The Aston Martin Valkyrie Is the Most Extreme Car to Legally Wear License Plates
When, in 2016, Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing announced they were going to jointly create a hypercar around the vision of Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey the promise was it would offer the performance of a sharp-end racecar. This raised an obvious question. Who, if anybody, would be able to both afford and drive such a thing?
While the world is seemingly not short of ultra-rich buyers willing to drop seven figures on such ultra high-end automotive exotica as the finished Aston Martin Valkyrie. But how many of this group would have combined the necessary level of affluence - a $3 million pricetag equating to a pool of potential customers somewhere between the top 0.001 and 0.0001 percent of the global population - with the top flight racing careers that would seem necessary to master something so extreme. This is a car that pits 1142 hp of hybridized Cosworth-built V-12 against what Aston claims is just 2800lbs of dry mass.
Okay, so Newey’s early promise that the Valkyrie would be able to pace an LMP1 car got diluted during what was a long and complex gestation, the project having now spanned the careers of three different Aston CEOs. The more extreme performance claims are now being made for the track-only Valkyrie AMR Pro variant, which rides on slicks and can generate up to 3.5G of lateral acceleration. But even in its vanilla road-going guise the regular Valkyrie is almost certainly the fastest and most extreme vehicle ever to legally wear license plates, even if U.S. buyers will be relying on ‘show and display’ exemption rather than full Federal homologation.
There are many technical highlights beyond the mighty V12. The Valkyrie has active suspension which can both vary damping force at each corner, but also adjust the car’s height. Selecting the chassis’s Track mode lowers the car to help improve downforce, which is further managed by active wing elements front and rear, plus another couple in the huge diffuser tunnels. With everything working at maximum, Aston says the car can make up to 2420lbs of aerodynamic assistance between 135mph and the limited top speed of 220mph; it could have delivered more, but for the limitation of wearing street tires.
Although this Valkyrie is legitimately wearing gawky Brit licence plates, our first drive was reserved for the Bahrain International Circuit, this taking place a few weeks ahead of the start of the Formula 1 season. The venue denied the chance to establish how well the Valkyrie will cope with the real world, but it did mean experiencing the car in an environment it felt considerably better suited for. The Valkyrie might be street legal, but it is definitely not what most of us would think of as a road car.
That’s obvious from the moment you try to get in. Newey’s uncompromising vision prioritized aerodynamic performance and mass reduction over the irksome need to accommodate human cargo. The passenger compartment is small and centered deep within the silhouette which, as you get close to it, proves to be mostly formed of gaps and air channels. Access is through what feel closer to gullwing windows than actual doors, involving standing on the seat base and then sliding down into a position that leaves ankles at the same height as backside. The steering wheel detaches to ease access and the pedal box moves, but everything else is fixed, and to allow enough room to wear a helmet I had to have the lower seat padding removed.
The view out is more race car than road car. The tiny canopy windscreen wraps around like a visor; Aston had to create a special mechanism for the single wiper blade to allow it to follow the screen’s curved contours. The dashboard has three display screens - small ones on each side for the rear-view cameras and a slightly larger one offset to the right, Aston’s first touchscreen interface. The really important stuff is relayed by the screen in the center of the steering wheel boss, most obviously the rendered rev counter graduated all the way to 12,000rpm.
The naturally aspirated hand-built V12 is an engineering marvel, but also a brutally noisy one. It is mounted directly to the carbon-fiber tub and sits with the gears that drive its valvetrain positioned next to the firewall, meaning they are rotating just inches behind occupants’ heads. Pressing the start button cranks the engine for several seconds to build oil pressure, but the moment it fires it creates an ear-splitting din, loud even when experienced through the padding of a helmet and with high-frequency vibration accompanying it through the seat. Adding revs turns it louder and angrier, but never more melodious - and to experience it without ear protection would be to risk serious hearing loss. The Valkyrie sounds great from outside, but not from within.
Performance is huge, but the savagery of the engine and the speed at which it responds to accelerator input makes it feel more so. Even on Bahrain’s longer straightaways it was initially difficult to even experience the towering redline - the buzzing cacophony persuading me to pull the up-shift paddle well short of the limiter. Building confidence to hold out for the progressive illumination of the change-up lights revealed that the sound and fury does indeed continue to build all the way to the line. I once drove a Koenigsegg One:1 on a wet runway, battling for traction at three-figure speeds. On a wide and dry racetrack the Valkyrie is, honestly, more viscerally exciting.
The Valkyrie’s brakes are correspondingly good at canceling the huge speeds once biting hard, although the demonstrator’s pedal had a slightly dead feeling at the top of its travel. It could also be felt to be softening during longer and harder applications, although the rate or retardation didn’t diminish - even at the end of the kilometer-long start-finish straight where the Valkyrie had to go from 185mph to about 40mph for the very tight Turn One. The car had also done multiple stints on track with other drivers by the time I got to it, which might explain the signs of tiredness. The car also cut its redline a couple of times on track, apparently in response to spiking cooling temperatures caused by the high ambient temperatures; cruising in a higher gear for a couple of straights restored it to order.
But it isn’t just speed - the Valkyrie is impressively driveable on track. Sitting on road-legal rubber is the biggest limiting factor on a circuit. The Valkyrie’s Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires have to work hard in slower and tighter bends, both when persuading the car to turn and delivering traction for all the urge. Overall grip is undoubtedly lower than it would be in something like a slick-shod Radical SR10. But the steering is accurate and delivers dialed-in communication at all speeds, and even turning down the variable traction control - a function unlocked with the ESP’s track mode - the Valkyrie doesn’t feel snappy when pushed and even deliberately provoked. Higher speeds bring a rapid increase and obvious increase in downforce, one that brings a sense of huge stability on Bahrain’s longer corners. Aston says the Valkyrie can generate up to 2G of lateral acceleration on the Cup 2 tires with aero assistance, but the active suspension means it doesn’t feel short on wheel travel even as the forces build.
Ironically, the Valkyrie’s appeal as a track car may well be down to the compromises inherent in its putative road legality, even if it will almost feel massively compromised in the real world. A change to ride shotgun around in the AMR Pro immediately after driving the standard car emphasized this. Last year’s passenger ride at Homestead was with former World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx, but this time my pilot was long-term Aston works driver (and freshly minted Daytona 24 Rolex class winner) Darren Turner. The ride was, predictably, much faster than my time driving. Yet also, despite copious adrenaline highs, less fun. The AMR Pro’s ability to generate what is now confirmed as a 2700kg downforce peak on slick tires gives it the ability to pull sickening levels of lateral acceleration. 3.5G is impressive, but it’s not comfortable - certainly not for anyone who hasn’t spent months toning their neck muscles and working on their core strength. In the unlikely event of being offered free choice between the pair, I’d rather lap the regular Valkyrie.
The Valkyrie’s lengthy development program means that it is arriving after its parents have already got divorced. Aston’s move to become a Formula 1 constructor in its own right effectively ended the partnership with Red Bull, and the race team is now developing Newey’s next car by itself - the even more extreme track-only RB17 which he promises will overshadow even the AMR Pro on performance. Yet the Aston Martin Valkyrie does feel like a pinnacle of the late combustion era, and also a masterpiece. Let’s just hope that the lucky 150 buyers will indeed use them in anger.
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