So what actually happened when we let this most bizarre pair of machines, the Noble M600 sports car and Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car, loose across the same piece of Tarmac, which happened to be the half-mile-long ‘snake’ at Chobham test track?
To begin with – much to my surprise and delight – the Noble M600 was undisputed king. I say surprise because despite the M600 boasting 650bhp to the Skoda Fabia S2000’s 265bhp, all your instincts tell you that a 1200kg, four-wheel drive rally car should walk all over any road car, even one as rapid as the M600.
But no, for the first few practice runs we filmed, me behind driving the Noble, budding IRC star Robert Barrable pedaling the Skoda, the M600 was very obviously the quicker of the two. In the acceleration zones I could just sit and wait, and then go; and through the corners the Noble could generate more grip, everywhere. It turned in better (much better) and was basically held up by the Fabia into and out of each apex.
Which was weird because everyone present, even the amiable boss of Noble, Pete Boutwood, who’d turned up in the M600 personally, expected the opposite to be the case.
But there were two key factors to consider. One, although Barrable is a star in the making, he didn’t have a clue which way the road went to begin with, whereas I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve punted cars through The Snake over the years. Two, after several practice runs the Fabia’s front tyres were well past their best. At one point, in fact, it left the road and went for an unplanned sojourn into the woods, so badly was it suffering from understeer.
And then someone suggested getting a stopwatch out and timing them individually, just to see. Which was when the Skoda rally team snapped into focus and Barrable’s competitive spirit burst into life. And the Fabia found itself wearing a brand new set of tyres that were harder in compound and a whole lot grippier than the first set.
With these duly fitted we agreed to do one sighting run and one solo timed run each. I went first and scared myself stupid at least twice trying to extract the maximum from the M600 – never an easy thing to achieve when there are trees just six feet from your first mistake and the tyres you are using are beginning to fade. My time was 33.2sec.
Surely that couldn’t be beaten, I thought, as my pulse rate came back below 200bpm. Wrong…
With its new tyres fitted and Barrable in full maniac mode, the Fabia looked like a completely different animal as I watched it turn into the first corner. And it flew – literally in places – through The Snake to a time of just 31.1sec.
I was mortified. So was dear old Pete from Noble, who thought for a moment that his car was about to pull off one of the more unexpected stunts of the year. But the works Skoda IRC team had been sandbagging all along, of course, and in the end, according to The Watch, it wasn’t even especially all that close.
Conclusion; road cars like the M600 may appear to be unbeatably quick in isolation, but competition cars will always be quicker. Sorry Pete, but I did try my best to prove otherwise. Have a look at (and try to enjoy!) the video if still you’re not convinced.