This time, I wanted a pure driving test, uncomplicated by extended periods on motorways or the need to stop and refuel. A pure point-to- point contest on some of Europe’s best roads, not to see whether a fast car was quicker than a slow one but by how much, and over a 190-mile cross-country route. So we decided to go from bridge to bridge in Wales, from the Severn Bridge in the far south-east of the country to the Menai Bridge in the north-west. The cars would leave at the same time, the difference in their arrival times providing the answer to our question.
Choosing the fast car was simplicity itself. On the cold and damp roads of varying widths on which we would be travelling, I truly believe the Porsche 911 Turbo S is the fastest car in the world. With 572bhp backed by an avalanche of torque combined with four-wheel drive and compact dimensions, it was the perfect weapon for the job.
The slow car was harder to select. It could have been a Dacia Sandero, Fiat Panda or similar but the one I kept coming back to was a Smart Fortwo. Maybe it was the knowledge that we already had the 911 and I subliminally wanted another car noted for its short wheelbase and rear-engine location, but I also liked the incongruity of the tiny city car bombing along trying to keep up with quickest mainstream version of the greatest sports car of all time. Smart was unable to provide a car with the base spec engine, but the automatic ‘Prime’ model that did turn up could still only muster 89bhp and a 0-62mph time of 11.3sec – certainly slow enough to make the point.
But a third component was needed too: a driver. I had already determined I would drive the Smart but who should I put behind the wheel of the Porsche? What was needed was someone who could really drive but who’d also understand what we were trying to achieve and how to play the game. In short, I needed Mauro. Most of you will have seen Mauro Calo dozens of times without realising it, as he spends most of his working life driving for telly programmes both currently and formerly populated by Clarkson, Hammond and May.
When he’s not doing that, he works as a stunt driver on enormous Hollywood productions like Mission: Impossible and driving for people like us. He also used to be the world’s drifting champion. So I was confident that, whatever the result, it wasn’t going to be compromised by an unwillingness on his part to get his foot down.
Now we had the game and its players, all that remained were the rules, of which there were just two. The first was obvious: both cars must follow exactly the same route and not stop. The second was that neither of us was going to flout speed limits, something entirely possible even in the Smart. Yes, this would favour the Smart, but the Porsche still held a crushing advantage: I knew from the off that every overtake I made would need to be executed one car at a time and with meticulous planning. In the Porsche, Mauro would be past almost the instant he pressed the pedal.