CEO swaps his suit for Nomex to show that not all car bosses are boring bean counters
Last weekend, Aston Martin’s CEO & President – Dr Andy Palmer – swapped his normal surroundings of a hot stuffy boardroom for a hot stuffy race car.
Keen to show that he knows how to get down and dirty with his products instead of just seeing them as a stream of revenue (which, we might add, he helped almost double during the first half of the year as Aston Martin desperately seeks to recover from six years of losses), he flew to Texas to compete in the inaugural Hankook 24 Hours endurance race. It was at the rather excellent Circuit of The Americas.
Piloting the very same Vantage GT8 that won the SP8 class at the Nürburgring 24 Hours earlier this year, he not only finished the race but walked away with some silverware, finishing second in class after a long slog of a battle against a Cayman GT4 driven in part by James Hunt’s son, Freddie. We were there. It didn’t look easy.
Andy didn’t do it alone though, as there was quite an eclectic drivers’ line-up for the #232 Aston Martin. Sharing driving duties was Radio Le Mans commentator John Hindhaugh, Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood and 2017 Nürburgring 24-Hour class winner Peter Cate. Yep, rub-a-dub-dub, four men in a GT8’s tub, a baker, a commentator and the boss of a posh car maker (plus a Nurburgring specialist). Aside from being ammunition for a ropey joke, it also showed very visually that GT racing still has plenty of space for the gentleman racers.
But Andy getting involved was a poignant commitment to his product and the brand. Having witnessed him in the garage (always in suit trousers), he clearly doesn’t mind mucking in on the shop floor, helping the team’s pit crew (formed of the company’s Special Projects division who prep and run the Vulcan program and members of the Nürburgring’s test team) when a lower wishbone failed during the race.
Racing is something he’s keen to continue in order to better his knowledge and development of future products. Which, given he plans a range of seven new Aston models each with a seven-year lifecycle – plus the Valkyrie – before 2022, will be a vital skill set.
“Car company top management barely ever sit in their cars other than for the chauffeur to drive them home in,” Palmer told us. “They don’t know their products, they don’t love their products, they’re just an ROI or an EBT line on a piece of paper.
“It’s a bit extreme to say, but, what you end up is with are products engineered by accountants. And in that case, there’s always a compromise. Developing a car is thousands and thousands of compromises. When those compromises are being dictated by a strict budget, which is related to a strict return on investments, you end up with an average product.”
Keen to avoid average products, Andy got into racing to help better understand the dynamics of cars, so he can diagnose and communicate with Aston’s development team fluently.
The 24-hour American race – which was oddly split into two sessions of 14 hours and 10 hours – was the end of a year-long racing commitment for Palmer, having completed Aston Martin Owners Club race entries throughout the year at Snetterton, Brands Hatch, Rockingham and Silverstone. So, CEO or not, taking some silverware home isn’t a bad way to top off your first race season.
But do you think more car bosses should go racing? Let us know below. And keep an eye out on a full story from the race in the coming days.
STORY ROWAN HORNCASTLE