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Watch Aston Martins race in snow, proving the miracle of winter tires

March 10, 2014

With the right tires, you can do anything. You can make a Miata hang with a Porsche, build a truck that can climb a wall, or, perhaps most amusingly, outfit a 565-hp Aston Martin that’ll run laps around an ice-covered pasture in Colorado. Which is what we did at Aston Martin On Ice, an event that put a fleet of British supercars on a road course made entirely of ice and snow.

While normally an event like this would be organized for a specific reason — say, to show off a new all-wheel-drive system — Astons on Ice seemed to exist for the simple reason that it’s exceedingly excellent to drift a bunch of Astons around a plowed field outside Crested Butte. Which is reason enough for me.

While there are still rear-wheel-drive cars that are nose-heavy (see: Ford Mustang GT500), most of the sportier cars these days strive for 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution. Astons, with their front-midengine layout and rear transaxles, all skew toward 50-50, if not a rear weight bias. So add a set of Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, and you’ve got a vehicle that will chew its way through some truly nasty weather. I used to drive a car with a similar weight distribution and tires (a 1998 BMW M3 on Vredestein Wintracs), and it would literally plow snow with the front air dam. The added attraction of this approach is that when summer comes, you’re not lugging around hundreds of pounds of all-wheel-drive hardware that you probably don’t need.

So then, after some instruction from a team of race drivers tasked with keeping us rubes off the wall (or, in this case, the wall-like icy snowbanks), we set out to turn some laps. This was an interesting context for my first time driving the V-12 Vantage, Aston’s smallest car (at just $180,000) with its most powerful motor. At first I lapped in Track Mode, which lets you have some fun before stepping in withstability-control intervention. With the Vantage dancing around and finding plenty of grip, I tried switching everything completely off and immediately spun on the icy ess-turn hairpins. Eventually, as the track got polished by successive laps, cars would spin here even with stability control engaged. Thus proving another point: you can’t fight ice.

The head of the instructors, Paul Gerrard, explained, “The goal when you’re on ice is just to get across it. You want to try to draw a straight line where you’re not attempting to turn or brake or accelerate, because the ice won’t let you.” Adding to the fun, the track surface changed with every single lap, so whatever worked once might not work the next time. On one corner I found myself straying way off the racing line to use drifting snow to give the front tires some bite for turn-in, then easing straight across the sheer ice of the apex while following Gerrard’s advice not to try to do too much. I thought I was pretty clever until the walkie-talkie in the console crackled to life with a reprimand from one of the instructors, who observed that I’d cheated so far toward the edge of the track that the rear end nearly kissed the snow bank. As stated, Aston would prefer not to leave any Vanquishes lodged in impromptu igloos till the spring melt.

As a practical matter, Aston proved that a set of winter tires can transform any of its cars into a worthy year-round chariot. The question is, will anyone who owns an Aston actually do that? Probably not many, but I hope some of them do. Given the kind of winter we’ve had, what better cure for seasonal affective disorder than a jaunt behind the wheel of a car so indelibly associated with summer? Get a Vanquish Volante, put the top down, play some reggae and live the dream at 20 degrees Fahrenheit.