home again. But, as with the 1960s DB4GTs, the GT4 is based on the road car’s design, using broadly standard suspension, brakes, engine and bodywork, with a more free-breathing exhaust and re-mapped ECU. It’s also considerably lighter than standard (by 300kg) and has all the safety equipment of the modern racing era.
In addition, the NMR team has specified a passenger seat, long-distance race spotlamps and an on-board air jack system for pit-stops in two-driver events – it clearly means business.
In the last track session of the day, I am strapped in tightly (on the right-hand side, as all Vantage GT4s are LHD) alongside Anthony Reid in the new car. Readers will remember my experiences last year at a 'Prodrive at Goodwood' day; again with Reid but that time in a DBRS9.
Whatever the machinery, the Scotsman is so fast the effect is the same: a devastating performance by one of the world’s best in what is clearly a very impressive car. He employs the classic, smooth driving technique at Goodwood of winding it up to a fast pace and then keeping braking to a minimum, holding the small car in fifth for much of the circuit. Such is the power and torque available from the now 4.7-litre engine that even in what I would consider tightish corners, such as Lavant, he’s still travelling immensely quickly in a high gear.
Okay, he does make it look easy, but this is a seriously fast machine. In fact, even two-up we set the fastest time of the day, quicker than anything at last year’s Goodwood Revival.
Goodwood and Aston Martin: one circuit, one marque and two fabulous road-based racing cars fit for ‘gentlemen’.
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Nicholas Mee Racing
12 Wellesley Avenue
London W6 OUP
Tel: +44 (0)208 741 8822
Fax: +44 (0)208 741 7422
Email: [email protected]
Text - Steve Wakefield
Photos - John Brooks / Nicholas Mee Racing
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