THERE’S a fine tradition of introducing new judges to COTY with the same tender care fresh recruits are introduced to life in the army.
As this year’s debutante I get the full shock and awe of realising how much we’ve got to get through in a week: inspecting and driving 66 different cars at Ford’s You Yangs Proving Ground.
Then we take six on road before culling that to three, arguing some more and deciding on a winner, before heading home for tea and medals.
Meeting my fellow COTY judges also introduces me to the no-nonsense way that Wheels does things – if the arguments are this heated on day one will we reach the end of the week without a scrap?
Day two is when we start to drive the cars, but the need to take each one over either long or short loops consisting of the durability, handling and dirt tracks means a quick spin takes at least 15 minutes; it’s going to be a late dinner.
You Yangs allows road tests to be concentrated like Campbell’s soup, and although most fun is had on the high-speed handling course and sliding around on the gravel – we have to know what cars are like with ESC both off and on, after all – it’s the mountainous durability circuit that’s most informative.
With scarred tarmac and blind crests it’s a good simulation of the real world, and the cars that shine on it tend to be the ones that impress everywhere else. It also features the spectacularly evil ‘chatter bumps’, a set of ferocious corrugations spaced deliberately to put suspension out of phase when hit at speed.
The discipline works, but the loops also bring the humbling realisation that many of my on-paper favourites from the first day just don’t cut it.
But while there are some very clear losers, there are many more potential winners and the debate over which cars we’re going to take with us soon gets heated.
Having been involved in similar tests on two other continents I can say without risk of perjury that Wheels’ is the most comprehensive and toughest going.
With only good cars left we give full consideration to the most important question: which of our challengers is going to lift the crown…