Is there a better run car company than McLaren? Not in this country, I'd wager. Mike has earned the plaudits in recent years, and he deserves them. McLaren Automotive has gone from a very bright (and well-funded) idea on paper, to a proper global player in roughly the same amount of time that a mainstream manufacturer would manage two life cycles of the same model. The sands have shifted behind the scenes somewhat in that time, but what has not faltered is the standard of the cars emerging from the factory. They started out good - and then, in what feels like the blink of an eye - have become downright brilliant. Every wannabe supercar manufacturer aspires to challenge the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, but in less than a decade McLaren has actually done it. In several very recent cases, it has exceeded them. Mike would, I'm sure, defer any praise to the hard-working and extremely talented team below him. But one man still needs to call the shots and carry the can, and he has done so impeccably.
How many of your favourite cars are turbocharged? Not many, I'd wager. There's something timelessly satisfying about an atmospheric engine that gets faster and faster with revs, a sensation that's becoming rarer in new cars. So credit is due to Mazda, not just for persevering with naturally aspirated engines, but also for improving them. The previous 2.0-litre MX-5 was pretty good; now it's a little belter of an engine, revvy and raspy and just tremendous fun. None of the nerdy new changes will impress in the showroom, but the difference on the road is marked. That this brilliant engine is being used in a 1,000kg roadster surely gives hope for traditionally fun cars to endure for a bit. As everybody else rather lazily conforms to turbo type, Mazda deserves huge praise for sticking with what it does best. Now, if it could also just be made to work in a Mazda 2...
The Dewar Trophy was donated by its namesake, Sir Thomas Dewar, to the RAC in 1904. It has been presented by the club since 1906, but only in years when the awarding committee believes there are contenders of sufficient merit to claim it. This year one such contender emerged in the shape of Integral Powertrain, a Northamptonshire-based firm co-founded by Roger Duckworth, son of Cosworth co-founder Keith. The company produces some of the most cutting-edge electric motors in the world, including the units for Aston Martin's upcoming Rapide E, but particularly in this case those found on the Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak racer. Integral Powertrain's exceptional expertise is not only helping to expedite, ease and improve the shift to electric power, but is flying the flag for British engineering in the process, making them an obvious choice for my Thing of the Year. The small slice of recognition obviously won't mean anywhere near as much as the Dewar, but it is certainly equally as deserved.
When we visited Retropower's Leicestershire garage in the summer, we expected to see some pretty awesome things. But none of us thought we'd catch sight of possibly one of the most PH-worthy builds in the world - a Gordon Murray-commissioned Mk1 Ford Escort. The build was in its infancy when we saw it, with the body having just returned from being painted, but already exciting plans were in place for it to become a wonderful mix of vintage and modern. Murray knows a thing or two about setting up a car, so we can trust that his input in the 2.0-litre Cosworth four-cylinder and its carbon fibre inlets, as well as the car's complexly bespoke chassis setup, will amount to something rather special. Retropower's attention to detail is second to none, and following the progress of this car's build has not disappointed one bit.
It's approaching the 1994 Bathurst 1000 and Rickard Rydell has just become a father, so doesn't want to fly to Australia where he's due to co-drive a 5.0 Holden Commodore in The Great Race. Holden Racing Team owner Tom Walkinshaw intends to fly experienced driver Armin Hahne out to cover, but local team management want to put 24-year-old rookie Craig Lowndes in the car instead. Walkinshaw, to put it delicately, is unconvinced. Even less so, you suspect, when in the morning warm up, Lowndes bins the car. If you watch the Australian Supercars championship (and I recommend you do), you'll see how rare it is for rookies to arrive at the front. But late that afternoon, in the final stint, Lowndes at one point takes the lead, eventually bringing the Commodore home in second place, and a new Australian star is born. Three Supercars titles and seven Bathurst victories later, this season was Lowndes' last as a full-time driver in the Supercars championship. Supercars drivers all seem pretty friendly, but none more so than Lowndes. Smiling to the last, when asked what he was most proud of, he said: "Just having fun, that's been the biggest thing." Yes, of course he won Bathurst this year.
For journalists looking for headlines, Elon has been the gift that keeps giving this year. 2018's PR SNAFUs involve publicly accusing somebody of a serious offence, getting a slapdown from the SEC after tweeting he planned to buy back control of Tesla and then there was that whole public dope-smoking thing. But here's the thing with the real Tony Stark - he does tend to deliver on his promises, albeit often late and substantially over budget. Space X's successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February was a proper reset moment in the history of private spaceflight; the choice of Musk's Tesla Roadster as the payload was inspired. And more recently Tesla has been making serious inroads into the enormous order bank it still holds for the new Model 3, which was another of my 2018 automotive highlights. It's worth remembering when big OEMs boast about their plans for electrification that one company is already running a long way ahead of the chasing pack, and is currently outselling all of them combined.