It is not unprecedented for one of the auto industry’s joint ventures to arrive after the alliance behind it has ended in divorce. That’s what seems to have happened with the much-delayed Aston Martin Valkyrie.
The original idea for what is close to a street legal LMP1 racer came from legendary Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey. It was jointly created by his employer, Red Bull Racing, and Aston Martin and originally developed under the code name AM-RB 001.
But Aston’s change of ownership and management last year brought the sportscar maker its own F1 team – formally Racing Point – meaning the relationship behind the Valkyrie seems set to end. Aston has confirmed its next mid-engined car, the Valhalla that was originally known as the AM-RB 003, will now be developed in-house.
Which is probably why, when Newey got to drive the Valkyrie at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this month, he did so wearing full Red bull Racing overalls, in stark and obvious contrast to the Aston Martin branding around him. And after his run in the 1,160-hp hypercar, he spoke exclusively to Autoweek about the experience.
“The gestation period was longer than we hoped,” he admitted to us (the original plan was for customer deliveries to begin in 2018), “but that in a way makes it all the more satisfying when you do get it running. I’d driven it at Silverstone before, but this was the first time I’d driven it in public. Obviously Goodwood isn’t really a place to push a car too hard unless you’re really experienced.”
As the 1.16 mile course is basically the Duke of Richmond’s driveway, that’s no exaggeration. Newey says the car felt close to his original ambition, but with a way to go until it is fully ready for customers.
“It’s still slightly raw,” he admitted, “there’s some development still to be done. The car at Goodwood didn’t have active suspension and there’s a lot of mapping work still to be done. But I think when everything comes together it will be really special.”
Although the Valkyrie broke down during one of its earlier runs, spectators were surprised to see how easy to drive it was when maneuvering around the paddock at low speeds. It’s an unexpected quality in a 1,160 hp hybrid hypercar with a V12 engine that can rev to 11,400 rpm, but Newey tells Autoweek it was always part of his ambition.
“We put a lot of initial thought into that, and did a lot of simulation work. That led to the use of the electric motor in particular, when the car moves off it’s actually got the clutch disengaged and it starts on the motor – which gives that very good low speed drivability.”
The e-motor also replaces a conventional reverse gear, and has allowed the Valkyrie to use a much lighter transmission.
“I wanted to avoid a double-clutch gearbox as they’re very heavy and physically big, which compromises the aerodynamics. So we’ve used a twin barrel gearbox where odd and even gears have their own selector barrel, just like in a Formula 1 car,” he said, “it’s a dog gearbox which is generally perceived as being very uncomfortable in a road car, but with the combination of the electric motor – which also works as a damper for the transmission – we could have something that would be driveable without all sorts of strange oscillations.”
Newey admits the noise of the V12 engine, mounted directly to the rear of the carbonfiber passenger compartment, is higher than anticipated. We suspect few owners will complain given the purity of the sound itself.
“The cabin noise is higher than we wanted, I have to be honest,” he said, “but I don’t think we’re unique in this. There will be at least one other high performance hypercar coming out with the requirement to either wear headphones or earpieces, whichever is your preference [we think he means the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50, also using a structural Cosworth V12]… Luggage space is also smaller than I’d hoped, which is down to our inexperience of realizing just how much paraphernalia is associated with modern road cars when it comes to emissions standards.”
But overall, Newey is justifiably proud of what has been achieved, and predicts the Valkyrie will be seen as a high water mark for the hypercar genre.
“Yeah, I hope so. It’s a car that’s perhaps more targeted and focussed than other cars have been. We didn’t do any benchmarking against potential competitor cars because we wanted to try and establish a new genre of car that was more track biased than other road cars have been, while still making it usable on the road. The analogy I always had in my mind was a modern superbike: incredible performance but you can take it to the shops. And you need to really have your wits about you or it will bite you. When you really enjoy it is when you get to take it on track.”
While the partnership between Red Bull and Aston looks set to end, Newey still has ambitions to do other street legal cars.
“Red Bull Advanced Technologies was set up for exactly this project,” he said, “but it’s grown and matured and we’ve got quite a lot of commercial projects on the books now. That makes it easier to take on a road car or a track biased car that can be put on the road in a shorter timescale because of the extra experience we’ve gathered.”
“So yes, absolutely, we would like to do another vehicle. Exactly what that is, what it’s targeted at, is subject to debate. Watch this space is probably the easiest way to put it.”
The Aston Martin Valkyrie: Thumbs up, or down? Let us know in the comments.
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