Published on June 7th, 2017 | by Seán Ward0
A Surreal Day With The Aston Martin Vulcan
A wet Shelsley Walsh hill climb, an ex-Le Mans driver and an Aston Martin Vulcan are prime ingredients for a very good day.
It was almost two years ago when I first laid eyes on the Vulcan. Late on the Thursday evening of the 2015 Goodwood Festival Of Speed, after most people had gone home, an Aston Martin truck arrived in the paddock. Opening the trucks doors, the Aston crew revealed the Aston Martin Vulcan prototype, VP1, and somehow I found myself helping push it off the truck, talking to the engineers and watching as they walked around with the Vulcan’s carbon fibre doors before attaching them to the car.
The Vulcan was revealed to the world the following day, announced as a track-only machine, one built to the highest of standards and with the best materials, but also as the race car Aston would build if there was a series without any regulations governing engine size, performance, weight, or aerodynamics. 24 were built and sold to customers, all selling for just over £1.8 million.
The idea was for customers to buy a Vulcan, either keep the car at their own home or opt for the factory to keep it for them, and then Aston Martin would organise Vulcan track days at tracks around the world where the customers would be instructed on how to extract more lap time from their Vulcan by professional Aston drivers. And if a particular track day took your fancy some other time you’d phone up Aston Martin and they’d arrive at the track with your car and a full support crew.
This past weekend one very generous owner lent his car back to Aston Martin for demonstration runs at ‘British Racing Green’, an event held at Shelsley Walsh hill climb, the ‘oldest operational motorsport venue in the world’, and somehow I found myself in the position to come along for the ride.
The driver was a man called Peter Dumbreck, one of the instructors for the Vulcan programme and a man who’s raced LMP1 cars at Le Mans, in DTM and Japanese Super GT, and more recently drove the all-electric NIO EP9 to a record Nurburgring lap time of 6m 45.9s. A quick Google search will also reveal he was one of two Mercedes Le Mans drivers back in 1999 (the other being Mark Webber) whose Mercedes CLR took off and flipped into the trees at 200mph. In short, he’s quite good at driving.
The car ‘on loan’ was finished in a beautiful, deep burgundy colour. The aerodynamics are extreme, but there’s a beauty and a flow to everything, and some of the details are sublime. The rear lights, for example, give the impression the whole rear end of the Vulcan is spitting flames, and the centre locking wheels are as impressive as they are big.
The cabin is just as detailed. Despite the fact that the Vulcan is essentially a race car, albeit one that will never compete, the interior is finished with total attention to detail and with the best, most impressive materials you can imagine. The buttons on the steering wheel, the leather on the centre console and the door handles, the various weaves and waves of the carbon fibre are all so beautiful. Anyone who’s sat in a race car will tell you they rarely feel well finished, but the Vulcan has been put together with the same effort and precision as any Aston Martin road car, if not more.
20 minutes before the run, I pulled on a Sparco race suit, a Hans device, and a carbon fibre Stilo helmet, and then contemplated what I was about to do. To see a Vulcan is special, but to ride in one is a very unique opportunity. Driving one, of course, would be even better, but something tells me the owner would trust Mr Dumbreck slightly more than a 24-year-old who definitely isn’t an official Aston Martin driver… I must admit I felt like something of a fraud, standing next to the Vulcan with a suit, Hans device and helmet, as a few people approached me and asked what it was like to drive… I simply replied by saying “ask him, not me”, pointing at Peter.
The Vulcan’s mechanics put on slick tyres minutes before we set off, lifting the car up with compressed air and the Vulcan’s in-built jacks. All of a sudden it was time to go.
Climbing aboard and sinking deep into the Vulcan’s leather buckets, my five point harness was secured and the door shut. Then it started to rain, heavily. Peter aired his concern, saying “it’s not ideal”.
The car dropped down on its jacks, and Peter started the engine with a small red button at the bottom of the steering wheel. The car sounds good from the outside, but inside it’s a wonderfully consuming noise and surprisingly refined. Driving towards the start, peering out of the window and wondering why it had to start raining when it did, there were the usual race car noises, but they were dulled, somehow.
We stopped short of the line, where Peter pulled a huge burnout in an attempt to heat the rear tyres. Of course the slick tyres had no traction at all, so we moved forward relatively slowly but in a complete whirlwind of noise.
Stopping on the start line, we waited for a little red light to turn green, and as it did the wheels span up once more, the revs bouncing off the limiter, but the car hardly moved at all. There was so much wheelspin, so little grip, you probably would have been able to walk past us.
As the launch burnout came to an end we reached the first kink, and so began yet more wheelspin. Shelsley Walsh is a very short climb, 0.568 miles in total, and it’s very narrow too. In truth the Vulcan really isn’t ideal for Shelsley, or hill climbs in general, as its crazy aerodynamics and massive power are best suited to a high-speed circuit, but as our climb continued I really didn’t care.
The engine is sensational. With every little corner the rear tyres lit up immediately, the V12 wailing up ahead. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Vulcan’s engine, it’s a 7.0 litre naturally-aspirated V12 with 820bhp, essentially a bigger version of the 6.0 litre V12 engine Aston have used before in ‘standard’ GT3 race cars.
As we rounded the final corner, the wheels lit up once more, and only once Peter pulled into third gear did the tyres hook up. For the first time it actually felt like we were accelerating, but after just a couple of seconds we crossed the finish line.
We came to a stop at the top of the hill and turned the engine off momentarily. Despite wearing a full-face helmet I could see Peter was smiling, although not quite as much as I was. We restarted the engine and followed a modified Renault Twizy back down the hill, pulling one or two burnouts along the way, before pulling up to the Aston mechanics. The engine fell silent for the final time.
Almost as soon as we opened the doors the rain stopped, the clouds blew away, and we were bathed in sunshine. Yes, it was a very, very short trip in the Vulcan, but it’s an experience I will never, ever forget. Now I need to find someone silly enough to let me drive one.