If you’ve ever thundered up the M40 and seen a huge building with a 60’ side profile of an Aston Martin on it, then you’ve seen Prodrive’s HQ, near Banbury. And it was here that a small group of B100 members met for a welcoming coffee and biscuit prior to splendid day’s motoring experience.
Jackie was the inimitable host that met and guided us through a small glimpse into Prodrive’s staggering breadth of interests; most people would associate Prodrive with Subaru and Colin McRae’s success in rallying, but the start goes much further back, to 1984 in fact, when David Richards brought together Rothmans and Porsche for the European and Middle East Rally Championships under the management of his new company. Under this umbrella, David Richards moved forwards with the legendary group B cars, running a Metro 6R4 (originally conceived to have a V8, believe it or not!) and on with a BMW M3 before starting his partnership with Subaru. Colin McRae’s Impreza sits in Prodrive’s lobby, resplendent in its racing blue “555” livery, alongside a Le Mans Aston Martin sporting the class winning 2017 colours.
Behind the double doors and into the workshops a long row of classic Prodrive motors exist, ranging from the early Porsche and 6R4 through to Subaru’s, the 2000 Ford Mondeo BTCC winner, Jenson Button’s BAR F-1 car and a WEC Mini Cooper. These incredible cars make up a stunning entrance, behind which lie all of Aston Martin Racing’s current cars. It was a real treat to see the actual Le Mans winning #97 car (the one in the lobby isn’t the actual car…) as well as the new crop of Vantage race cars being prepared for their next outing to Le Mans in June. The body panels live separately along with a host of spares in their own individual ‘stables’ so they can be easily assembled for transport. As the old adage goes, “How do you make a small fortune in racing? Start with a large fortune!” and at £25k just for a rear diffuser, and £500 for the small titanium lugs that fit it to the car, it’s easy to see how.
Engineers were busy fettling the cars with suspension parts, massive brake discs and the most beautiful brake calipers ever seen all being tweaked and assembled. Opposite an enormous, stuffed trophy cabinet was a small hatch in the wall with groups of engineers queuing up before it, collecting large bundles of ‘Aston Martin Racing’ branded racewear which they proudly carried back to their lockers in readiness for the team’s next outing.
Moving through to the second part of the building, the group saw some of the development work and other aspects of Prodrive’s business. The area was classified, but contained several beautiful parts for Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover which make up part of the bespoke limousine business. Other sections held huge CNC machines, running 24/7 cutting intricate shapes from billet aluminium. As the group made its way back through the workshops to reception, bespoke, hand built wiring looms were evident, along with Astons from other race teams and even some Rally Cross Renaults being rebuilt. There was just enough time to pass on thanks and pick up some Aston Martin Racing posters before moving off to the afternoon’s activities at Base Performance Simulators, just a couple of miles down the road.
The group was warmly welcomed and treated to a magnificent buffet whilst being briefed; BPS is run by Le Mans winner Darren Turner, and have 2 race simulators, one a dynamic single seater, the other uses an Aston GT3 tub and cockpit section to offer the GT experience. It is used by everyone from big race teams, who are training upcoming talent, to drivers who want to polish their skills at unfamiliar tracks, to corporate team building days. The simulators themselves have three overhead projectors which push a blended image onto a large, curved screen, with authentic sounds blasting out from speakers behind the driver for the totally immersive experience.
With the weather set to ‘fine’, drivers enjoyed the Red Bull Ring, a short course of just 10 turns that was relatively simple to learn and started to put up some competitive times. Drivers had plenty of opportunity to work hard at their technique in both simulators, before the fastest in each class were presented with a bottle of champagne for their efforts – well done to Charlie and to Jonnie for putting up great times in the single seat and GT respectively!
Special thanks must go to Roger and Lucy Woodbridge and their team at Base Performance Simulators; to Jackie, the host at Prodrive, for delivering a fascinating morning, and to Heather Jackson for corralling the B100 members to start with!
HJ: Thanks Jonnie for a wonderful recap of what was a stunning day!
NB: All the members who have sent their booking for the Mike Hawthorn Museum visit next month are all accounted for. Next up:- Look out for the booking form for Classic Motor Cars and Marches Academy Tour in Shropshire on 25th July