“Given it’s the 25th anniversary of Britain’s Best Driver’s Car, should we go back to Castle Combe?” they asked. In 1989 it was the track we used for the first what’s now our annual handling test.
“Gulp,” I replied. “Okay, let’s.”
I knew Castle Combe a little, but I’d only ever used it for photoshoots – during which we tend to use a corner or two at a time, sometimes driving both directions. It’s not the way to learn a circuit.
What precious few full laps I’d done suggested Combe is like other tracks based on the perimeter roads of former grass airstrips in the south of England. A long, terrifyingly fast right hander.
Only, as it turns out, it’s not. In fact, it’s as good a circuit as I’ve used during the ten Britain’s Best Driver’s Car tests I’ve taken part in.
Granted, Combe is fast – along the start/finish straight there’s a three-figure-speed kink, while into the following braking zone the fastest cars we brought along this year – a McLaren 650S, Ferrari 458 Speciale and the Porsche 911 GT3 (defending champion) – were hitting 150mph.
But even Renault’s Megane Trophy doesn’t feel lost at Combe, because although some of the bends are fast, they’re challenge the stability and balance, even of front-drive cars of less than 300 horsepower.
And Combe’s bumps, camber and gradient changes – including braking areas that are seldom straight and level – mean that, as a test of a road car’s chassis dynamics – which is what Britain’s Best Driver’s Car is ultimately about – few circuits come better.
Our test isn’t only about the track, mind, but while you have to look a little further for good road routes than at some circuits, they’re there to be found.
Anyway, you can see the results of the test in next Wednesday’s magazine and on this site. And while it’s the first time we’ve used Castle Combe for this event in a while, I suspect we won’t wait so long again.