The Aston Martin Valkyrie is an incredible machine to look at, but its sculpted surfaces and V12 powertrain make the most sense when you’re driving it on a track. Adrian Newey’s baby – now in a messy custody arrangement between Aston Martin and Red Bull – seems to fast-forward through Brands Hatch, and it takes a while for your brain to catch up.
Some 1160bhp means the hypercar warps between braking zones, and mid-corner the front axle takes every twitch of the steering column as gospel. Gently feed the power in, fly out the other side, and you’re soon cradled by the invisible but firm hand of crushing downforce: this is a Newey car after all.
Of course, Aston Martin hasn’t let me loose in one of its £2.5 million hypercars. Not yet, at least. The Valkyrie I’m driving is just one of the exclusive car models that come with the company’s AMR-C01 sim; a carbonfibre pod that targets an emerging group of wealthy, gentleman e-racers.
Who makes it?
The AMR-C01 is a joint project from Aston and Base Performance, a simulation and driver-coaching firm based in Banbury and owned by Aston works driver Darren Turner. Now over 10 years old, the company may operate out of a quaint business unit, but it’s at the cutting-edge of driver-training tech.
In one room, Turner shows us a hexapod with six metres of screen beamed by three projectors. Workstations sit in a smaller room behind the rig, waiting for engineers to crunch and input data. It’s a bit like the viewing area behind the police interrogation room.
‘The drivers come along with their driver coach or their race engineers, and they run it like a test day,’ Turner explains. ‘They effectively go through whatever the programme is that they want to be doing on the day.’
Turner opens another door and we see half a Vantage GT3 car, surrounded by screens and filled with simulation tech – again with a mission control of workstations behind it. ‘This was a GT3 race chassis that ended up in an accident and wasn't repairable,’ Turner tells CAR. ‘We then cut the damage off, and then we built it back up as a simulator.’
Inside, the semi-Vantage looks indistinguishable from the race car – and uses the same components too – only adapted for sim-work. ‘It's got the Cosworth dashboard, it’s got the steering wheel that we use in the race cars too,’ Turner adds. ‘The nice thing is once you've sat in the car, because of the way the screen position is relative to the car, you only see screen.’
For the last decade, this has been Base Performance’s primary business, but two years ago it decided to expand. First customers who wanted to continue the training at home ordered bespoke sim rigs, but soon there was a plan to make a more contained, luxurious solution; enter the Aston-branded AMR C01.
Unlike other racing sims that tend to be hidden, the C01’s designed to be a statement as much as a driving tool. Made from carbonfibre, it’s part bobsleigh, part catamaran, and the weave isn’t just for show either. ‘There's no frame, it's all carbonfibre, and then everything is then sort of assembled and bolted in, in the workshop there,’ Turner says, gesturing to small room with three C01s in various colours and states of completion.
The lack of frame means the chassis has more room for a slimline PC, gaming keyboard and controls – and luckily for 6’3” me, more flexibility in the pedal and seat positions. Getting into the C01 is relatively straight forward, and it’s one of the few sims I’ve used that feels comfortable straight away. After setting up the pedal box – actually bringing them closer – it’s time to warm up with a few laps of Brands Hatch in the Vantage road car.
The AMR-C01 runs Assetto Corsa – and does so without fuss – but it also comes with some highly-accurate models of key Aston cars. The Vantage GT3 and GT4 cars are here, as is the Newey-designed Valkyrie.
Fire up the PC via a red start button on your left, boot up AC with a wireless keyboard and it’s time to drive. Most noticeable is the closeness of the 49-inch wraparound screen, quickly followed by the way it reaches across your entire view. Next is the robustness of the steering wheel, along with the ultra-mechanical feel of the paddles. Somehow, it feels even more solid than a Fanatec DD1.
Still, that’s all easy compared to the mental and physical acrobatics necessary to brake properly. Although we’re using an accurate model of the Vantage, the brake pedal is set up like a racing car’s, with a healthy dose of resistance. It takes a while for brain, eyes and leg to fully coordinate: for the first few laps the kerb at Druids remains untouched, and I sail off the track at Hawthorns more than once.
Eventually, though, it starts to come together, and the lap times get slightly quicker, but much more consistent. It’s time to switch to the more direct, and significantly faster Valkyrie – and then an AC Cobra. Weirdly, a muscle car makes the differences between this rig and a conventional one even clearer. No unwanted movement in the pedal box means I’m able to ore accurately play with the throttle through corners – and the wheel is more than stable enough to cope with my constant hacksawing. The general robustness of the monocoque means I can focus on my driving – which, to be fair, is mostly taking place on the asphalt.
Turner’s suggestions, such as increased trail-braking, are easier to implement when I’m not fighting with my rig or seating position – and despite having the eyes of a works Le Mans driver on my every move, it’s more comfortable than some other sims.
At £57,500, the C01 is about as much as a secondhand Vantage from Parkers, but this isn’t for a crowd that buys used. Turner tells me one sim has gone to a Vulcan Pro owner, another to a PC mogul – and the F1 team’s Lance Stroll has plans to add one to his sim collection.
For some the sim is about recreating their road car, for others it’s about tinkering – and for some older drivers it’s about taking part in one of the firm’s virtual racing meets: Turner tells us that the sim’s bespoke nature means technicians can remotely set up the sim for their older, less tech-savvy customers.
One hundred and fifty are to be made, and despite a pandemic and global recession, it seems they’ll be sold soon enough. Ten have gone already, and the Base Performance workshop is expected to be busy on current orders until mid-May.
Just like some of the cars it emulates, the AMR-C01 isn’t made for everyone, but it offers a select few a unique and complete driving experience.