I remember dreaming as a child, looking at a scientific calculator about the day when I could write my notes on a small handheld device. And here I am at 34,000 feet on a luxurious Emirates double-decker plane, thinking about a remarkable car and an iconic F1 track, and making notes on my phone. What a time to be alive!
The Aston Martin GT4 is gorgeous! And although I’ve seen a few Astons around T&T, taken photos and admired them from afar, I’m very proud to say, having only just realised, that this was going to be my very first drive in an Aston. And not only was I going to be at the wheel of one for a whole 20 minutes, but strapped into the five-point harness of a full-bore GT4 racing version, with no compromise made! This is about the Zorceiest way of experiencing the brand with a regular driver’s licence. And the best part is, you can too! Driver requirements are very basic, and the car is predictable and easy to drive, especially for Gran Turismo fans.
I’m very proud to say, having only just realised, that this was going to be my very first drive in an Aston
“It has close to 500 horsepower so on acceleration it will surprise you. The brakes require 67lb of force to move, because they are unassisted. The engine is placed closer to the firewall so the car is very balanced. And the car is on slick tyres,” said the briefing instructor. This was one of the key details I was waiting to hear… slicks!
If you think about it, I am going out on a completely new configuration of a track that I’ve only driven in Real Racing 3, on my phone. They are currently upgrading the F1 circuit, and thus I’ve been rerouted. My need for slicks is more for the comfort of masking jet-lagged driving (despite the in-taxi power nap) than actually cracking a top-tier lap time, at least for the first few laps. My game plan comes from years of Autocross, (or as it’s called in Trinidad and Tobago, Solodex)– the first few laps like grandpa, the last few like James Bond.
My game plan comes from years of Autocross, (or as it’s called in Trinidad and Tobago, Solodex)– the first few laps like grandpa, the last few like James Bond.
During the briefing, the cone system was explained, a double cone for the braking point, another cone on the outside of the corner to indicate where you initiate your turn-in, then your apex cone and your exit cone at the end of the corner. Most of the course consisted of late apex corners, with a blind corner after a crest in one instance. Apart from that, you floor it.
With the steering wheel off, I contort my way into the car, helmet on. My instructor helps me strap in. I need to tag my RFID wristband on the car’s centrally located reader to start the ignition. Nice to know there’s a system in place to ensure that only paying customers or authorised guests get to drive. The seat is snug but not uncomfortable. They move the pedal box back to accommodate my legs. This way the car’s centre of mass is minimally affected by the seating position. The steering is back in place and I pull both paddles back for neutral, press the brake and the start button, and the Aston’s gratifying V8 rumble fills the pit lane. Those of you old enough to remember how good your car would sound screaming past the wall at Kay Donna Drive-In Cinema in Trinidad can especially relate; it’s like that but deeper and more visceral. Based on the Aston Martin Vantage road car, the GT4 shares the same 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 used in the GT3 (535hp/700Nm in GT3-spec) and GTE racecars.
They move the pedal box back to accommodate my legs. This way the car’s centre of mass is minimally affected by the seating position.
Based on the Aston Martin Vantage road car, the GT4 shares the same 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 used in the GT3 (535hp/700Nm in GT3-spec) and GTE racecars.
Once first is engaged, I quickly switch to second and trundle up to the pit exit, soon enough I get the green lights and I’m out on the track! I short shift every gear just to get a feel for the sequential’s intensity, and gradually build the revs up in each gear after gearing down for each upcoming corner. My instructor warns me not to use first anywhere on the circuit, unless I come to a stop. That I definitely didn’t plan to do.
As I approach each corner, he signals fourth, third, second, etc., and observes my lines. During the first few laps, it is difficult to see the apex cones until I figure out I need to hold the outer line until the turn-in cone. Everyone else is passing me but I don’t care–I am in a racecar on an F1 track! One cone in particular remains a little difficult to find, but I am slowly getting the hang of the course. By lap three, I am running to the glorious redline and totally enjoying the LEDs light up on the steering wheel, then all the crackles and pops on the downshifts.
By lap three, I am running to the glorious redline and totally enjoying the LEDs light up on the steering wheel, then all the crackles and pops on the downshifts.
This feels like a pure racecar, and it is as the factory would supply to any racing customer worldwide. Just as I am starting to get excited, the instructor is waving at me to slow down. Am I doing something wrong? Is the car ok? I see flashing yellow lights on the course; I am now in the mandatory cool-down period as was mentioned in our briefing. I imagine they engineered this lap to keep the cars cool enough for the duration of the session and to do the same for the drivers who would very likely be on the verge of going all-out. This is very professional management of the experience in my opinion, especially from a risk standpoint. Soon I am back to green and the session is underway once more. I am calmer now, but focused.
Just as I am starting to get excited, the instructor is waving at me to slow down. Am I doing something wrong? Is the car ok?
The effortless acceleration and thunderous din from the twin-turbocharged V8 makes me smile, pressing my cheeks against the tightly fitted helmet. The crisp but subtle buck of the transmission on gear change, adds to the racy feeling, but now I want to feel the car’s handling. The brake force required is heavier than a regular car but easy for me to manage, the pedal feel is also nice and occasionally, we get a few squeaking noises from the race pads. I start braking later and later and carrying more and more speed into the corners. The slicks are warm now and gripping like Spiderman to the ceiling. I feel the car’s suspension compress, and the big Aston leans into the corner. The tyres offer no protest. Nor do they veer anywhere off-course. Clearly, I am nowhere near the absolute limits of this car.
The effortless acceleration and thunderous din from the twin-turbocharged V8 makes me smile, pressing my cheeks against the tightly fitted helmet.
The course is now becoming familiar, and I start letting the revs run into redline, that is, the blue row of LEDs after the reds in the steering wheel, causing the occasional flame pop on gear shift. How glorious this must be looking and sounding outside of the car! Without realising it, I am beginning to string the slower parts of the course into faster, simpler lines, threading the needle and probing the limits of corner exit grip. Again, there is zero fuss, the slightest wiggle of the hips and she rockets out of the curves in third, roaring like King Kong, into fourth and then fifth. I touch 196km/h on the main straight. I reckon with a few more laps I’d easily be able to top 200.
I touch 196km/h on the main straight. I reckon with a few more laps I’d easily be able to top 200.
I am now cleaning up the little stuff, going closer to the braking cones, holding power through the turns and feeding in the throttle, feeling the shifts in inertia as I turn the wheel. My driving instructor stopped signalling anything to me about a lap ago, so I must be doing something right. I am starting to enjoy the feeling and I want to push more.
My driving instructor stopped signalling anything to me about a lap ago, so I must be doing something right.
The cars in front of me slow down, and just like that I ask myself, Was that 20 minutes? I take a lap to cool down then, my final to drive around to the pit lane entrance. I pull up behind the others, tug both paddles for neutral and switch off, then unlock my harness and clamber out of the GT4.
I thank my instructor, who seems to be pretty excited to talk to his counterparts. I walk over to the lockers and retrieve my camera bag. It was always secure, I am assured, as no one steals in these parts on account of severe penalties.
The instructor comes back and we take a few photos for posterity. I have a few last moments to soak in the sights and sounds of the pit lane, and then a few more from the stands to get more photos for your enjoyment, and then, it is time to go. Luckily, I paid a little extra to get footage of the fastest lap of my session, which, I am told, is the fastest customer lap for the day.
...I paid a little extra to get footage of the fastest lap of my session, which, I am told, is the fastest customer lap for the day.
See Narend's fastest lap in the Aston Martin GT4 here:
Meanwhile, a glamping (glam + camping) lime is underway at the beach in Bab Al Noujoum on Houdariyat Island. This is my next stop. At least I have the first item on my bucket list for this trip ticked off, however, I have a feeling that I will want to repeat it a few times in the future.
In addition to the Aston Martin GT4, the Yas Marina Circuit also offers a variety of driving experiences including the Caterham Seven, Formula 3000, and the Ferrari 458 GT!
They also offer karting, motorcycle, drifting, drag racing and fitness experiences. Back in 2018, Aston Martin chose the Yas Marina Circuit as their home in the Middle East, serving the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey at their offices and committed to providing six Vantage GT4s for use on the circuit, which arrived in 2019. You can also book a full tour of the F1-spec facility.
Permit me to thank a few very special people, who helped make this dream come true. Special thanks to Gary McSween, Rajesh Persad, and our respective team for their vision, efforts and assistance in securing this trip to Dubai. Thanks to the LeClerc family for hosting me in Abu Dhabi, and to Fast Parts Caribbean and Trinituner.com for their assistance in making this feature possible. Thanks, as well, to the very helpful and co-operative staff at Yas Marina Circuit.