The As­phalt Jun­gle

Automobile - - Contents - By Arthur St. An­toine

All-Stars is the Choco­late Fac­tory of au­to­mo­tive events.

I’VE BEEN A judge in an­nual “best car” com­pe­ti­tions, with var­i­ous mag­a­zines, for decades now, and I won’t deny the ob­vi­ous: For a car en­thu­si­ast, tak­ing part in such a con­test is the equiv­a­lent of a sugar junkie run­ning amok in the Reese’s Pieces fac­tory. There you are, sur­rounded by row af­ter row of the sweet­est new rides of the year, and some­body is ac­tu­ally in­sist­ing you sam­ple ev­ery sin­gle one of them. Peo­ple have asked me, “Don’t you get tired of driv­ing around in cars af­ter all these years?” Oh, sure—and Hugh Hefner once said, “I think I’m done here.”

Then again, there are candy mak­ers, and then there is Willy Wonka’s Choco­late Fac­tory. And Au­to­mo­bile’s yearly All-Stars com­pe­ti­tion, the cen­ter­piece of this is­sue, is that won­drous, fan­ci­ful land of ve­hic­u­lar Oompa-Loom­pas and Ev­er­last­ing Gob­stop­pers. While other com­pe­ti­tions in­tro­duce price caps or pro­duc­tion quo­tas or other ob­jec­tive bars to en­try on their an­nual “best of ” fields (frankly, that’s way too much math for us), All-Stars is wide open to any new ma­chine that we deem in­ter­est­ing. Thus, right along­side the new-for-2018 Honda Ac­cord and 2017 Mazda CX-5, this year’s com­pe­ti­tion in­cluded such phan­tas­magor­i­cal four­wheeled uni­corns as the Ford GT, the Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán Per­for­mante, and the McLaren 720S. In fact, the 2018 field would’ve in­cluded the $2.99 mil­lion, 1,500-horse­power Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron, but some­one dinged the test car Bu­gatti had in the U.S., and the com­pany shipped it back to France for a re­paint, elim­i­nat­ing it from our field. Yes, I can al­ready hear some of you suck­ing in a big pre-scream breath: “A $3 mil­lion car? Ab­surd! Who in hell could ever buy such a thing!” To which I would counter, “Hey, NASA won’t let me fly to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, but I still want to read about what it’s like to eat a weight­less pound cake.”

Sure enough, when I ar­rived at the Speed­ve­gas cir­cuit just out­side Sin City for the first morn­ing of this year’s All-Stars shootout, I could’ve been Char­lie Bucket step­ping up to the Wonka gates with a pre­cious Golden Ticket in my hands. There, ar­rayed in and around a huge pit lane garage, were 26 gleam­ing new taste sen­sa­tions just wait­ing to be nib­bled, chewed, and anat­o­mized. And there was our own Willy Wonka him­self, edi­tor-in-chief Mike Floyd, bark­ing out the week’s ar­du­ous agenda: “Make sure you swim in the river of choco­late (the Mercedes-AMG GT R)! Let me know what you think of the new Fizzy Lift­ing Drink (the Lexus LC 500)! I need feed­back from all of you on the 2018 Whip­ple-Scrump­tious Fudge­mal­low De­light (the Fer­rari GTC4Lusso T)! Let’s get to it, peo­ple! Get out there, and find me the win­ners!” Yes, par­tic­i­pat­ing in All-Stars is a pinch-your­self en­ter­prise—we all get to run wild in a world of pure imag­i­na­tion.

On one level, All-Stars is a col­lab­o­ra­tive event. For days, the en­tire Au­to­mo­bile staff puts aside the real world of dead­lines and bills and feed­ing the cat to do noth­ing but drive, an­a­lyze, pho­to­graph, com­pare, video­tape, write about, and pon­tif­i­cate about the en­tries in this year’s event. Over lunch, we share driv­ing im­pres­sions, dis­cuss pros and cons, cham­pion our fa­vorites, and en­gage in no short­age of ar­gu­ments. Pas­sions run high, and at times these bull ses­sions can get an­i­mated: My pal Marc No­orde­loos, an oth­er­wise un­fail­ingly

BLURRED TREES AND UNCOILING ARMCO AND LANE STRIPES

FIRE LIKE TRACER ROUNDS. THERE IS NO

WORLD OUT­SIDE THE FLASH­ING-PAST PANORAMA IN YOUR

WIND­SHIELD.

man­nered gen­tle­man who goes full Hulk at the sight of a McLaren 720S parked with its rear wing left up, has been known to prod me with the point of his pep­per­oni pizza while press­ing his views on, say, the tran­scen­dence of the Porsche 911 GTS’ steer­ing. Later, af­ter the keys are put away for the night, the round ta­ble con­tin­ues at the bar—where vol­ume goes up and in­hi­bi­tions go down. Over­heard at one evening’s beer call: “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I ac­tu­ally think the Civic Type R’s rear wing needs to be big­ger!”

Yet All-Stars is also very much an in­di­vid­ual event. Yes, driv­ing on the Speed­ve­gas cir­cuit can be crowded—with ev­ery­thing from the Ca­maro ZL1 1LE to the new Camry mix­ing it up out there at the same time—but it’s still just you and the car (well, at least un­til our pro shoe, Andy Pil­grim, catches you and lands in your rear seat). But as much as I en­joy flog­ging the sports cars on the track—free from speed lim­its, ex­plor­ing max­i­mum brak­ing and cor­ner­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties—in some ways I pre­fer the road loop sec­tion of our All-Stars con­test. Out on our mountain road route, it re­ally is just you and the ma­chine un­der­neath. (Ex­cept for oc­ca­sion­ally com­ing across a col­league driv­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, rarely did I see an­other ve­hi­cle.) The driv­ing is far more re­al­is­tic, too: You’re mov­ing briskly, yes, but well un­der con­trol, mind­ful of be­ing on a pub­lic road, on the look­out for deer or black ice, at times driv­ing slow enough to in­ves­ti­gate how well a $300,000 su­per­car … just put­ters along.

I did my first drive up and down the mountain in the Lam­borgh­ini. For­get the race­track: The Hu­racán Per­for­mante was made for mountain twisties. Gun­ning up­hill, the 640-horse­power V-10 scream­ing at 8,000 rpm, banging off an­other up­shift with the spec­tac­u­lar dual-clutch seven-speed, the sin­u­ous two-lane tar­mac un­furl­ing in a fun­nel of blurred trees and uncoiling Armco and lane stripes fir­ing like tracer rounds … I may have been driv­ing in one of the most pic­turesque cor­ners of Ne­vada, but I didn’t see it. Such is the fo­cus, the in­volve­ment, and the rhythm of un­leash­ing a great sports car on a fab­u­lous road. The un­paid bills, the dead­line you missed two days ago, the leak­ing faucet in the kitchen—none of it mat­ters or even ex­ists right now. There is no world out­side the flash­ing-past panorama in your wind­shield; there is no care be­yond the grip of four Pirelli P Zero Tro­feos and the trem­ble of road through the steer­ing wheel and the stu­pen­dous surge when­ever your right foot presses down. Your mind is fully alive, at­tuned to the whine of four whirling camshafts, alert to the touch­i­ness of the car­bon-ce­ramic brakes, aware that the next corner lies in shade and might be a trap of un­seen ice. All of this and more floods your cere­bel­lum, reaches deep into the synapses, etches im­pres­sions and sen­sa­tions and re­flec­tions on all the im­pos­si­bly wrin­kled folds in­side your skull. Then, at a view site, you pull off, the Hu­racán’s mighty en­gine set­tling into a throb­bing idle be­hind your ears, the g forces gone but still strangely tug­ging at your in­sides while you break out your note­book and try to record some salient no­tions of what you’ve just ex­pe­ri­enced. And only then do you gaze up at the moun­tains and re­al­ize, my God, look where I am.

Char­lie might think oth­er­wise, but I’m the one with the Golden Ticket. AM

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