JUDGE’S NOTES: JETHRO BOVINGDON
For once, the hardcore driver’s cars didn’t shine at ecoty, as Bovingdon explains
BEWARE YOU LUCKY ONES WHO OWN, OR WILL SOON own, a Ferrari 296 GTB. Should you leave the ignition on, the car will deplete its 7.45kwh battery completely. The battery that powers the electric motor. The electric motor that spins up the internal combustion engine when you press the button marked ‘Start’. Or doesn’t, if you’ve left the ignition on and flattened the aforementioned battery. This can happen pretty quickly if you’ve done so on a freezing cold hillside in the Pennines.
To be fair, knowing whether the 296 GTB is ‘on’ or ‘off ’ or somewhere in between is remarkably confusing. Even after five days we’d all jump in, stab the Start button maybe a dozen times and, eventually, pull away in the near-silent edrive mode. Swearing so loudly that even a rib-rattling ICE wouldn’t drone out the obscenities. Anyway, on the very last night of ecoty the Ferrari was stranded. Dead. Immobile. Luckily, some Italians with a generator weren’t a million miles away and started trundling from Leeds to the desolate car park.
As this unfolded I was stuffing myself full of lamb jalfrezi back in the warmth of our lovely Airbnb. However, Stu had put in a long, cold shift waiting for the Ferrari engineers up on the hillside and driven the 30 minutes or so back to the farm once they arrived. Now somebody had to make the journey again to deliver customs paperwork so that the Italian-registered Ferrari could return home. That task fell to me and the R8 Performance RWD.
Google Maps said 42 minutes. One way. Fifty-eight minutes later I was back, paperwork delivered, having had a nice chat with the Ferrari guys as the generator chugged away and one of the best drives I can remember. The waiting beer tasted ever so good and I was deeply in love with the Audi. But I knew it couldn’t possibly win. And that’s the thing with ecoty. Cars that appear in the middle of the order are anything but ‘middling’. In fact, at any given moment they might provide a drive that will linger long in the memory. The R8 – a car with immensely rounded abilities – always suffers slightly at
these events. When all you’re doing is driving for the sheer sake of it, the focus and intensity of the specialised cars wins through.
Except that this year, it didn’t. Having already driven the M4 CSL, I had a suspicion it would struggle. It’s a strange car. At times too soft and feeling slightly lazy in terms of body control. Then, when the surface turns bumpy, it flicks like a switch into a yumping, thumping, crazed monster of a thing that could spit you off the road in a second. The gearbox is harsh but doesn’t feel authentic, the engine is wickedly potent but aurally disinteresting. It’s a car with focus, that’s for sure. We just never quite found the target the M division had in mind.
The GT4 RS was more of a shock. Again, I’d recently driven it (this time in Europe) and really enjoyed so much of what it had to offer. However, even on smooth, wide, well-sighted roads it had never quite given me the goosebumps. On an autumnal day in the UK they never came, either. Instead it was cold sweats and quite a lot of fear. The RS did provide moments of real quality, but very often it felt like it was in a fight with the road and the real loser was the person behind the wheel.
Where the Mclaren would float across the ground, the Porsche felt like a skimming stone, only with less directional stability. Its aversion to bumps and compressions was such that driving it in the dark on the way back to the farmhouse was a waking nightmare, waiting for the bump that might bring the drive to an abrupt end. When you’re so tense it’s very hard to appreciate the incredible engine or the steering and you simply can’t drive with the freedom to feel the gorgeous and progressive balance.
So the cars with greater breadth of ability, for once, were the true stars. The Ferrari – perhaps a little edgy in the wet due to fast steering, but with wonderful damping and astonishing composure. The Mclaren – so supple, so confidence-inspiring. If only the engine was more exciting and the car felt a bit freer and more expressive. The Audi – a notch or two back in terms of outright control and precision but wonderfully poised and with a truly outstanding engine and gearbox. And, of course, the Maserati – a car that literally pulsates with character, can be benign and refined but also utterly unhinged and rampant. What a monster.
Oh, and the Toyota GR86. When it came to the vote, I kept scoring and then re-scoring the cars. But no matter how many times I started afresh, the Toyota was always sitting right at the top. Forget the GT86, this car is a different animal. The GR86 is the real deal and wooed everyone, every day, on every road. That’s breadth of ability, but the Toyota does have one very clear focus: to enthral and entertain the person holding the steering wheel. I’d say they hit the bullseye.