We were invited out to Crested Butte, Colo. by the folks at Pirelli Tire North America to participate in the first "Aston Martin On Ice" event in the United States. Flying out from New York, to Denver, and then into Gunnison, Colorado is an experience in itself, but that was nothing compared to the 26 hours that followed.
From Gunnison, we took the short, scenic drive to Crested Butte, where it was made even more apparent that we were not in Brooklyn anymore. Coming from the East Coast and visiting Vermont and parts of Appalachia (and watching the Discovery Channel) doesn't prepare one for the stunning mountains of Colorado, especially not at an elevation of around 9,000 feet. Your city lungs start to work overtime and climbing five stairs leaves you winded and a little worried about controlling the reigns of over 500 horses. After taking in the sights, filling our stomachs with great food from the people at Ginger Cafe, dog sledding, and taking the night to rest at the Tipple House, it was off to the track.
What was once close to 200-acres of snowy Colorado pasture had been transformed over the course of three months into an adult playground. The ground was packed firm with snow and ice, the course had been tested by the professionals, and there was a cozy yurt built where we would snack, talk, and prepare ourselves for the 11 chariots outside. For the event, Aston Martin provided us with an impressive selection of cars: Four 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Coupes, three 2014 Aston Martin DB9s, two 2014 Vanquish Volantes, and two 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantages, each outfitted with tires from Pirelli's Winter Sottozero line.
After a pep talk and quick tips from chief driving instructor and racing guru Paul Gerrard, we were paired with professional drivers to teach us what we'd like to call “the art of driving” on ice in impressive cars with equally impressive tires. As the exercises went on, they got harder and harder. We were taught to adjust to the conditions, and that was a part of the fun. No one expected the tires to behave like standard road tires would on pavement, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well they handled when the fresh new track became familiar and worn.
In developing the newest Winter Sottozero III, Pirelli aimed to create tires that performed well in dry and wet conditions, could be used for sport, were comfortable to drive on, and would improve mileage in winter conditions. As with any winter tire, the tread design is very important. Sottozero IIIs feature a "directional double arrows pattern" that allow for more tread blocks on each tire and that actually dig through snow, providing better traction (like a lug sole on a boot).
Aston Martins are heavy cars, so the snow beneath you becomes compressed, which makes the ground wet and slippery. The treads of the tires feature "3D sipe technology" (thin slits cut into the rubber) which grabs snows and increases friction. Obviously, there was some loss of grip as we used and abused the track, but the sipes paired with wider grooves and the rounded shoulder of the tires for water displacement kept us firmly planted, even in tight turns. Another important (though less visible) design feature of the Sottozero III tire is its composition. Pirelli says that the tires are made of an "innovative compound with functional polymers" that keep the tires soft in all temperatures, as opposed to the rubber in road tires that becomes stiff when cold.
It is hard to compare this experience to any other, because who drives Aston Martins on a daily basis? All we know is that this kind of experience is made possible by cutting-edge design. Until next time.