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PH 2019 | Most memorable drives of the year

No doubt about it, it's been a climactic year. These are the moments which stood out from behind the wheel

By PH Staff / Monday, December 30, 2019

This probably should be a road drive, in which case it would be ‘my’ MX-5 to Spa Classic. For an assortment of reasons I didn’t leave East Anglia until 6pm on a Friday; the little Mazda and I having a long way to go. By the time of our safe arrival in Spa at 2:30am, I was besotted.

But that wasn’t the best drive, because that was the Restoracing win at Brands Hatch. Of course it is. From overtaking that pesky Bolton car for second, to taking the lead in the gravel trap, to establishing a five-second cushion, to crossing the finish line in blazing sunshine and standing on the top step for the very first time, it was a magical day. I’ll forget my own name before that day. And I’d drive that Boxster again ahead of any other car.

This year has been a particularly good one when it comes to memorable drives. Taking an MX-5 to Europe’s northernmost point in March, driving Porsche’s 991.2 GT3 RS to the Nurburgring in June and careening along the Route Napoleon in the new Bentley Flying Spur in October all stand out, alongside adventures behind the wheel of the GT2 RS, 488 Pista and DBS Superleggera. If I’d written this 10 days ago it’d have been a tough choice between them all. 

But last week they were soundly trumped by the journey to the photo location for our Aventador SVJ vs Huracan Evo shoot. With the B4391 stretching before us and Nic in the lead in the Huracan, the sound of 11.7-litres and 22 cylinders producing 1,410hp reverberated around the valleys like Nimrod around the Albert Hall. The crackles and bangs that greeted each downshift, the screaming cacophony on every straight, and the fantastic flowing tarmac were bucket list stuff. That the low winter sun cast a rainbow in the spray behind the SVJ right from Fron-goch to Ffestiniog made the experience all the more unforgettable. 

As far as unforgettable experiences on four wheels go, driving a car that can wheelspin in all of its six gears and surpass 130mph at the end of Brands Hatch’s short straight must rank pretty highly. For me, it certainly amounted to the most exciting stint at work in 2019; those two dozen laps attempting to edge towards the 471hp per tonne two-seater’s stratospheric limits are enshrined in the frontal lobe of yours truly in Technicolor.

There are many reasons the experience ranks so highly, including the EcoBoost motor’s unyielding ability to over rotate those rears on a wintry track surface, or the Radical’s outstanding braking performance from top gear. But what astounded most was the car’s single seater-like aerodynamic performance. The only comparable experience in my career came from behind the wheel of a Formula 3 car, such is the level that the Rapture – a car with number plates and road tax, let us not forget – reaches.

Of course, I’ve no doubt a properly driven F3 car would pull away from the road car lap after lap, but that it asks for similarly blind commitment to the black art of downforce, from the confines of a prototype-aping open cockpit, means there’s nothing else on the road that can match it. Those laps at Brands will be hard to beat.

Okay, this verges on cheating because it happened very nearly one year ago. But our trip to the Pennines back in January sticks in the memory for two very good reasons. One, because the network of B roads north of the A66 rank as some of England’s finest driving roads - and with a half a foot of snow blanketing the countryside, they proved to be spellbindingly quiet. Two, because we had Audi’s heritage fleet B7 RS4 Avant with us. And while the model’s hallowed position in the manufacturer’s back catalogue might be assured, nothing quite prepares you for the all-round loveliness of the 420hp wagon.

Partly, of course, this is to do with the manual gearbox and its tactile connection to the atmospheric, all-alloy 4.2-litre V8 - a relationship so gratifying that it has your cheeks on a drawstring from the get-go - but it’s more than that. The decade-old model (admittedly in rare condition) is a non-stop joy across the board, in the kind of additive-free, unprocessed way that virtually no car subsequently built by Audi has managed to emulate. On an already spectacular day, it made everything seem crisper and clearer still.

Any spin in a Bugatti Chiron is going to be special, but although I was barely in the car for 20 minutes - and spent all of that on public roads in Italy - the presence of Andy Wallace in the passenger seat was what got it to the top of my list. The 1998 Le Mans winner is one of the nicest blokes to ever go racing but he also has huge knowledge and enthusiasm.

Two months before he drove a slightly modified version of the car to a production speed record of 304mph at the Ehra-Lessien track in Germany, Wallace was my combination of tour guide and driving instructor. He pointed out the Chiron’s many features and making sure I got to experience the full 1,500hp, albeit only for a couple of seconds.

The 911 GT3 RS (997.2) that Porsche GB keeps on its heritage fleet was right at the top of my list for a Rise & Drive video when we dreamt up the format. I had driven Heebee - as it’s affectionally known, owing to the HBY number plate suffix - several times before and I knew it was special. But there was something about driving it in South Wales very early in the morning, the sun just about popping up over the horizon and the roads all but deserted, that made the whole experience all the more memorable. 

Ten or 20 years from now we’ll look back on that era of GT3 RS as being the high watermark. It has the reliability, toughness and performance of a reasonably modern sports car but not the muted steering, oppressive grip or sheer size of a really modern one. That early morning blast reminded me what it meant for a chassis to combine bump compliance with body control, and what hydraulic steering used to feel like.

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