DAY ONE: So once again the planets align and the cry for counsel rings out from those contemplating the investment of half-a-house-worth in the hastening of their commute. And once again the editorial commitment is made to suffer the swiftest bolides in all the land solely for the edification of you, dear reader. As bloody if.
But this is no ordinary PCOTY, oh no. The field has broadened from the pick-which-Porsche pack of recent years to include serious contenders from Ferrari and Lamborghini… and this maturity will be matched by the addition, to the jury, of Ex-Editor Tim Robson and Bathurst-blaster John Bowe, finally resulting in a panel old enough to grow a beard.
Not that good sense has totally triumphed. There’s always the artists. And this year a six-strong squad nominally under the control of photographer Ellen Dewar will record proceedings using, by the look of 'em, everything from cameras to crayons.
And, finally, once again I am invited to chronicle the endeavour and, though humbled, again caused to wonder why they can’t do it somewhere near my place and in the afternoon. But no matter, because when all hands assemble, with greetings and sharing of recent adventures, it is a moment of merriment diminished only by Photographer Dewar’s complaint of a breast freshly damaged by mosquito bite… and immediately revived by the wave of inspection and offers that show how truly caring this ensemble is.
A group indeed worthy of the array spread before us at Wodonga’s Driver Education Centre of Australia (DECA), a fleet of 12 missiles boasting 4370kW (that’s 490bhp each, old timers) and collectively besting $2,700,000. However, these figures, although impressive, fail to convey the true value of this assembly; because it represents, in style and substance, the state of the art as envisaged by the auto-cultures of America, Australia, Japan, Germany and Italy.
And just walking among them is both rewarding and informative because each car reflects its nation’s soul with a clarity that no other manufactured product achieves. From the pragmatism of Germany’s offerings, the flamboyance of America’s, the family-based bloodline of Australian endeavour and the detail-fanaticism of Japanese creation, each design reveals its origins beyond any need of badging. And nothing does so more than the art-above-all loveliness of Italy’s finest, headlined this year by Ferrari’s 488 GTB.
But PCOTY demands more than such musings and the jurors swiftly commence their research on the outer ring at DECA, an undulating and multi-curved loop created to enhance driver education and to be used today solely to determine the road capability of our contenders. It is not a racetrack, each judge is informed, and the cars are not to be stressed. And the moon is made of cheese.
DAY TWO: As unnatural as it is for any man to see the dawn, the chorus of 86 cylinders being whooped into warmth by the keener among us has a perversely appealing charm. And the thought of running them all to a racetrack straight after breakfast does nothing to diminish the effect. Accordingly, we are each invited to select a random key from the glitter box and it helps if you know what a Lamborghini fob feels/looks like – $10 posted, clearly marked with my name, will help you find out.
Thus aroused, all hands assemble at Winton Raceway where the day begins with a touching (metaphorically) display of concern over the state of Photographer Dewar until enquiry reveals that the latest bites harmed only her arm, which lowers compassion considerably. Consideration instead turns to the ominous rain-clouds looming over the circuit which threaten the collection of Adult Bowe’s crucial lap-times and will surely impair the rest of the judge’s high-speed evaluation. Accordingly both the art department and administration are thrown into confusion and, in the frantic discussion that ensues, Morley’s suggestion that we hold PCOTY in Jordan next year, whilst certainly appreciated, does little to immediately assist. I can only thank providence for the morning’s crossword.
The following intermittent downpours ensure that the planned timings are reduced to subjective judgement, with JB coming in after every savouring and limiting his otherwise informative downloads by prefacing each with “Well, it’s still raining…”. Meanwhile, the rest of the researchers, taking a lo-o-ong time to write their notes between forays, are obliged to flay some of the world’s fastest cars in conditions which favour the power-to-weight ratio of a ride-on mower and there’s a fair chance that a roped-in Range Rover could pull off the prize. Eventually, though, all the cars go out but the numbers gained are useless. The bottom line is we have to find another statistical comparison… and that is the only finding of our morning at Winton.
Mercifully, a brief snatch of afternoon sunshine offers solace to both the snappers and the scientists, the latter compromising by giving the art department 1/1000th of a second to get an opening shot before spearing down the strip in search of the only hard numbers we’ll gather this year. And I am blessed to be at the start line, just a metre from the Ferrari as it runs its first-ever comparative times for any Australian publication... only to be bested by an Audi, would you believe it, running the standing quarter in 10.9 seconds! I can remember when dragsters were pushing to get that number. And, as usual, whacking them all (will they never stop?!) is the Porsche. In 10.7!
And with some – extraordinary – numbers finally collected, comes the end of day key grab for a car to take each of us to dinner. By now I’ve figured out how to get the Ferrari key as well (hint: it’s the red one). And I love it from the moment I enter it. From the embrace of its seating to the intuition of its controls, its design intelligence impresses… and is, with every passing kilometre, underlined by a profound appeal to so many other senses. Beyond rewarding the eye, this car’s touch and textures arouse an intimacy few others achieve and, oh yes, there’s the sound. Okay, I’ve read about it, but nothing prepares you for the sound of a Ferrari 488 GTB. It’s truly fabulous and I want this car more than any other that I’ve met through this magazine. That’s a lot of cars. A lot of years.
DAY THREE: Today both art and evaluation will occur on the roads of Victoria’s Lake Eildon National Park and, beaten to the exotica by the early-risers, I am left with the Mustang for the morning transit. Which turns out to be no bad thing at all. The effortless stream of raw grunt relieves any need for pinpoint anything and a speedometer display given as ‘Ground Speed’ is amusing enough to be forgivable.
As ever, the journey has been preceded by an editorial lecture on the benefits of convoy procedure and, as ever, protracted by a near-universal disregard of that discipline from the first turn. Nonetheless, everyone who matters eventually arrives at the presciently named ‘launching ramp’ at Lake Eildon, from whence the adjudicators commence driving each contender from nowhere to nowhere for research purposes. A significant factor of this enquiry, of course, is the local rangers’ tolerance and accordingly the cars are taken out in ascending order of aural offence while the younger among us explore the many ways of losing a football in thick forest.
I take the opportunity to savour the fleet for advances or offences in design, both in static mode and by sampling on forest roads. That both are necessary is well-illustrated by the Lexus. Okay, it’s best to approach the thing blindfolded, but once on the move, it’s a surprisingly good drive. So’s the little Ford Focus. There are worse ways of spending a morning, which climaxes when the pedal-pumpers finally sear off in the Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari quartet and shatter the mountain silence in a chorus that I suspect may be heard interstate.
Electing not to await a review from the rangers, management swiftly moves the circus to Eildon Dam, where the judges can ponder their discoveries while Madam Photographer and her crew now step up to provide these deliberations with a canvas of appropriate splendour.
To address the task this year, conventional cameras have been augmented with a gyro-balanced, photo-capable drone, amazing technology that should provide stunning views of the fleet set in a landscape lovely beyond words. Sadly, though, it relies on operator judgement… which explains why this recorder of elegance is, instead, occupied hovering over Morley taking a distant piss in the pristine and we can only hope standards rise before all light fades.
DAY FOUR: The final day dawns in a blaze of glory, and in that brilliance, I savour the last real contender for the crown this year. And perhaps the most likely – the 911 Turbo S. Which rewards my attention immediately with obvious civilities such as a turn-key start and unpretentious PRND gear selection. Thus comforted, I’m soon at ease on the range-country roads, savouring previously unknown acceleration and throttle response… which, naturally enough, on a straight and empty stretch, invites experience of the standing-start launch in real terms rather than merely numbers. And what an experience it is!
The slam is unlike anything I’ve ever known. Instinctively, I was braced for it, but not for the visceral reaction within. Breath is halted and the internal crush induces an instant flash of nausea. In front of me the readout numbers rise in a blur and this is surely what a jet-ejection feels like. Throw in levels of grip so high that they’re impossible to plumb on a public road and there can be no doubt that, whilst the Ferrari has advantages in tactility and romance, in pragmatic terms this Porsche has got to be the most rapid contender across tarmac, full stop.
And as the drive continues up to Lake Mountain for final photography I can only imagine the judges’ dilemma. Based simply on numbers – ours and those of trusted sources – the Porsche must win PCOTY; the Turbo S is simply the quickest production car on this market. Okay, as I’ve discovered, those numbers are an experience beyond any real-world relevance but they will allow the owner that crucial claim. Until Porsche makes an even faster one next year.
Alternatively, the Ferrari would give undiminished pleasure for many, many, years. And never feel slow. Does that not truly define a performance car?
But as usual, and to my eternal puzzlement, no-one’s sought my opinion again this year. So the judges must now formalise the crucial choice between feelings and figures for long into the evening.
And I’ll leave them to that one, happily.