Comrades, I bring you a story of brave and valiant endeavour, of a fight against odds overwhelming. The Battle of 300.
Let us not speak of who won and who lost, but what was risked, and let history tell in the boldest tones of the fallen, and their fearless efforts at triumph.
Yes, there are those ‑ let’s call them, for the sake of argument, “women” ‑ who think that men are a little too obsessed with big numbers. From penis size to engine capacity to bank balances. But let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with obsessing over the Highest Speed Ever Achieved (although various governments, highway patrol officers and Nanny State adherents would disagree).
Personally, I call it “The Drive for 300”; a so-far life-long quest to hit 300km/h in a vehicle that doesn’t have wings, and these past few days looked like my best chance yet. My certainty even.
A Ferrari 488 GTB with a 493kW, 760Nm twin-turbo V8 on board, a closed Mt Panorama circuit and half an hour to get it right/conquer my fear/grow some balls.
What could possibly go wrong?
I’ve been close before, of course, many times. In my mad motorcycling days, I saw an indicated 290km/h on a Honda Fireblade, only minutes before my back tyre blew out, narrowly avoiding my sudden, splattering death.
In Germany, many moons ago, I hit 292km/h on an autobahn in a then-new Audi RS6, only to run into traffic. The quest has fallen repeatedly short on race circuits around the world ever since, but this, surely, my first ever crack at an un-policed Bathurst track, was to be my day.
I know the car is capable, of course. The GTB, the most impressive and memorable vehicle I’ve ever driven, can go from zero to 200km/h in a stonking, staggering 8.3 seconds, and on to a theoretical top speed of 330km/h, given enough road.
And what a road I finally had at my disposal; Conrod Straight, all 1.9 kilometres of it. All I really needed to do was push my right foot at the firewall and hold on. Crushing ants, or tapping my foot in anger, would be harder ‑ theoretically.
Doubt first arrived in the shape of a chirping, cheerful driving instructor, Renato, who gave a speech in our track briefing about the fact that all of us were probably thinking about what number we would achieve down the famed straight, and how we should not be so silly.
I pretended not to know what he was talking about and shook my head at the foolishness of others (mainly Ferrari owners who had brought their own cars - bastards).
It was clear, however, that we’d be given the space to be as foolish as we wanted, and in our very first minute on track the comparatively short Mountain Straight allowed us to hit an encouraging, exciting 220km/h.
Frustratingly, of course, just about every inch of Mt Panorama turns out to be mildly terrifying when you're allowed to attack it at speed. The concrete walls taunt you, the dizzying height of Skyline shakes you, and the diving peril of The Esses assaults you, and suddenly you are pelting out of Forrest’s Elbow, as hard as you dare, and preparing for your run at mortality, and the 300.
Pin it, hold on, hold your nerve. Easy.
Only it’s not. The experts told us beforehand to be wary of the fact that this street circuit is domed in the middle, that we were in road cars - albeit super ones - without the downforce, or the grippy tyres, of racing machines. And that we might notice our Ferraris starting to wander around above 200km/h.
Piffle and tosh. As we belted through the first downhill section of the straight, gathering speed like a Trump Twitter tantrum and flying past 200, 220, even 250km/h, the 488 felt planted and invincible, hitting the rev limiter in sixth and launching away again in seventh.
And then the road started to rise, towards a crest that’s far steeper in real life than it is on TV, and far more frightening at 260km/h than it as at its everyday 60km/h limit.
The instructor, so far in front of me I can barely see him and far from restricting my assault on 300, barks something over the radio about braking to keep the nose down, but I’m already reflexively dabbing at the stop pedal, alarmed by the feeling of imminent take-off and the fear of crash landing.
The unbearable lightness as you hit that crest is much like being at the top point of a roller coaster, and realising that some evil bastard has messed with the controls ‑ or gravity ‑ to make it go faster than it should.
At the end of our intense half-hour session Renato explained that, thanks to its extra, seventh gear, the road car was actually faster at that point of the track than Ferrari’s GT3 race car, but with vastly less downforce (the GT3 has a rear wing the size of a garage door). This was why the car had felt “light” on Conrod.
Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of downforce, but you really don’t know how wonderful it is until it’s gone.
For the next several laps I tried to steel it. I even pictured myself with massive, Mick Doohan-sized testicles as I tried repeatedly to reach 300 before the hump, and then, realising that wasn’t quite possible, to not touch the brake and launch into that rarefied air, before pulling up in time for The Chase.
I saw 270, then 274, and finally 282km/h, which, let me tell you, is pretty bloody frighteningly fast. What it is not, however, is 300, nor, frankly, even close enough that I could be proud of it.
In the end, the car could have done it, the track was long enough but my mortal, non-race-driver flesh, and stupid, self-saving brain just weren’t up to the task.
I have shamed you comrades, and failed myself, but my search for 300 will continue. Next week, in fact, when I’m going back to Bathurst again to try the new Nismo GTR.
Pray for me, brothers.
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