There are 21 high-performance cars lined up before me. Each has its keys in the ignition.
This article was first published in MOTOR magzine's March 2005 issue.
And I’ve been told to drive ’em all, as hard as I want. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it. Welcome to a day in the life of MOTOR’s Lucky Bastard.
Besides shooting off my application to MOTOR, I’ve done plenty of preparation for PCOTY ’05: participated in track days with the Alfa and BMW Clubs; and even had the heaven-sent opportunity to fang an Avis-owned Porsche 911 C4S around the famed Nürburgring in Germany.
But I’m more than a bit nervous when the time finally arrives for me to climb behind the wheel for an acceleration run at Albury airport. I mean, you would be too if the first car you were going to drive was the $459,900, 450kW and 1000Nm CL65 AMG. So to get my bearings, I hitch a lift with MT in the big thumper.
And on the short Albury runway, where the mercury is rising rapidly, the bi-turbo V12 hits its speed limiter (the CL65 AMG is speed limited to 250km/h) from a standing start just after the kilometre marker. When I try it on my own, I find the wave of torque overwhelming and at about 200km/h, I begin to laugh uncontrollably.
When my hysteria subsides fear takes over as I realise I’ve overshot the braking marker and I’m still sitting on the speed limiter. I hit the brakes and look around for an anchor to help slow progress, in the rear vision mirror I see two thick plumes of white tyre smoke as the big Benz is reined in.
After my run in the CL65 the rest of the field seems tame, except for the Porsche. Its acceleration is brutal in its efficiency – it just keeps building speed. The day concludes with the laborious process of the photo shoot. There’s much waiting around and kicking of tyres, but the photographers that escort the PCOTY circus are now in charge.
And when they say jump, well, everyone jumps. I realise quickly the photographers are working harder than everyone else – with the possible exception of logistics co-ordinator Marcus (Herman) Hofmann.
They’re working when the cars are being driven, they’re working when the cars are parked, when they’re being washed and at night they spend their time culling thousands of digital images. Day two, it’s another early start and the prospect of a hot breakfast and a dip in the pool to calm my nerves.
We’re off to Winton Motor Raceway in country Victoria you see. This is the most exciting, yet intimidating, part of PCOTY. I still have the picture in my mind of former Lucky Bastard Matt Cass spearing off into the sand at Winton’s Turn One in the CSV and I’m determined to avoid the same fate (at your pace? – ed).
Yet the chance to punt all of these cars around a race track isn’t going to happen again, so I want to make the most of it. I think I’m doing well until photographer Helmut Mueller yells at me as I puddle past: “You’re driving like a nanna, give us something to photograph.” I wave at him.
I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not falling for that one. I tip-toe around in the local V8s, push along the front and all-wheel drives, but I grab the Porsche by the scruff of the neck. I get timed in the Carrera S at 1:50secs, which I think is pretty good.
That is until I find out that Warren Luff went three seconds quicker in the Clio and a good 12 seconds quicker during his turn at the wheel of the Stuttgart stormer.
Moreover, after telling Morley I was going to kick his arse, I was disturbed to see him in my mirrors in the SS while I was in the Porsche – don’t worry, I didn’t let him past (it’s amazing how wide you can make a 911 – ed). My dear suffering wife might say I’m obsessed with cars, but compared with the MOTOR team and invited guests, it’s clear to me that I’m just a dilettante.
As I leave the track, my feelings are exhaustion, exhilaration and relief. It has been a special day, a very special day. Thankfully, I won’t be the subject of derision and mirth, well, not for spearing off the track, anyway. Day three is The Hillclimb.
This is the section of the test that proves to the judges how these cars will behave in the real world in real world driving conditions. A torturous road I head out for a familiarisation run with MT in the Integra S. “Good little jigger this,” MT says as he gives the rice-rocket a large portion of the go pedal and drifts it up and down the mountain.
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I know I’m in safe hands, but I can’t help but think “I’m going to die”. So much for my navigating career. After a while, the police arrive. It seems somebody has scared one of the natives. After a quick, ahem, sedate run in the Exige the local rozzer is satisfied that no undue liberties are being taken and the show goes on.
The Hillclimb turns out to be one of the most informative exercises in PCOTY. Cars that were competent on the track, turn out to be less than suitable as daily drivers. For example, having to carry a photographer in the Exige means that I had to leave the car in third.
There is simply no room to change gears. The run home, back to the hotel, through the hills in the Integra Type S is one of the highlights of the day as I unsuccessfully try to keep in touch with Cockburn in the CL65 AMG. He, in turn, can’t keep up with the MINI or the Clio.
When I ask Cockburn (in all seriousness) how fast he was going when he hurtled past the speed camera, the colour drains from his face. All too soon, however, the dream is at an end and I’m back at my desk staring at a bunch of boring old law books.
Thinking of the week that was and pinching myself to see if it had all been a dream. But as much fun as I had, I can’t help but believe that the truly lucky bastards are those with a $220,000 cheque in their pocket made out to Porsche Cars Australia.