Never give a bunch of journos, photographers and videographers a two-way radio. It only brings out the even-worse in them. Dad jokes, live fart transmissions, dodgy celebrity impersonations, you name it. In fact, every form of lame humour from puns right up to ‘Houston, we have a fly on the lens’. Laugh? I nearly started…
But here’s where Performance Car of the Year 2020 is different. The moment we started our hillclimb loop, the radio chatter just stopped. Dead. No more. Radio silence. After the constant, crackly barrage of pre-pubescent nonsense, this was almost like a temporary armistice to bury the dead jokes and cart the wounded gags back to the trenches.
It’s not that the MOTOR army had suddenly discovered the awful truth about man-boob jokes or that the anti-pun lobby had intervened with firearms. Instead, the reality of the cars we were now punting up and down a sinuous piece of hotmix laid up a hill almost steep enough to be called an escarpment had dawned. And we weren’t going to miss a millisecond of it for all the crap jokes in all the Christmas bon-bons ever made.
And so it began; a remarkable, wonderful afternoon of punching this year’s pick of the crop across several kliks of swishing corners and enough elevation to test Newton-metres going up and brakes coming down.
After decades of PCOTYs, I reckon that very reaction to the world’s best cars all in one place and all there for our delectation is the defining mood at this event. It doesn’t matter where the cars are from or who made them; if they’re at PCOTY, it’s only because they’re brilliant. And that inspires everything from reverence to awe. Not to mention hooliganism.
However, I’d be lying if I said that PCOTY was simply an endless stream of good times and sweet vibes. Nope, there’s a bit more to it than that. And while I know I won’t be engendering any emotions of sympathy among you lot (who would give your eye teeth to join us, and rightly so) it’s equally true that both beer and skittles can be found wanting at times during PCOTY. Often at the same time.
The privations started early this year when I arrived at MOTOR HQ to grab a car to drive from Melbourne to The Bend (our base for much if this year’s event). Now, I’d be prepared to drive a 30-year-old Mighty Boy to Tailem Bend if it was going to get me a day on the brilliant new racetrack that lies about an hour east of Adelaide. Which is lucky because, instead of one of this year’s contenders to punt westward, I discovered I was one of a gang down to travel the 700km in a HiAce bus. Naturally, I grabbed the keys (experience has taught me that the farther forward you sit in these things, the comfier).
The other non-competitive vehicle we dragged across to The Bend this year was an enclosed trailer for the shooters to hurl all their video crap inside. Yep, while the crew itself is a compact one (on so many levels), the sheer amount of cabling, computers, monitors, drones, cameras, tripods, dollies and gawd-knows what else requires not just a Ford Escape but also a trailer to transport it. And I’m not sure where they got the trailer from, but if it wasn’t a decommissioned port-a-loo (a two-holer, I’d say) then I don’t know my demountable dunnies.
Not that that was any of my concern, but I still had to get half-a-dozen bodies across State lines and I had to do it in a HiAce. Okay, so the trip to Tailem Bend isn’t a taxing one (I think there’s one corner) and, to be fair, the all-new Toyota school bus is a big, big improvement over the old cab-forward dunger. But somehow I was having trouble getting my PCOTY groove on. Till we got to the track.
Just the sight of the Tailem Bend circuit is enough to give folks like us the giggles. Fast, flowing and brand-spankers, the surface is grippy, the corners inventive and the whole place is set up to make tappet-heads smile, right down to a foyer stuffed with every kind of four-wheeled marvel ever to belch flames or leak oil. Or both. If you’re ever passing The Bend, visit the foyer for five minutes and leave an hour later. The food and coffee are pretty good too.
Day One ended with art being committed by the side of a rural road in the middle of nowhere. How the snappers find these spots suggests one of two things: either they’re navigational geniuses, or (my own personal theory) they roam around in a constant state of lostness. But it was still fun doing the tracking shots behind the Lotus and, thanks to the recently slashed paddocks leaving grass all over the road, watching how the rear diffuser did its thing.
Actually, the only thing more fun than watching the Exige blast through nature’s wind-tunnel was watching Robbo getting in or – even funnier – out of the thing. The heat haze from underneath the Camaro was pretty amazing too, and a reminder not to park it in any of those paddocks.
Of course, some PCOTY things never change. That started with the weather. Despite being the worst drought in recorded history, PCOTY continues to be a superior rain-maker to any cloud-seeding enterprise. I’m not sure how we pull this off so consistently, but if your farm needs thunderstorms and a couple of nights of solid rain, consider building a racetrack in the north paddock and inviting MOTOR for some laps.
Another PCOTY staple is the repeated crushed sternum suffered by myself and Robbo as we quickly dive into a car recently vacated by any of the microbial Motor staffers. Why can’t they learn to click the seat back a couple of notches as they leave? And why are they all such runts? Louis and Scotty aren’t even that short (Dylan’s another story), but Scotty seems intent on sitting on top of the tiller (nearer my God to thee, or sumpin’) and Louis races billy-carts, so he’s well accustomed to being contorted while going way too fast.
Oh, and there was another PCOTY tradition that was paid full respect: We killed some tyres. But, just to prove that we’re still idiots, even though we had spares for some of the grunters, we didn’t have a jack that would go under the Camaro. And then the rear bags on the Hyundai decided it was a good day to delaminate, so we ended up at a local tyre shop anyway. Glad we hauled that trolley-jack 1500km.
For the last night we propped in lovely downtown Nuriootpa, though not before standing in yet another paddock all afternoon and into the evening for golden light to descend of course. Chalk up our fourth straight 14-hour day. I was so baked by the end of it, I honestly don’t recall what car I drove back to the motel (but knowing me, it was probably the Porsche). I swear, it was all I could do to eat pizza and drink beer.
So, double-shifts, sunburn, petrol fumes and exploding tyres: Just another PCOTY then? No, not really. See, for a bloke my age, there’s something missing that not even all the US-made thunder-coupes, high-end Euros and J-spec ninjas can completely replace. I speak, of course, of the home-grown big-hitters that were once such a big part of PCOTY.
This is the second year we haven’t had at least one home-grown hero for this annual smack-fest. The HSV W1 was the last of them, back in 2017, but they’re all history now. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about that, but whatever the emotion it’s not one I’m keen on.
Okay, so not everybody reading this, nor even everybody at PCOTY, would agree this is a loss. And I’ll admit, the world has moved on. It’s just that I’m not sure all forward movement equals actual progress.
Only the great and the good on Performance Car of the Year 2020
Aspects of PCOTY2020 finalists that made Robbo happy
01 - Renault front seats
Comfortable, supportive, gorgeous
02 - AMG A35 double dash
Looks schmick and all the info you’d ever want
03 - Supra reverse light
Such a thing has never looked cooler
04 - Camaro temp dials
Desirable info, neatly positioned and look ace
05 - GT63 S steering wheel
Cruise to radio to TC, with beautiful tactility
Aspects of PCOTY2020 finalists that made Robbo angry
01 - Lotus door reflector
Like there was a sale at Bunnings. Really?
02 - Supra's 10 fake vents
Orrite, we get it, you’re all sporty and stuff
03 - Gearshifter in Stelvio
Fiddly and cheap; feels too plasticky
04 - Foot brake in Lexus
Straight out of a Camry, though Morley likes it
05 - Rear ‘seat’ in Renault
Put a half cage in there and be done with it