As I wrote during the Historic Grand Prix in May this year, my introduction to the Monaco Grand Prix came in 2005 when “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”. Teamed up with Red Bull, and F1’s set up in the paddock came complete with Stormtroopers, R2D2 and CP30, while the team’s race cars sported Star Wars liveries. And this is where I parked myself for the big event.
The smell, the sounds, the atmosphere, my love affair with fast cars and racing began.
It was only recently that I realised I don’t actually like driving fast.
This first hit me this past September when I tagged along on the Ladies Vintage Car Rally, put on by Martine Ackermann in aid of Child Care Monaco.
I imagined spending the afternoon en route chatting with my buddy Tracy Rohan, the media mastermind behind the recent TEDxMonteCarlo, while our scarves waved fashionably in the wind to envious onlookers.
We were given a 1956 Porsche 550 RS “Spyder” (the exact car James Dean was driving when he had his fatal accident, although neither the car, nor the speed, were the cause, but rather the result of Mr Dean and a lorry driver not understanding each other at a crossing.)
“The nickname of the car was the ‘Giant Killer’,” Fabrice Le Roy of Rent a Classic Car in Nice tells me, “not because of James Dean’s accident but since it was successfully racing much bigger and more powerful cars such as the Cobra and Jaguar XK.”
Neither Tracy nor myself will ever forget the first five minutes driving the Giant Killer. All the ladies were pulling out of Casino Square making their way up to head east on Boulevard de Moulins towards Italy. It was a slow drive out. But the Spyder was not a slow car.
It would be about an hour before we could discuss those first few seconds gunning out of the Place, nearly smashing into the car ahead waiting to turn, our hearts relocating our mouths. “Well that was fun, wasn’t it,” Tracy, who is an outstanding driver, half-laughed, some time later. Even now when we run into each other, we share a flashback of that exhilaratingly terrifying moment.
The Spyder taught me that classic cars are spectacular to look at but neither friendly to the ears nor the bottom.
So when Federica Bruno, PR Consultant South Europe for McLaren contacted me last week with the offer to test-drive for the day the €200,000 McLaren 570GT, I was already wearing my driving gloves by the time I replied yes.
I met up with Stephane Da Costa, who, as my co-pilot for the day, is a supercar aficionado. The plan was to drive up to Peille and wind back westward, eventually picking up the Grand Corniche where the road opens up. (Stephane had already been to Sospel, which drained half a tank.)
At first sight, it was the batmobile in its glory. Getting in the 570GT can reveal your age, it’s low to the ground.
McLaren exhibited for the first time at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2016, featuring the 570GT, winner of the “Prix de la coherence automobile” at Chantilly Arts&Elegance 2016. The carmaker is more often associated with Formula One racing but is trying to crossover to the “everyday car” market with its Sports Series, and they even have a promotion claiming “Take the McLaren for the price of a return ticket on the Gatwick Express” (based on the fare for a return journey between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport), which offers the 540C Coupé for less than £32 a day (with a PCP plan and deposit).
The carbon-fibre tub twin-turbo 3.8 litre V8 570GT can reach a top speed of 328 kph, with 0-100 kph in 3.4 seconds and 0-200 kph in 9.8 seconds. Okay, so I didn’t even break the speed limit.
I’d love to report that I was cool behind the wheel, or even as a passenger, but I screamed more times than I care to admit, with the powerful acceleration, as we weaved around the rocky backcountry. From all I’ve read about the car, and witnessed firsthand, the car handles like a dream (although a horn with more character is definitely required), but it hit me today that I’m not a fan of speed, and driving a car of this magnificence within the speed limits is not what the supercar experience is about. In other words, Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t have to watch his back.
Still, with my stomach a flutter, I was happy to put my feet on land at the end of the test drive, although I think Stephane may be putting the McLaren 570GT on his Christmas Wish List.
I’m not going to lie, though, it was pretty cool opening the vertical door and having all the mobile phone cameras snapping shots of the car as I exited.
And then I jumped on an electric bike and pedalled home.
For more see cars.mclaren.com/sports-series