There’s only one way to learn how to handle a car properly and that is to be able to take it beyond the limits of your own, and the car’s, capabilities. This is best done in safe and controlled environments such as driving schools and racetracks. However, there is always a gravel trap or Armco that could make the experience unpleasant, and expensive. Not until you know where the limit is and what happens when you cross it will you be good enough as a driver to claim you are a good one.
On an open field, a few minutes from the centre of St. Moritz, Aston Martin provided me with 13 of their top level cars - an all V12 lineup - to sink my heavy right foot into: DBS, DBS Volante, V12 Vantage, Rapide, DB9 and DB9 Volante. My first choice is one of three V12 Vantages available, they’re the only ones with three pedals, all others have flappy paddles. The cars are shod with friction winter tyres and, although the weather is superb with the sun shining from a clear blue sky, it isn’t optimal for the snow track as the scene quickly becomes Bambie-esque. I would have preferred studs, but alas, I am not here for that.
The V12 Vantage’s short wheelbase makes it very tricky to balance in a powerslide. The Rapide is the exact opposite. Working with the DCS’ (Dynamic Stability Control) three settings: on, “track mode” and off; and in combination with different settings of the active damping and throttle response, it soon becomes painfully obvious that I am faster with the DCS in track mode than without. I want to be better than that but I have the perfect excuse: my heavy soled shoes make my feet insensitive to the amount of throttle application necessary and that’s why the feathering suffers. The flipside is the grin plastered all over my face as I go wide, very wide.
It is important that Aston Martin drivers can feel confident enough to use their powerful machines in less than perfect conditions too. Not letting snow and ice be a deterrent as evasive manoeuvres can be perfectly executed with all systems switched off. I soon start playing around quite casually and because the weather is extraordinarily nice, most of my day is spent going sideways in a Volante. I must be getting old because driving with the top down has never really appealed to me before.
The aim of the course is to teach drivers how to handle their powerful sportscars in situations of understeer and oversteer, to teach them to drift through spins and swerve to avoid obstacles. How to control the situation with the correct driver inputs and by using the drivers aids to help and not hamper the driving. Most of all it’s fun and relaxed, and with everything else Aston Martin there’s an element of casual elegance during the whole event. Every minute is accounted for and implemented according to plan and there is something quite liberating about that. Who thought learning could be so much fun!
Aston Martin provides driver training on many different levels. Please visit Aston Martin Driving Experiences for more info.
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All photos by Martin Meiners for Aston Martin.