Matt Prior, left, most fondly remembers the BBDC test on a closed road in 2008
As we get ready to reveal which is Britain’s Best Driver’s Car for 2014, team members past and present reflect on 25 years of the most important test of the year.
One year we made the slightly risky move of inviting two celeb F1 drivers: Justin Wilson and Takuna Sato, both now plying their trade in the US. My job was to chaperone Sato, drive with him and take note of his feedback. All I really remember is how banzai he was everywhere, and then us spinning across the grass at Bedford in a Lotus Elise, him moaning about the 'gone off' tyres as the barrier loomed alarmingly close. We missed it by millimetres.
One I remember was the Goodwood handling day to which we invited John Miles, the Lotus engineer and former F1 driver, who was then in his later 50s, I guess. We all enjoyed the Porsche 968 Club Sport and Honda NSX, though he saw ways to improve both. One of our younger crew saw how well he drove and asked if he'd ever done any racing. "Well," he said, "I was Jochen Rind's team mate at Lotus for a while..."
I can’t remember the year but it was at Silverstone. Alois Ruf had brought along one of his potty 911s and Sutcliffe and I were putting it through its paces. It was a typical Ruf product: immensely fast but a bit tricky. Steve doesn’t spin cars very often but he lost the Ruf in a big way with me sitting next to him. You’ve never seen so much tyre smoke. When it eventually cleared we laughing hysterically.
£859,624 worth of cars (my calculator tells me), ranging from Ferrari F12 Berlinetta through to Ford Fiesta ST, via the likes of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, Porsche 911 GT3 and Radical RXC. As editor, I did the honourable thing and invited myself to Snetterton to drive them. And then... the weight of passing magazine pages, attending meetings and more came to bear. It all got too much. I spent the day at my desk instead, figuring the experts could get on with doing what they are expert at. And, as ever, they did. It was the right thing to do. But I'll kick myself for it until the day I die.
In 2008 we went to the Isle of Man for a top five shootout on the road. A closed road. Had I not been there I wouldn't believed it, but we turned up at the transport depot with a Renault Trafic, were given a load of signs and cones, and told to close it off ourselves, opening it again once we were done. And so we found the holy grail: a brilliant mountain road, no speed limits, no other traffic, to do with entirely as we pleased.
As a trainee newspaper journalist buying Autocar all starry eyed once a week, reading the jaw dropping Isle of Man handling day of 2008 finally encouraged me to dream of a writing career beyond reports on church fetes and do something much more important. I was on the staff by the time 2009's rolled around. Handling day - career changing indeed.
Bedford Autodrome, handling day 2007. The first appearance of Audi's R8, of the E92 BMW M3 and Porsche's first 997 RS. None of which is the car that instantly springs to mind. Instead, it's the Lotus 2-Eleven in which I rode shotgun with Chris Harris, while he set a benchmark laptime at dusk. There was nowhere to wedge in the timing gear, so I had to hold it - as well as simultaneously preventing the borrowed helmet on my head from being sucked clean off into the airflow above.
Spent the evening in a snooker bar near a south of France test track where we were conducting the 2000 handling day. Looking for more nightlife we asked a group of girls where we could go: "There's a bar down the road - do you have a car?" Outside we had a Z8, Diablo GT, 360 Modena and Noble M400. It was a good night.
I reckon handling is about agility, balance, adjustability and accessibility. It’s a car that telegraphs its messages and lets you adjust its attitude in a thrice with steering or throttle. I Think Porsche's 968 Club Sport back when or Cayman GTS now. But amid all the supercars and hot hatches, a Mazda MX-5 left me with some of the fondest memories, particularly on back roads en route to the circuits. With such meagre performance and (comparatively) feeble grip you’d be whipping along at its limits and getting lovely little flicks of oversteer on roads that barely challenged the big boys. Delicious.
Castle Combe, July 1989, and the then news editor was permitted to take part. Our collective good time was largely destroyed when said news editor embarrassingly damaged the 328GTB. “I’ve crashed the Ferrari,” he sheepishly admitted to editor Bob Murray, who was not happy. Though I voted for the Porsche 944, my favourite was the Toyota MR2. Simply because I could drive it harder, faster, more often than all the others.
Everybody raved about the Noble M12’s handling, but its instrument back-lighting was woeful. Driving back from Pirelli’s test track near Turin after ‘04’s Handling Day I could barely pick out its km/h reading through Mont Blanc tunnel. Result: a small transgression, but a mighty-big fine from the French police.
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