At the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, Aston Martin announced plans to launch its new 'AMR' brand, creating a tangible link between Aston Martin Racing and its road cars. AMR-branded vehicles will be further split into two strands, including the 'standard' AMR models for road use and made in moderately limited numbers. Above those sit the hardcore AMR Pro cars, designed for track use first and foremost and very exclusive. The first to arrive is the AMR Pro Vantage. Just seven will be created and they're all spoken for, at an approximate price of €1.2 million. We got behind the wheel of the very first example made and let loose for 20 laps of the Snetterton race circuit in the UK. Feel free to call me names...
In the Metal:
The AMR Pro version of the V8 Vantage pilfers from Aston Martin's V8 Vantage GTE racer - the car that won the GTE-Pro class at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, no less - in a number of places, most obviously the massive adjustable rear wing, which is carried over wholesale, as is the scooped and vented carbon fibre bonnet. Complementing that are carbon fibre sills and arches, a deep, ankle-threatening front splitter and a new front bumper that houses a particularly menacing take on the Aston Martin full height radiator grille. In total, this car weighs about 180kg less than the regular V8 Vantage. The seven customer cars will also be fitted with the glorious bespoke 19-inch alloy wheels with centre locks shown in Geneva, though they weren't fitted for our test drive. They'll wear Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres as standard, too. The final touch is a colour scheme echoing that of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) racer, where lime green accents contrast with classy Stirling Green paint.
More lime green detailing can be found inside the AMR Pro Vantage, but it's not the stripped-back racing cabin you might be expecting. Even the infotainment screen and controller have been carried over from the production car intact. There's plenty of carbon fibre detailing, however, and gorgeous 'Dark Knight' Alcantara, plus two lightweight bucket seats. Look closer and you'll find a very neat custom roll cage designed by 'Q by Aston Martin' and if buyers want they can have full-on six-point race harnesses.
No matter how many fast cars we drive on road and track, there's something nerve wracking about having a team of mechanics looking on as you get ready to take their charge out for a blast. We're at the fast Snetterton race track in Norfolk in the UK and, mercifully, the sun is out and the track is perfectly dry. I tighten up my helmet, duck into the car carefully so as not to bash my head on the roof pillar and get comfortable. As mentioned above, the interior of the AMR Pro Vantage isn't very far removed from that of the rest of the line-up, so it's easy to adjust the slender seat and steering wheel to suit and the controls are all familiar. There's even a standard three-point seatbelt in this vehicle, which seems at odds with the extreme exterior.
But that word comes to mind once more when I push the key into the dashboard to fire up the engine. All hell breaks loose as it roars into life, sounding quite unlike any V8 Vantage I've driven before. Apparently, it was the noisiest car at the track that day, despite the presence of a few actual race cars. It settles into an angry, purposeful idle, I close the door, press D for drive, tug the right-hand carbon fibre paddle to select first and watch for my cue to exit the pit garage. Under the carbon bonnet is a version of the GTE's race V8, called 'GT8+ spec' by the lead engineer, Alex Black. That means 516hp and 562Nm of torque, but don't for a minute think this is merely a recalibration. There's a massive new carbon intake and airbox, made in conjunction with race prep frim Prodrive, plus tuned length carbon intake trumpets that have been optimised on the dyno. Then there are the new camshafts - intake and exhaust - that are described as 'aggressive' in profile to suit wide-open throttle running. That does, of course, compromise the car's low-speed drivability, which would not be acceptable on a road car, but as this is designed for the track, the slowest it'll ever be driven is along the pit lane.
Before I leave the speed-restricted zone and hit the track proper, that characteristic is quite obvious, as the car chunters and grumbles its protest at such small speeds. At the exit, I squeeze the lovely long-travel throttle and the V8 breathes freely, whipping around the rev counter to a wail of sound. The exhaust for this car includes a tubular manifold and, surprisingly, a pair of catalytic converters. They are GT3-spec, high-flow items, admittedly, and their inclusion suggests that a few of the AMR Pro Vantage owners might look into making this car road legal. From the converters back there's the same titanium exhaust as found in the Vantage GT8. It's bloody loud inside the cockpit, but even more so when you're outside the car and it's going past - and the sound is pure racer.
No time to dwell on such things though, as it's very quickly time to change up into third. The transmission in the AMR Pro Vantage is the seven-speed Speedshift automated manual item found in the regular production car, and it turns out to be the least impressive aspect of the special edition, with what initially feels like long pauses between shifts. However, within a few laps I realise that, if you briefly lift the throttle as you change gear, it's far quicker, more satisfying and lurch-free. Some might expect a rapid-fire and sudden change, but that never materialises.
Turn one, called Riches, is fast approaching. During constant lapping it's taken wide after a hard braking zone on Senna Straight. You try your best to ignore the visible first apex and instead set the car up for the second. By the end of the day, I manage to get through this in fourth gear, leaving the car ease to the outside and grabbing fifth briefly before standing on the brakes again for the fiendishly tight Wilson chicane. The Vantage is exceptional under braking. There's plenty of aerodynamic downforce in play at these speeds, but the development team tried hard to reduce pitch sensitivity, so when you do brake from high speed, there's little or no instability from the rear end, giving you confidence to really push on. After being patient with the throttle through the chicane, you can really feel the mechanical limited slip differential working as you ease the power back in, giving the car a deliciously rear-led stance onto the Bentley Straight. The traction control is on by default, but there's a well-judged mid-setting that's fantastic for those learning the car or circuit, allowing plenty of slip, but keeping things neat. No doubt owners will soon switch if off. I also suspect that some will look into fitting fully slick tyres to maximise the aerodynamics on offer. Saying that, the Michelin Pilot Cup 2s lasted well all day and gave back consistent grip without overheating in each of the five-lap stints we carried out.
You need that grip as you home in on 240km/h at the end of the long straight and the braking zone for the next section of the track, which is very technical. I eventually found the most effective way into the next sequence of corners (Brundle - a fast left - followed by Nelson, a tight right that opens, but with a gigantic, splitter-killing kerb on the inside), but it required taking a few brave pills. After shedding some of the big speed (the brakes were solid until the very end of the day when they started getting a little too hot at times), you trail brake into the left, hugging the inside kerbing, before slowing further and dropping another gear or two for the right-hand turn. This requires real belief in the car's stability and grip and the AMR Pro Vantage is simply superb through this section. Then it's up through the gears and a late entry into the aptly-called Bomb Hole, a fast right taken in fourth (by me, anyway, it's probably fifth by those that know what they're doing). This corner features a deep, large, car-sized (though smooth) dip in the middle, which you aim for, allowing you drive out of the curve at full throttle towards the long, long, long Coram corner.
This is where you realise there are aerodynamic forces at work, as the Vantage just clings on, allowing you higher and higher speeds. Indeed, the limitation is only that you need to keep to the right at the end of the corner for braking into the 90-degree-left Murrays, sacrificing some of your entry speed for a smooth and quick exit, with the sensation that the rear axle is doing all the work. Then it's time to do it all over again. A car like this grabs you by the sensory neurons and envelopes you in the experience, giving you an intense hit of motorsport ability within the refined environment of a polished road car. Its owners are going to love it.
What you get for your Money:
No official price for the AMR Pro Vantage has been published, but it's thought to be along the lines of a cool million pounds Sterling, which is not far off €1.2 million at the time of writing. That is a huge amount of money, no question, but not to the lucky seven buyers that Aston Martin's CEO, Dr Andy Palmer, personally selected - they are likely to already have a few Astons in their collection. Saying that, it's expected that most of them will actually drive the AMR Pro as it was intended. The specialised motorsport parts used to make this car resulted in that purchase price, but given the exclusivity, it's probable that the value of each already exceeds that estimate. Not that any owner will be planning on selling up any time soon.
Our day at Snetterton was highly revealing, as we shared the track with several Aston Martin owners pushing their own limited edition models (including a Vulcan and two Vantage GT12s) to the limit. That's reassuring for those of us that worry such incredible driver's cars will be hidden away in a private collection never to turn a wheel in anger. To us mere mortals constrained by finance, it's a reminder that, just because you're super-rich, it doesn't mean you're not a true car nut. The AMR Pro Vantage is a petrolhead's dream to be enjoyed to the full on track and also bask in the glory of the company's motorsport efforts. No name-calling necessary.