Brace it before you race it
The old saying, “Brace it before you race it,” isn't just for race cars. It also applies to street-driven cars that see any track time at all, and is even worthwhile for car that might never see a track but get driven aggressively. Spirited driving on a back road may not take the same toll as a track day, but it's still more demanding than a leisurely cruise on the highway. Aston Martin did a great job of building our cars to handle some abuse. In fact, these things are really, really stout. The downside is that over-building added a bit of weight, which is why a car as small as the V8 Vantage weighs nearly 3600 lbs despite being made of lightweight materials.
NOTE: I've edited this post to correct some information about brake fluid. The fluid Aston Martin uses is Castrol React Performance. I misspoke and said they use Castrol React SRF Racing. I've updated this post to reflect that correction.
Astons come some awesome brakes straight from the factory. They use 4- or 6-piston calipers, large slotted rotors, braided stainless steel lines, and the best DOT-approved brake fluid on the market. Some Astons even come with monstrous carbon ceramic brakes. The only area that needs attention when prepping for a track day is the pads. I'll cover the other parts of the brakes to explain those for peace of mind, and then get into the pads.
The brakes you have on your car depends on the year it was made. Both the DB9 and V8 Vantage originally came with 4-piston calipers front and rear. The V8 Vantage S introduced 6-piston calipers, with 2-piece rotors. The calipers eventually became standard fitment on all V8 Vantages. The DBS brought CCM brakes to the marque, which are now used on the V12 Vantage, V12 Vantage S, DB9, and Vanquish. I mentioned in a previous post that the brake calipers do experience wear and tear – the obvious effect being damage to the clear coat on the outside of the calipers. The less-than obvious damage is to the rubber boots inside the calipers, where the pistons are. The higher temperatures generated by the brakes on track will accelerate wear on those rubber boots. When they've worn out, they'll need to be replaced.
The original Brembo brake rotors are fantastic and can take a lot of abuse. There's no reason to worry about the OEM rotors for basic track prep. But keep in mind that rotors are a wear item - they'll need to be replaced just like brake pads, though the life cycle is much longer than pads. The harder you use the brakes, the quicker your pads and rotors will wear out. And the more aggressive your pads, the quicker your rotors will wear. If you're using race pads, for example, don't expect your rotors to last long! If you want to shed some pounds, I sell a set of 2-piece brake rotors made by Wilwood that offer a number of benefits. I'll cover those benefits in an upcoming post about weight reduction.
Most cars come with rubber brake hoses. Astons have braided stainless steel. The basics of how brakes work: You push the brake pedal, that pushes fluid, which pushes a piston inside the brake caliper, which forces a brake pad against a brake rotor to create a crap-load of friction, which stops the car. The problem with rubber brake hoses is that they can expand outwards, reducing the pressure applied to the piston, giving you less stopping power. Braided stainless steel brake lines prevent the “swell” of rubber lines, ensuring all the force pushed into the brake pedal gets translated into the brakes themselves. Point being... the OEM brake lines are great so there's no need to replace or otherwise change them unless something has gone wrong.
Aston Martin uses Castrol React Performance, which is a good brake fluid that can handle anything your brakes require on the street. If you want to upgrade to a better fluid, Motul RBF600 has higher wet and dry boiling points and costs less than the dealership charges for the Castrol brake fluid. If you want to go even further, Castrol also makes a fluid called React SRF Racing. It's the best DOT-approved brake fluid there is, but the cost is astronomical (over three times as expensive as Motul RBF 600!). Unless you find yourself boiling Motul's brake fluid on a track, there's no reason to upgrade to the SRF Racing fluid, especially considering the cost. For a comparison of the three fluids, take a look at this page.
This is where the brakes seem to struggle. The OEM Brembo pads are actually made by Pagid. Each company makes great products. But for some reason, they just aren't the best here. They work fine on the street, but they dust like crazy and they don't hold up on track. While those of us that track our Astons might be a small crowd, the dust levels produced by the OEM pads is just... bad. The dust is so bad that a lot of owners quickly get fed up with the factory-fitted brake pads and replace them just to alleviate the brake dust of the original pads. A great option if you don't track your car is the Porterfield R4S pad. These, however, are NOT a track pad. A lot of questions were being asked about these pads on the forums, so I decided to stress-test them myself by putting them on my own car and heading to Summit Point. Here's what I had to say:
If you're planning to track your car, which is the whole point of this blog post, you'll need to go with pads that are more aggressive. That's not to say you need race pads – those are actually terrible on the street – but at least get pads that are better suited for track use. You're still likely to get increased dust and noise compared to a quiet street pad like the Porterfield R4S, but the trade offs are necessary to ensure your safety on track.
The pads that were on my car when I bought it from the original owner were phenomenal on both street and track. The only downside was the dust, but there was no extra noise so I didn't mind dealing with one downside for all the benefits. Unfortunately, the pads weren't marked so I have no idea what they were. The original owner doesn't remember, and the shop that installed them years ago no longer has the records for them. After doing some digging, I think they might have been from StopTech, but looking at that company's website, I'm not sure if those same pads are still being offered – only the “OE Formula” pads are available. So I'll be adding brake pad testing to my already overloaded list of things to do. There are lots of options available from Porterfield, Carbotech, Pagid, and others, but finding the right balance of noise, dust, street performance, and track performance is key, and that's where it gets tricky. What one person needs on a car could be very different than what another person needs on that same type of car.
One more thing to consider is a set of brake cooling ducts. I have a set of these from RSC on my car, and I've never experienced brake fade with a set of good pads. The only time I've had braking issues was when I took the street-only Porterfields onto a track – fade was to be expected. But the cooling ducts help keep your brakes from overheating, which would result in loss of stopping power. It's just another thing you can do to prep your car for the track.
Astons come with three basic suspension types. First is the standard suspension – it's what's fitted to most cars and balances comfort with performance. Next is the Sport suspension. This one firms things up so the car can handle better, but sacrifices some comfort. Some cars offer a choice between the two (the V8 Vantage GT being one). The choice between the two is entirely subjective and both should be tested before deciding on one or the other. The third suspension type is the adjustable suspension (like that on the V12 Vantage S). It allows the driver to pick between settings to make it sportier or more comfortable depending on the road surfaces or driver's mood.
Suspension is a tricky thing to modify. It's a whole lot of geometry – one change can affect a dozen other things. Entire books have been written on the subject, and I'm not about to get into the weeds with it. The thing to keep is mind, though, is that you can modify your Aston to have a sportier suspension. You gain handling performance on track, but you generally sacrifice comfort on the street. Tracks are far smoother than most road surfaces, so a firm suspension setup that feels great on the track may feel like you're getting punched in the kidneys when driven on a poorly-maintained road.
There are only a couple options for springs available for Astons. H&R released their springs early on. They drop the car quite a bit, so you won't have a whole lot of clearance for things like speed bumps or steep driveways. They work very well on the track, however, and feel fine on most roads – though you'll need to take more care than ever to watch for bumps and potholes and the like. There's one big caveat with these: they do not pair well with the Sport suspension struts. A lot of owners complain of a “pogo effect” when using H&R springs with Sport struts.
Stuart, over at VelocityAP set out to alleviate the problems people have with the H&R springs by developing new ones. The VelocityAP springs don't lower the car as much, so clearance isn't as much of an issue, and they're designed to work with Sport suspensions so you won't experience the pogo effect when going over bumps.
Coilovers are the spring and strut in one unit, usually incorporating a top mount (or “top hat”). Again, only a couple options exist for these. KW makes a set, which are available in my store. I've yet to drive a car with these installed, but KW has an excellent reputation and I'm looking forward to getting a set to fit on my car and put to the test. The other option is Nitron. I'd never heard of Nitron until a couple months ago. When I looked into them, I found that they have a very strong following in certain circles, and a great reputation.
Progressive vs Linear Springs
In general, progressive springs offer a more comfortable ride while linear springs offer more predictability when pushed hard. That means a progressive-rate setup will generally be better for the street and a linear-rate setup will generally be better for the track. I say “generally” because there are a lot of variables that come into play. For example, if the car doesn't have a proper alignment, the handling won't be right regardless of which spring type is installed. And if the spring rates and strut valving aren't a match for each other and for the car, arguing progressive vs linear is a moot point. H&R's springs, VelocityAP's springs, and KW's V3 coilovers all use progressive springs. Nitron's coilovers use linear springs.
More to Consider
For some, just brake pads and a set of springs are enough to get an Aston Martin ready for track duty. But for others, there's still plenty more to get into. We'll get into more aspects of taking an Aston to the track in the next post in this series.