Tuesday 5th February 2013


Is the view from the passenger seat ever worth hearing about?

Ah the ridealong story. Brilliantly lampooned today by Sniffpetrol we were among the many in the motoring media to greedily sign up to Jaguar's invitation to Wales for a ride in the new F-Type, ambitiously claimed by some as an exclusive. Which isn't quite as cheeky as claiming a drive story based on an interview with a bloke on Jaguar's payroll who has been behind the wheel, which has also happened.

Sniff Petrol - bang on target as ever
Sniff Petrol - bang on target as ever
Once upon a time ridealongs were the preserve of the journalistic elite and genuine exclusives based on serious amounts of arm twisting and eyelid fluttering. Now it's an accepted part of the pre-launch hype building exercise. One we chose to be complicit in by accepting a seat beside Mike Cross and the brilliantly named Erol Mustafa for a bit of a rag around the Welsh hills in the 'wrong' seat of an F-Type. So, should we accept such invitations? And can we actually learn anything worthwhile?

There are certain cases - F-Type being one of them and Harris's ride in the 918 Spyder another - where a car is sufficiently interesting and exciting that, dammit, we'll shamelessly accept any opportunity to get close.

My trip to the Monte Carlo Historique was another 'ridealong' invitation too but one with wider interest. Seeing a celebrated car being put through its paces by someone linked with its glorious heritage is always a pleasure. Jean Claude Andruet is perhaps not as well known outside of Alpine circles as many but the chance to ride beside him down the Turini was too good to miss.

Sometimes riding shotgun isn't all bad
Sometimes riding shotgun isn't all bad
More interesting was the ride back up, sitting in the back of a Renaultsport Megane with Renault boss Carlos Tavares on Andruet's tail. By their nature senior execs tend to be guarded and non-committal when talking with hacks - my meeting with BMW's Ian Robertson recently a case in point. The creepy resemblance to Tony Blair goes more than skin deep.

But purely by chance - there were loads of cars going up and down the Turini and I only ended up with Tavares by accident - here I was with the boss of Renault in his racing suit and bootees following an iconic sports car up an equally famous rally stage. This wasn't Tavares in a sharp suit delivering soundbites at a motor show. This was the unashamed petrolhead giving it absolute death in one of his own products just for the sheer hell of it. And the guy can drive. To experience that and then sit down alongside the guys who'll be building the new Alpine-Caterham on his watch was accidental but very effective PR in action. I'll have to try and regain some journalistic cynicism before committing anything to publication based on this but, suffice to say, I came away impressed.

The kind of PR that appeals to PH
The kind of PR that appeals to PH
A rare moment and, as later discussions with Renaultsport's Patrice Ratti proved, this is a business based on profits and bottom lines, not rose-tinted romanticism. And that's why we won't be getting a manual Clio 200.

But you have to hope that these glimpses of proper, petrolhead enthusiasm in the business do suggest there are some still on our wavelength. Whichever seat you happen to see them from.


[Sources: Sniff Petrol]

Author: Dan Trent
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