Triple-digit speeds, high-g turns, and intentional spinouts at the official Aston Martin driving school.
Whether it’s road conditions and regulations, traffic constraints, or driver capability, the exceptional performance of Aston Martin cars is rarely exercised on the street. Well aware that few people buy their cars for trunk volume or fuel economy, Aston Martin has established a driving school that is equal parts driver training and vehicle capability demonstration. It offers both owners and Aston enthusiasts an opportunity to hone their skills behind the wheel while enjoying these British sports cars at their limits.
The program, called the Aston Martin Performance Driving Course, is offered in Lommel, Belgium; Milbrook, England; and Romeo, Michigan. For $2500, students receive a full day of one-on-one instruction in an Aston-provided car. Whether they drive a V8 Vantage or a 510-hp DBS is up to the student, although owners typically opt to drive the same model and transmission as the car parked in their garage.
During a half-day event at Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground, we were directed through an abbreviated version of the Performance Driving Course while rotating through the range of 2010 Aston Martin cars. The day consists of five different driving activities linking braking, speed, and agility.
High-speed straight The instructors waste no time getting you into the driver’s seat. After a couple passes down the 2.5-mile straightaway, your coach slides over to the passenger side and lets you behind the wheel. On the straight, you’ll blast to 120 mph before performing a full panic stop, pushing the brake as hard as you can and activating the antilock brakes. It’s a bit of a warm-up for the day, but our instructors also inform us that for some students it serves as an introduction to antilock brakes. Timid drivers may not recognize how quickly their cars can stop and how hard they can push on the pedal without damaging anything. At the very least, the braking exercise educates drivers that they can’t step on the brake pedal too hard in the event of an imminent collision.
Road course On the tight road course, drivers put together braking, steering, and acceleration, but all at relatively low speeds. With most of the driving done at about 40 mph, this exercise allows drivers to learn the nuances of braking and turn-in without the raised risks of higher speeds.
Vehicle dynamics area The Aston Martin program uses a wet, low-friction surface to demonstrate how stability control can keep cars on the road in slippery situations. First, with stability control disabled, we circle a wide arc of cones, where the slightest jab of the throttle or sharp steering input sends the car pirouetting across the pavement. But with stability control enabled, those harsh inputs are muted and corrected to keep things in check. If you’re severe enough (say cranking the steering wheel to full-lock and mashing the throttle), the vehicle’s programming strips you of all your power and leaves you creeping around in a slow, tight circle. It’s an effective demonstration of how electronics can save you in slippery situations, but this section has little to do with driver training---short of convincing you that stability control is a fun-sucking, butt-saving creation.
Hill route The hill route is the pinnacle of the day, offering higher speeds, almost constant elevation change, and great turns. The course doesn’t provide the generous runoffs and open sightlines of a clear track; instead, the course is marked by several guardrails, dropoffs, and blind corners. Students will still have fun hustling the car around the turns and over the dramatic elevation changes, but the surroundings may keep drivers from pushing their own limits. Still, from behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, the hill route is an incredible experience, with endless thrust for climbing hills and composed handling around bends. High-speed oval The day finishes with several laps on the high-speed oval. Ford’s Romeo track is a five-mile loop with a 186-mph neutral speed in the outside lane. That means you can take your hands off the wheel, as long as you’re traveling about 186 mph, and the car will track perfectly around the steeply banked curves. Always thinking about self-preservation, the Aston Martin instructors ask their students to exercise restraint on the oval. So although you might not top-speed your Aston, you will drive at sustained speeds of 150 mph and possibly take it beyond 170 mph on a straightaway. Our takeaway Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground offers some unique opportunities that you won’t find at most driving schools, particularly the high-speed oval. Hitting 170 mph is something that you’ll rarely experience at a driving school. However, we’re always most excited for the challenge and fun of a good road course. And in that respect, the Michigan Proving Ground isn’t the best place to teach a driving school.; Still, the Aston Martin Performance Driving Course offers a unique experience thanks to the cars you’ll drive, the exercises you’ll complete, and the instruction you’ll receive. One-on-one training on closed courses in some of the best performance cars built today is a rare thrill that you simply cannot replicate on public roads.