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Speed Week: Forza Italia

  1. Saturday, 9.05am This was meant to be the easy, glamorous leg. Collect Aventador Roadster from Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata headquarters, bumble over to Maranello to intercept one Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale and one Jason Barlow, drink many coffees, glide effortlessly over the Alps to convene with Team Britain and die Deutschländer at the Circuit de Charade.

    But this is Top Gear, so things aren’t going smoothly. Trapped in rush-hour morning traffic on the road from Sant’Agata to Maranello with the temperature outside already touching 40°C, photographer Rowan and I and many bags are wedged into the Aventador. The Aventador’s roof is up. The Aventador’s aircon is not working. That 691bhp V12 is churning out volcanic heat, and the temperature in the cabin has reached, at a conservative estimate, at least 100°C. I am wondering if one can be waterboarded by one’s own sweat.

    Photography: Rowan Horncastle 

  2. The sensible solution, what with this being the convertible, would be to remove the Aventador’s roof, let some fresh air in. But we can’t. When you remove the two carbon-fibre panels that constitute the Aventador’s roof, you must stow them in the front boot, filling the car’s only luggage space, space currently containing the 50 per cent of Rowan’s camera gear not jammed about his person. And that would mean driving with said camera gear wedged against the windscreen, and then I would crash this £300k supercar, and that would be even worse than being sweaty. So, right now, I am sat in a fetid pool of my own perspiration in the world’s most expensive, fastest oven, and la dolce vita is not feeling so very dolce. What an ungrateful git.

  3. 10.40am Maranello, and though Rowan and I have shed a combined four stone of body mass, things are looking rather brighter. Having located a Jason, decanted our gear into the Maserati and deroofed the Aventador, we can now survey our 20 cylinders, £405,000 and 1,145bhp of prime-cut Italian metal. Beside the extravagant, caricatured Lambo, the GranTurismo MC Stradale - the fastest, most track-focused Maserati on sale - looks pure evil, all stealth black and carbon fibre. The weave is for more than show, though: the Stradale, thanks to lightweight bucket seats, carbon-ceramic brakes and a dearth of sound insulation, weighs some 110kg less than the standard GranTurismo. With its atmospheric V8 now pumping out 454bhp, it should stand at least a fighting chance of clinging onto the Lambo’s angular coat-tails. Let’s find out…

  4. 12.10pm And today just keeps getting better. Up into the cool, woody Apennines - the twisted spine of Italy separating the plains of Modena from the jagged west coast - and onto the sort of buckled road a travel guide would euphemistically describe as “challenging”. Mad camber, tightening hairpins, smashed tarmac - this one’s got the lot. It should be, in a V12 hypercar, a recipe for Mafia-spec intimidation. But the big Lambo is simply stunning up here. No surprise it’s preposterously fast, but it’s the composure that really shocks, the huge footprint seemingly shrinking about you as it darts into the sharp switchbacks. It’s so composed, in fact, that the Aventador makes its near-700bhp seem a reasonable, accessible amount of power.

  5. OK, the robotised paddle-shift remains a pig. Left to its own devices, the transmission will do precisely what you don’t want it to: head into a sharp bend at pace, and the bugger will shift up a gear, but burble quietly through town, and it will, quite without warning, rattle home a downshift and give half a dozen old ladies simultaneous heart attacks. Higher and higher, and the Maserati hangs on gamely, slewing out its tail on the exit of the sharpest corners. Catching a glimpse of Barlow’s face behind the wheel, I spot an expression I’d describe as “committed”.

  6. 1.40pm Near Cavazzola, Jason stops our mini-convoy to retrieve a now-empty tube of Pringles threatening to roll under his brake pedal. It’s true what they say: once you pop, you can’t stop.

    4.20pm “Do not drive. Engine off. Get out. Documents. Now.”

    This was not in the script. Touring Italy in a couple of prime slices of Italian exotica is widely understood to give you carte blanche to cause good-natured mayhem. Arsing around in local supercars is regarded as an act of public service.

  7. But the two policemen who have accosted our convoy, parked on the pavement in the balmy Mediterranean town of Santa Margherita Ligure, clearly haven’t read the script. Despite the throngs of holidaymakers happily snapping away at our cars, the two policemen do not regard parking on the pavement as an act of public service. The two policemen are very angry.

    “Goodness, are we parked in the wrong place?” Best confused-English-bloke-in-very-expensive-hypercar voice.
    “Yes.” Policeman not buying the act.
    “Terribly sorry. You’ll probably want us out your way, then?”
    “You must stay while we prepare the fine.” Uttered with relish.
    “Ah. How much is it?”
    “I… don’t remember. I check.” He stalks off, clutching my licence and passport, and the Aventador’s papers. His colleague has exacted the same treatment on Jason and the Maserati.
    “We’re screwed, aren’t we?” I ask, hoping our editor at large, with his years of experience, has concocted a plan.
    “Yep. Screwed.” He hasn’t.

    Three hundred and twenty-eight euro of screwed, it emerges 20 minutes later. I tell the policeman I don’t have 328 euro on me. “Then I have the car,” he replies.

  8. 5.15pm Fine paid, Lambo in our possession, we swing towards France. I’m in the Maserati at last. Funny thing, context. It might seem churlish to describe a 454bhp sports car with a quoted 0-62mph of 4.5 seconds as slow, but, honestly, after a day in the Aventador, the GT feels a mite sluggish. Stick it in Race mode, though, and it makes a glorious racket, a hirsute V8 roar to the Lambo’s death-rattle scream. Oddly, underneath all the carbon fibre and race bits, the Stradale turns out to be a big softie, with an old-school GT lope. Which makes it a lovely long-range cruiser, but I wonder if, having handed over £110k for the sportiest Maserati in the range, you might have expected something a little pointier. But, as a respite from the screaming, headbanging Lambo, it’s just the ticket. And its aircon works.

  9. 8.15pm Cuneo is a quiet town sprawled over the foothills of the Alps, some 22 miles from the French border. Quite by accident, we have rolled into its central piazza on the night of Cuneo’s biggest annual festival. The square is rocking, packed with thousands of partygoers and dozens of stalls representing just about every nation on earth - Indonesia, Nicaragua, Somalia. But it’s our envoys from the People’s Republic of Horsepower that are centre of attention. In seconds, our mini-convoy becomes submerged under a sea of revellers, everyone wanting to be a little part of our daft, wonderful little event.

  10. A gaggle of tiny Filipino women decide that we are either famous or filthy rich. Far too polite to disappoint, we pose for photos, sign autographs and offer them complimentary tickets to our next stadium tour. Then they drag us over to their stall, where we become guests of honour at the ceremonial butchering of a barbecued suckling pig. A man wielding a three-foot machete slices off the pig’s snout, slaps it on a paper plate and hands it to me. Mmm, nostrils. Crunchy nostrils.

  11. Sunday, 7.25am For reasons of religion and sloth, Italy doesn’t open on Sunday morning. On the upside, this means we have the gorgeous Col de la Madeleine - the mountain pass connecting Italy to France’s Hautes-Alpes - to ourselves. On the downside, this means there are no fuel stations open, only automatic pumps that refuse to accept British cards. In the last 45 minutes, we’ve tried nine stations, and not one has yielded fuel. The Aventador has a quarter of a tank, which will get us approximately seven miles. The Aventador is not a frugal car. I wonder whether, if the Maser tows the Lambo to the top of the pass, we could simply roll our way downhill through France to Clermont-Ferrand.

  12. 8.55am Fuel! We have fuel! Bring on the Alps!

    11.40am Parents will tell you there is no more magical a moment than witnessing the birth of your first child. Sure it’s great and all, childbirth, but believe me: no experience on earth can top this. Haring up an empty, smooth Alpine pass in an Aventador Roadster with a GranTurismo in hot pursuit, under cornflower skies and cotton-candy clouds, 20 angry Italian cylinders and an orchestra of giant tailpipes beating a tattoo down the valley.

  13. Back in the Aventador, and I don’t care what happens over on the race track in the next couple of days, because this contest is already done and dusted. For sheer sensory drama, nothing on our performance test can top this thing. Just look at it. What a shape! Has a more hypercarish hypercar ever existed? Maybe it’s the sunstroke talking, but I have concluded over the last 24 hours that the Aventador Roadster isn’t just the best-looking car in the world, but possibly the best-looking thing in the world.

  14. And, of course, you’d have the convertible over the coupe. It’s simply more… splendid. Less driver-focused? Forget it. Honestly, if you get to the point, out on the road, of spotting any dynamic difference between the coupe and roadster, you’re approximately a quarter of a second from an enormous crash. Losing the roof liberates the Aventador, puts you more in touch with the workings of that giant, glorious engine. And, yes, it’s insanely expensive and huge, the gearbox is lumpy and if you take the roof off there’s no space to store anything larger than one of those tiny golf pencils, but, frankly, who cares?

    12.35pm To the summit of the pass, into France… 300 miles to Clermont-Ferrand and four hours to get there. Stick the kettle on, Team UK. We’ll be down in time for tea.

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