September 23, 2023


Automotive pure lust

2022 Aston Martin Valkyrie Unleashed

Reviewing a vehicle from the passenger’s seat is difficult, but every once in a while a new car comes along that’s special enough for us to jump at any chance to experience it, even if not from behind the wheel. The Aston Martin Valkyrie is one of those cars, and we didn’t need to mull it over when the company offered us a ride in its Formula 1–inspired hypercar at the Goodwood Festival of Speed—with Aston CEO Tobias Moers driving no less.

Our simmering anticipation for the Valkyrie has only slightly abated as long delays have pushed back initial deliveries, which will supposedly commence late this year. We first reported about the joint plans between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing to produce a hypercar—under the direction of legendary Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey—way back in 2016. Since then we’ve met its Cosworth-designed V-12 engine, driven the development simulator, reported on the sadly canceled plans to race it at Le Mans, and told you about both the first and second iterations of the track-only AMR Pro versions. But Goodwood offers the first opportunity to experience the Valkyrie from inside the cockpit. Which, given the combination of its hybrid-boosted 1160 horsepower, 2300-pound-or-so curb weight, and $3 million price, is awfully exciting.

Entering the car elegantly is the first challenge, especially with a sizable crowd watching. The approved technique is to step over the high-sided carbon-fiber tub and stand with both feet on the passenger’s seat before half sliding, half collapsing into the narrow footwell. Once you’re settled, there’s a surprising amount of legroom, although being in the raised-knee seating position is more like sitting in a bathtub than a car, and shoulder space between the seats is less than you’ll get on the cheapest of airlines. I will need to tuck my left arm under my thigh for Moers to be able to turn the squared-off steering wheel more than a few degrees.

The view forward is mostly display screens. The production Valkyrie will have five: one on each side of the cockpit for rear-facing side-vision cameras, another positioned in place of a conventional rearview mirror, a digital dash display integrated into the steering wheel, and a central touchscreen. The prototype at Goodwood adds a sixth for a data logger that reports telemetry on the health of the naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V-12, which sits behind the seats. The windshield opening itself seems impossibly narrow, better sized for a fighter jet than a car.

At Moers’s suggestion, I put in earplugs before the engine starts. Startup is a multistage process that an anxious-looking mechanic talks Moers through, but the engine catches on the first press of the start button and roars into an uneven, high-pitched idle. It’s loud at 1200 rpm yet has nearly another 10,000 revs to go. Vibrations buzz through the back of the seat, making it clear that the engine is mounted directly to the tub as part of the car’s structure.

The prototype’s gullwing doors must be closed before the driver can select a gear; Moers later says he has ordered a change that will allow production models to maneuver at low speeds with the doors open. The gentle run down to the start of Goodwood’s 1.16-mile course—basically the Duke of Richmond’s driveway—reveals that the Valkyrie is rather tractable when trundling along. Being a hybrid, it sets off under electric power before engaging the single clutch of its motorsport-style seven-speed sequential transmission.

The Festival of Speed plays out with batches of vehicles running up the hill course in intervals—some timed, some just performing demonstration runs—with the cars waiting in a collection area at the top before slowly returning to the paddock. The format means there’s plenty of waiting around, which provides the chance for a preflight briefing once the Valkyrie is in the line for the start. I learn that the prototype is running in its softest, highest-riding Urban mode, without its active suspension and aerodynamics engaged. It is also wearing what is called its “road” front clamshell bodywork, which has been carefully designed to meet the Europe-market requirements for a four-degree downward view of the road from the driver’s eye position. An optional “track” nose will allow for a lower front ride height and more aggressive aerodynamics; most buyers are expected to choose this.

The run up the hill is brief and brutal. This being the English summer, it rained earlier in the day, and the narrow course still has damp and greasy patches, although it’s now dry enough for the Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition in front of us to blast away in a cloud of tire smoke. After a longer-than-usual wait—presumably to ensure we don’t catch the Vantage before the end of the course—the marshal waves us off. Instead of launching it full force, Moers gets the car rolling before feeding in the power.

The Valkyrie’s variable traction control is fully engaged but clearly struggling. The engine note grows angry and the cockpit starts to vibrate with the unmistakable sensation of wheelspin as the powertrain overwhelms the cold rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. This continues through first gear, and even after a brutally quick upshift to second, the rear of the car is still scrabbling for traction. There’s room for another savage upshift before the first corner looms, a tight right-hander, and Moers is hard on the brakes. The turn brings the sensation of slight body roll under lateral loads, revealing that the Valkyrie’s gentlest suspension setting is far softer than the hypercar norm.

The Festival of Speed course is short on straightaways, but the stretch in front of Goodwood House—the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Richmond since 1697—features only long, shallow bends that allow Moers to unleash the Valkyrie. This feels predictably ferocious, but the raw g-loads are a lesser part of the experience than the vibrations and scream of the engine, which is reminiscent of Ferrari’s howling V-12 Formula 1 cars from the 1990s. Glancing at the data logger’s tachometer shows a couple of trips to the high 9000s, so still 1000 rpm or so short of the limiter.

The next corner is Molecomb, the location of most of the festival’s accidents, and Moers picks a cautious braking point. The first part of the turn is dispatched without drama, but as Moers feeds the power back in, there is a flare of revs, a jolt of oversteer, and the sudden application of some corrective steering lock. A keen amateur racer in his younger years and former leader of Mercedes-AMG, Moers is no stranger to high-performance cars. But he’s clearly found the Valkyrie’s limit in these slippery conditions. The track surface grows damp as we head under the trees that line the top of the course, and he opts for an easier pace, working the engine hard in its lower gears to please the crowd, but without attempting the huge speeds that the car could surely deliver. Our run is not being timed, so there’s nothing to win, but there’s plenty to lose with a highly public crash.

Having completed the course, Moers parks the Valkyrie at the top of the hill, where it is easily the most exotic thing among a sea of supercars. He laughs as he takes off his helmet and delivers his summary: “It’s an unbelievable car. If you drive it at [a track] like Silverstone, you can push much harder. You can’t do that here, of course. Traction is an issue—you felt that—but the handling is amazing. I expected a really tricky thing to drive, but it’s smooth even if it oversteers. There’s no snap in the car.”

Moers also led development of the AMG One in his former role, and he’s probably the only person in the world to have driven both it and the Valkyrie in anger. How do they compare? “They couldn’t be more different,” he says. “But which would I rather drive here? You don’t need to ask that, do you?”

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