Drivers get a unique opportunity to gain winter driving car control knowledge in premium sports cars.
Travel provided by Pirelli.
In the US, one thing we’ll all remember about 2014 is the seemingly endless winter season. In addition to the cold temperatures, most states got a taste of snow and ice which made driving more challenging for people not used to navigating slippery conditions. Typically owning a sports car means packing it away in a garage for winter hibernation as lots of horsepower, wide tires and rear wheel drive don’t cope well with snow covered roads. At least that is a common belief. Aston Martin and Pirelli on the other hand not only think driving a high-end performance car in the winter is ok, they specially built an ice and snow race track and gave customers the chance to learn proper winter driving car control and have a blast doing it.
PSFK was invited by Pirelli to attend the first annual Aston Martin On Ice event held in Crested Butte, Colorado. While the day was mostly sunny, temperatures were polar and wind gusts often created temporary white out conditions. Surrounded by the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the track took four months to complete starting with an open field. The process involved allowing the ground to freeze and then building up layers of snow which was packed to form a surface almost as hard as concrete.
Around the perimeter was a mile-long road course featuring elevation changes and corners each designed to require a different driving technique to navigate. Within the track was several driving exercise areas including a slalom, ABS braking and cornering and two circular skid pads which test cornering and acceleration technique. Aston Martin assembled a team of performance driving instructors and professional race car drivers to provide coaching and offer feedback.
Having grown up in the snow belt in the midwest, I’ve done my fair share of winter driving is horrendous weather. The idea of trying to drive a V12 sports car with over 500 horsepower on Pirelli winter tires around a frozen racetrack with any sort of control seemed insane. After a driver safety briefing, it was time to strap in, grab the wheel, hit the paddle shifter and hold on.
To get acclimated, we first did a few of the course exercises. There were a few passes through the slalom with the traction turned on (surprisingly stable) and off ( aka the bravery setting). Driving full speed, we then tested the ABS brakes in a straight line stop and under cornering. Heading straight on towards a snow wall at 40+ miles an hour and braking to stop just in front of it got the pulse up. But overall the DB9 we were in at the time started to feel predictable and the thought of driving a $183,000 car exclusively on snow and ice seemed a bit less scary.
So with some acclimation exercises done, it was time to head out on the track for some laps. We were able to drive solo with a radio in the car under the watchful eye of driving coaches stationed at each of the corners who provided real time feedback. First up was fifteen laps in a red DB9 (no. 7) which handled the sweeping corners and long straights with ease, even with the traction control turned off. The hard part was turns 3 and 4, the double hairpin which required just the right balance of steering and throttle to get the car to pivot without plowing straight ahead or spinning out.
With a bit of confidence on the track, we switched over to a green Vanquish, Aston Martins’ top of the line grand tourer. On pavement this car is capable of 0-62 in 4.1 seconds using 565 horsepower. This is the point at which the craziness gauge hit 10. With all the driving electronics switched on, the Vanquish handled as well as the DB9. So to see what the difference really was required choosing the bravery setting and switching everything off. The effect of this is that things tend to happen faster, a lot faster. Coming out of a corner and mashing the throttle too much allowed the back end of the car to go any which way it felt. And catching it required a lot of concentration. Driving the Vanquish unleashed was a workout and after about 10 laps of that, I was exhausted.
Aston Martin have been staging the On Ice program in Europe for a couple of years now. They say the first time in the US was a huge success and brought together customers, dealers and media to experience the cars and Pirelli’s tire technology contribution. They intend to make it an annual event going forward in the US. It is an event anyone passionate about driving should try and experience in their lifetime. It is one of those unique tangible brand experiences that no ad or commercial could come close to delivering. One of the last things said at the driver briefing was that everyone should have a lot fun, be safe, but have fun. That’s about as condensed a summary as there is.
Photos: Dave Pinter (unless designated)