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Behind the scenes at MOTOR Performance Car of the Year 2021

By Cameron Kirby, 15 Mar 2021 Performance COTY

Kirby gets his first PCOTY invite and spends the week wrangling walkie talkies. Cruel. We also made him keep notes

Behind the scenes at MOTOR Performance Car of the Year 2021

The original draft of this article opened with a verbatim quote of the very first words released from my mouth during Performance Car of the Year 2021. It was the kind of expletive that’d make a sailor blush, and get me hauled into the publisher’s office for a ‘please explain’. As a result, I’ll leave it up to your imagination what was actually said.

It was unpleasantly early on a crisp December morning, I had already been awake for several hours, and just clapped eyes on the indomitable Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro. Left gawping like a goldfish dropped onto concrete the withering obscenity was let loose from my lips. In my defence it was an involuntary reaction. One prompted by the sheer sight of the Pro’s rear-end. Hot damn!

Newman had to throw some boxes in the Boston Harbor before making his way to PCOTY 

My very first PCOTY got off to an innocuous start, schlepping from Melbourne to Winton Raceway in the pre-dawn Tradie Grand Prix, an unremarkable Fiat Ducato my steed. While the track portion of testing wasn’t for another couple days, I needed to be at the circuit to meet the trucks that would be hauling the extremely precious cargo that was our contenders. Not long after my unbecoming ogling of the Pro, Winton’s pit area becomes a hive of activity. Judges and crew members are arriving in a flurry, along with the remaining contenders.

The ‘Turn 10 Understeer Challenge’ is Winton’s most entertaining spectator sport

This is the only day entirely dedicated to capturing images (both still and moving), so immediately after Enright delivers his opening ‘don’t be a dingus’ safety briefing the photographers begin barking their orders. They aren’t alone. MOTOR is more than just a magazine, with a website and social media to feed, meaning a full video crew is also in attendance. Watching the photo and video teams work is akin to a pack of seagulls on an unattended fisherman’s basket.

“Quick, someone help me hide these spare tyres before Newman finds them!” Lucky for you guys, he found them 

Squabbling over which crew gets what car is put on hold as a storm rapidly rolls into our location beside a dry lake bed unannounced. The scene is pure chaos. Journalists are diving into supercars, photographers are frantically trying to keep their cameras dry, and the video team scatter in an attempt to find cover. Weather that had just a few minutes ago been perfectly pleasant, was suddenly apocalyptic. Branches are falling from trees, leaves whipped into a frenzy. In the midst of it all, a Pajero enters the carpark and a young boy forces his mother out of their car to take photos of the assembled fleet.

Golden hour, the fleeting few minutes of perfect light when journos mill about ruining the shot

This sets an ominous tone for the event. In an ideal situation PCOTY would be run ‘under the radar’, with local residents undisturbed by our goings on. The finalists alone are worth roughly $2.2 million between them, with 3907kW of deployable firepower, making that goal difficult but not impossible. However, if the sheer magnitude of presence exuded by our fleet while sitting still in pouring rain was enough to get us papped, what hope do we have when the road testing finally gets under way in earnest? This, folks, is what we call foreshadowing.

Alex Affat’s fundamental balance is good, but displays a little too much nearside toe out 

Day Two moves us from our base in Wangaratta, south toward Mansfield for back-to-back road testing. A friend of a friend of a friend of Newman’s has offered up part of a paddock so we can store cars off the road and away from the eyes of the passing public. From this location the judges head in one direction, the video and photo teams the other, leaving me in the middle to hold down the fort.

You should have seen the truckie’s face when the tanks he’d just filled were consumed immediately by the assembled masses... now, who wants to pay?

From my position I get to look on as the judges compare notes at the end of every run. Enright casually mentions that he got the Turbo S’s tyres off the deck over one of the nastier bumps. Dupriez confirms the feat from his front-row seat in the SM17, before commenting on how the Mustang was more than happy to spin its tyres at frightening speeds. The plucky Fiesta is endearing itself to everyone that nestles into its snug Recaros, while the RS6’s sheer size is proving hard to overcome. Some were sceptical about the M550i’s inclusion, but the BMW quickly convinces the detractors. Meanwhile, the most hyped car of the competition quickly begins its arc to terra firma, with judges crestfallen by the GR Yaris’ persistent understeer. But even in these early stages we get the suspicion PCOTY 2021 could prove a two-horse race at the front of the pack. Turbo v Pro. Porsche v AMG. Ol’ 15-time vs never won before. This should be good.

Turns out old logging yards are great for parking millions of dollars worth of performance brilliance, as well as building your own private rally stage. Everyone was left waiting while Newman went full Loeb in a Kia Sorento

A handy side benefit of our hidden location is that members of the local constabulary miss the harem of exotics entirely as they pass by. We catch the Boys in Blue a few hundred metres down the road giving a stern lecture to our old friend, the RX-8 driver. The look on the face of the constable as our convoy passes suggests he wasn’t out looking for a little rotary when he left the station.

The German Wagon Owners Club in Mansfield is small, and incredibly well behaved for some reason 

With the road portion of the event complete, it’s time to head back to Winton. Hot shoe Karl Reindler arrives without a flourish, introducing himself personally to each of the team members, making careful note to remember everyone by name. As kind as he may be, he is here to do a job, and he completes it with impressive intent. The fastest man on the property is relentless in his progression through the contenders. It seems cruelly unfair that one man should be that handsome, searingly fast, and charmingly down to earth.

Hello Curt, 2011 called, it was wondering when you were going to stop it with the planking? 

All the attention in pit lane turns to Karl near the end of the day. The Turbo S and Pro are the last cars to attempt timed laps, and it’s not by mistake. Anticipation is running high and talk of a new PCOTY record is rampant. There’s even whispers of a production car lap record being possible. The huddled mass erupts as the Pro’s time is reported.

“Show me where the video man touched you”... after a week together, everyone needs a little personal space  

When his official duties are complete, Reindler jumps back into the R8 to give some hot laps. The vocal Audi returns to the pits with its passenger’s adrenal glands at bursting point and synapses thoroughly fried. Reindler’s work is done, and he humbly exits stage left. Bastard.

Reindler does his best Earnhardt impression. Luckily Karl can turn left AND right

The next day we return to the track so The Creatives can capture everything they need to fill a magazine and keep the internet video goblins fed. It is here, on day four, that the non-stop pace of PCOTY starts to show and the silliness begins. I’m helping with tracking shots in the Fiesta when the Pro barrels past at full chat. I feel like I’m being strafed by a WWII fighter. Newman is flicking the RS6 into a massive and unwilling slide, inches from the tail of Enright in the BMW who has snapper Dewar harnessed into its open boot. I keep Butler distracted lest he have an OH&S-induced aneurysm.

Few images sum up PCOTY better than using the fastest production car to ever lap Winton to hold your beverages 

PCOTY is an endless barrage of these clip-show moments. Writing this now, months later, I can vividly recall the final transit stage to Mansfield, driving the Turbo and watching the brake lights of the R8 and Pro ahead crest a hill, cutting a path through the warm high country night. The trio’s engines sing a baleful tune to the empty forest as each in turn picks up the gas in a harmonic melisma, diving giddily into the next river valley. It’s a beautiful end stop to the hardest and best week of the year and one that’s indelibly seared into my memory. Now we look forward to 2022, when you could be one of the lucky ones along for the ride.

Wielecki climbs cliffs, Enright throws rocks off them, these are just the rules of life

THE REAL PCOTY WINNER

It’s not just the judges that get to opine which of the contenders is the best. At this year’s running, the support crew got their four collective brain cells fired up and ranked each of the cars to find the winner of the inaugural PPPCOTY (Packer’s Pick Performance Car of the Year). Did someone skew their own votes, torpedoing a front-runner on purpose, so their favourite could take the crown? Absolutely. Did yours truly fiddle with the points system to scupper their devious plan? You betcha. In a sign that great minds truly do think alike, the team that keeps the judges fed, watered, and pampered also picked the Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro as the best of the field. I’m sure Mr Schiemer will be overjoyed when he hears the news.

Louis, Scott and Dan draw straws for who will be left behind after the trio realise they are late to lunch and the only car left is the Pro. Well, they would have been late, had we stopped for lunch. Who said we don’t work hard?

“Hey Josh, do you think anything could go wrong if I leave the tripod here while a convoy of supercars drives toward us with the setting sun in their eyes?” 

We only feed our photographers chips and bananas to slow growth. Helps them hide in the bushes easier