Déjà vu? Me too. Last year I was lucky enough to get a passenger ride in the Aston Martin Valkyrie at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, sitting next to then-CEO Tobias Moers and experiencing the considerable thrills of feeling a not-quite production version of the hypercar deal with both a damp surface and a lack of traction control.
All three of those variables have been changed for my first passenger ride in the even-madder Valkyrie AMR Pro. Moers has departed, meaning the Valkyrie is now on its third Aston CEO; the surface of the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida is bone dry and probably hot enough to fry eggs on. And the AMR Pro has working traction control, as you’d expect given Aston says customer deliveries have already started. I’m going to be driven by the hugely experienced hands of Andy Priaulx, the sports and touring car veteran who has been heavily involved with development of the track-only version of the hypercar since the off.
Karl Benz was probably giving journalists experiential passenger seat rides before formally launching his Patent Motor Wagen, and several conventions have grown around these not-drives over the decades. The first is that although excitement may be high, risk will be low: the deal is always thrills without spills. However fast it seems the pros charged with giving the demonstration will always be driving well within the limits of themselves and the car; the paperwork involved with killing or maiming a hack is going to be horrendous.
Which is why hacks might tend to get a bit blasé about such amazing opportunities. I’ve sat next to Stig Blomqvist as he attacked a snow-covered Scandinavian trail in a SWB Quattro rally car, and in an AMG GT R around the Nordschliefe as one of Merc’s tame pros, put in a lap just 25 seconds off the then production car record. I treated both with the same insouciance as I would a rollercoaster ride.
Yet this is definitely different. The Valkyrie might have had a tortuous and delayed gestation, but it’s hard not to get excited about the least restricted version of Adrian Newey’s no-rules hypercar. The road-legal version will certainly be blindingly fast, but the AMR Pro has been created around the promise of delivering performance comparable to an LMP1 race car. And I’m about to experience it on Homestead’s road course.
I’m going to be the third of six passengers during a morning session. Aston has ordered turns based on occupant size, from large to small, on the basis that it’s easier to tighten the AMR Pro’s harness straps than loosen them. It also means, as one of the engineers helpfully puts it, that Priaulx’s pace should increase as the session continues and the quantity of human ballast gets reduced. Watching from the pit wall during the first two runs shows that the AMR Pro does indeed look brutally fast as it streaks past on the road course’s truncated start-finish straight, but more striking is the noise made by the naturally aspirated V12: revving well beyond the point where my brain is expecting to hear it change up. Clearly all 11,000rpm are being used, even though the car is apparently in its 800hp mode, 200hp short of the full total.
I’m sweating in the hot sun and broiling in a black fireproof suit when the car returns to the pits for my turn. Although the AMR Pro has a substantially altered tub from the regular car, the process of getting in is as inelegant as it was in Goodwood last year. The approved technique is to stand on the seat base and then slide down. Once installed I’m lying more than sitting, with my ankles at pretty much the same height as my backside, but my helmeted head fits comfortably when the gullwing door is shut. Elbow room is much more limited. As indeed is arm room and upper body room; the only way for Priaulx to have space for twirling the yoke-style wheel is for me to sit with my left arm angled across my body.
Good news comes as Priaulx turns on the ignition: the air con starts blowing, although with more enthusiasm than chill. The car at Goodwood didn’t have a working fan. The view through the Pro’s windscreen is also pretty much unobscured, lacking the road-going car’s digital mirrors or central display screen. There isn’t even a windscreen wiper, although I later learn it is possible to fit one for any owners planning to use the car in wet conditions.
The AMR Pro starts to roll silently under pure electric power. It is possible to make a launch start using the engine and the clutch, but this more sympathetic pit lane mode reduces mechanical stress. The V12 fires at about 10mph and immediately fills the cabin with buzzing vibration; the passenger ‘seat’ is nothing more than bits of foam laid directly onto the carbon tub. Yet strangely it seems quieter and less buzzy than I remember the regular Valkyrie being last year.
It is less dramatic, too. The start of the Goodwood run felt properly edgy as the engine did battle with the rear tyres to try and find traction. There is no such drama on slicks and a hot surface; after a taking things (relatively) gently through a couple of corners Priaulx is fully on it. Apart from a single immaculately corrected rear-end breakway in one of the slower corners, there is no discernible sense of slip anywhere.
Aston says the AMR Pro can generate more than 2G of linear acceleration, but the forces pushing me back into the seat don’t feel ridiculous compared to those of a supercar, or even a fully launched Tesla. Even with just 80 percent of its output to call on the Valkyrie pretty much inhales straights, gobbling its shortened gearing as it does so. It is the braking and lateral forces that take me completely outside the frame of reference. The first big stop making my carefully tightened harnesses feel suddenly loose, and cornering loads are brutal, quickly sapping neck muscles as they struggle to keep my head upright.
The AMR Pro’s aero package makes downforce even at low speeds, but Homestead’s road course only has a couple of turns fast enough for it to be getting into some of the more ludicrous numbers it is capable of generating. Aston is refusing to get specific, but Adrian Newey’s promise the Pro would be able to make twice as much downforce as the regular Valkyrie suggests suggests a peak of around 2,700kg. This in a car insiders say weighs less than 1,000kg.
The loadings are definitely uncomfortable, but the view through the AMR Pro’s windscreen is compelling enough to stop me from acknowledging the increasingly queasy sensations building as my insides slosh around. It’s as if the world has had its playback speed turned up, all the stages of getting the car slowed, turned and back on the power seem to have been compressed. Yet Priaulx’s inputs remain calm and unhurried: the speeds feel impossible, the lack of drama proves that they’re not. Indeed well before the end of my four lap stint I’ve reached the unlikely conclusion that Priaulx isn’t actually pushing that hard.
“About eight tenths maybe,” he admits, when we get back to the pits. “I’m doing this all day, remember – and the car is, too.” Priaulx’s later victims include several buyers who haven’t experienced their own cars yet, and also Marek Reichmann, Aston’s creative director getting his first experience in the Pro’s passenger seat. He emerges looking uncharacteristically damp and ruffled. His conclusion? “If we do ever race it, we’re going to need to turn it down a bit.”
There is no official word on an LM Hypercar program to accompany the customer-spec cars, but it feels like it would be a very obvious thing to do. My biggest question after my first experience is how many of the 40 extremely wealthy AMR pro buyers are going to have either the talent or the physical stamina to unlock anything close to the car’s full potential. It will be fun watching them trying, though.
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