Le Mans Prototype performance for the street.
It might look like a still from a video game, but what you see here is the nearly finished design of the forthcoming AM-RB 001, the joint collaboration between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing. Its makers aim to claim the title of fastest street- legal car in the world—by a considerable margin—when it arrives, probably late next year. It could create a whole new category of car in need of a fresh prefix, over and beyond super-, mega-, and even hypercars.
It’s an extraordinary-looking thing, with a tiny passenger compartment and a motorsport-style “keel” running beneath the car, and the 001’s aerodynamic mission is demonstrated by the fact that the face it presents to the wind is as much gap as it is bodywork. According to Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, approximately 100 copies will be built—the final figure is still being decided—with two variants, one being fully street legal and one being track only.
We’ll have to wait until later for the full shock-and-awe statistics, but the critical one comes with confirmation from the man who led Red Bull’s side of the project, chief technical officer Adrian Newey, that the track version aims to be as fast as an LMP1-class Le Mans endurance racer.
“The one that is going to be LMP1-levels of performance will be the track-only car,” Newey told us. “Then we’ll make a road version of that. Many parts will be common, but obviously it will have an interior in it and won’t have quite the big wings of the track car. There will be differences, but the cars will be closely related.”
To put that into perspective, that means that around a circuit like Silverstone in the U.K., which a McLaren P1 or a Porsche 918 would lap in around two minutes, the AM-RB 001 will have to be 20 seconds quicker. The LMP1 Porsche 919 hybrid that set fastest lap during the race there this April clocked 1.40.303. All of which bears on an ongoing debate about how to define the “fastest” car.
The obvious answer is to measure top speed: The fastest car is the one that goes fastest, right? Another looks to lap times at one track or another, seeking to incorporate roadholding, braking, and accelerative performance into the definition.
Details Still UndefinedThe AM-RB 001’s engine will be a naturally aspirated V-12 mounted behind the teardrop passenger compartment and will drive the rear wheels only, possibly in conjunction with a Formula 1-style hybrid system.
“The honest truth is that we are evaluating a whole load of potential solutions,” Newey says. “I have a personal favorite, but I can’t talk about that, I’m afraid. What I can say is that central to the concept is that the car should be small, light, and efficient. And if I look at things like the current fad for dual-clutch gearboxes in this type of car, they typically weigh around 150 kilograms [330 pounds] and are very bulky. That makes that type of gearbox a complete non-starter, because it doesn’t fit with the concept of the car. We’re evaluating some different ideas in simulation. We hope to draw a conclusion in the next month or so.”
Even if there is an electrical side to the powertrain, it won’t be as aggressive as those in actual LMP1 race cars.
“It’s very difficult to put a power-to-weight ratio to a LMP1 because they have a very high level of electrical power that lasts for a small period of time,” Newey explains. “We’ve heard figures as high as 1100 horsepower or even 1200 in terms of their initial acceleration on a straight, but that fades as the battery runs out of charge. They might be getting to the end with just 300 or 400 horsepower. If [this car] has an electrical contribution, it will be a much smaller percentage of the internal-combustion engine’s output. So the power-to-weight ratio will be above the average for an LMP1 car, but lower initially.”
Bored on the Beach
The AM-RB 001 is Newey’s brainchild. He’s most famous as a Formula 1 designer and says he’s been dreaming about producing a roadgoing car since the age of six. He was working on what became this project well before the partnership with Aston Martin began around 18 months ago. Some will even recognize something of the design language of the AM-RB 001 as a distant relation to a Red Bull–branded virtual X1 hypercar he created for the Gran Turismo 5 video game.
“From time to time you’re sitting bored on a beach or whatever and start doodling, and then throw those doodles into a pile, it gradually grows,” Newey says. “[This project is] taking some of those and embodying them in one vehicle. Of course, many are mutually exclusive so you choose which one you want to go for and toss the rest away. There’s a continuity going from Formula 1 through the PlayStation X2010 car to this, a very loose lineage. If you were to line the three cars up alongside each other, you could start to see the evolution, if you like, from chimpanzee to homo sapiens.”
Aston’s role has been to productionize and market the car. Reichman says the company already has 350 potential customers who’ve expressed serious interest despite being told that the price, not yet established, is likely to top $3 million.
“It’s been a very productive relationship,” says Newey. “I drew the original car blissfully ignorant of all the regulations and bumper tests and so forth, and of course we fell afoul of quite a few of those. So working with Marek and his people has been a very positive iterative loop where we’ve bounced ideas around and come up with different solutions. We’ve tried to meet the regulations while making the fewest modifications to the original form.”
Reichmann agrees: “I think we immediately hit it off in terms of understanding the desires of either party in terms of visual language. The desire was to have something that wasn’t radical—that’s the wrong word—but which was pure, simple, and dramatic. I think every designer wants to produce the most efficient object.”
Room for Two—Really
Although the passenger compartment looks barely big enough for one occupant, we’re assured it will actually fit two full-size men.
“I came up with the package and shape that involved the seating position and the cabin size prior to starting the relationship with Aston Martin,” Newey says. “We had a meeting where we presented the design to [Aston CEO] Andy Palmer and Marek, and I think there was a big ‘how are we going to fit in that?’ moment.”
Reichman continues the story: “We made a test buck, with the test being that I’m six feet four inches and I had to sit next to Andy, and you know what Andy looks like,” in reference to Palmer’s stout proportions. “There’s a photograph from very early on, it must have been 16 months ago, of me and Andy sitting in the original packaging buck. That concept has been the basis for this car.”
Newey says AM-RB 001 will have active aerodynamic elements to trim itself for high speed as well as significant downforce to enhance cornering grip. It will have electronic driver-assist technology such as traction and stability control because “at this level of performance, we have to.” These will be fully switchable, though, for any owner who wants to take full control without the assists.
Although aiming to make the fastest car in the world, at least by the lap-time definition, Newey insists that the project hasn’t been motivated by numbers, in the process throwing some shade at the Bugatti Chiron.
“We’re talking about the driving experience, not just about the statistics. It’s about how you feel in the car, the pleasure you take from driving it, feeling involved in it,” he says. “If we take the example of the manufacturer that’s chased the very high level of top speed, then it’s arguably not a terribly involving car to drive. We want to produce a car that puts a smile on your face every time.”
So, does the AM-RB 001 alone sate Newey’s long-term desire to design road cars, or does he imagine others to come?
“That’s a very good question. I think I would be interested if this works well and is well received, in developing from that into something that’s slightly more mainstream, something that can be enjoyed by more people.”