Jeremy Clarkson on: fragile supercars
At the end of every TopGear summer series, most of the team heads off to the beach for a spot of rest and relaxation. Not me, though. With the final bombshell still echoing in my ears, I have to start work on my annual Christmas DVD.
This year, you join me at the Paul Ricard track, an hour north of Marseilles. It is a kaleidoscope of colour and noise, a Technicolor blaze in the parched beige and sage hinterland. It’s excellent. The sky is an uninterrupted blue dome, away off to the south I can see the Mediterranean twinkling and shimmering, and the on-site hotel has a two-Michelin-star restaurant and an extremely pretty receptionist.
To make everything even more perfect, I’m over here with the TopGear film crew, who are a good laugh in the evening. Last night – after a lot of wine, I admit – we decided that for our Christmas special, James, Richard and I should once again become the Interceptors and go in search of the world’s biggest comb-over. This morning, I could see some flaws in that idea, chiefly that I don’t want to wear a moustache for two weeks.
But no matter. All is well in my world. Except for one thing. We are filming cars, and cars are a bloody nuisance.
We don’t ask much of them. They have to drive round so cameras at the side of the track can record the slides and the smoke and the noise. Then we attach a camera to the chase car and get some tracking shots. And then we fit on-board cameras, and I record the things I want to say from behind the wheel. Simple. Except it never is.
We began with the Ferrari FF, which, as I’m sure you know, is the first Ferrari ever to have a hatchback and the first to come with four-wheel drive. It’s a fantastically complicated system which uses a small two-speed gearbox and two clutches mounted to the front of the engine and powered directly from the crank. The idea is that when the rear wheels lose traction, electronics prod the system up front, and drive is despatched to whichever front wheel is best placed to help out.
The trouble is that the car appears to have such a good chassis, the front gearbox seems to sit there most of the time doing nothing. I became convinced that it wasn’t actually there at all. Until halfway through the day when I noticed the front tyres were completely shot to pieces. Half a day, and they were gone. Useless.
So we switched to the McLaren MP4-12C, which would be used in a drag race against various rivals. It’s easy to film a drag race. You put the cameras on the start line to record the beginning. Then you stop, put the cameras halfway down the straight to record the middle and then you put them at the end to record the finish. That means three standing starts. Three goes with the launch control. Easy peasy.
But unfortunately, after two goes, the McLaren decided it was too hot and needed a rest. So we broke out the Nissan GT-R. “There’s no way this will go wrong,” I said as I climbed aboard.
Two minutes later, I was buried in the handbook, trying to find out what the meaningless warning light on the dash was indicating. And why its launch control had also given up the ghost.
So we wheeled the GT-R into its hospital and began work with the BMW 1M. Ten minutes later, long before we’d had a chance to record any tracking shots or on-board pieces to camera, one of the producers was on the phone to the nearest tyre depot, asking if they did home deliveries.
The track at Paul Ricard is not especially abrasive, and the temperature was a pleasant 31 degrees. And yet none of the cars we’d brought along were lasting more than half a day before needing medical attention.
And that’s before we got to the new BAC Mono. It is a fabulous-looking little car. And if you peer beyond the bodywork – which was inspired by the F-22 Raptor – you notice the beauty is more than skin-deep. All the hoses and bolts appear to have been installed by a team of people that really care.
So off I went, and immediately I knew that the short item we’d planned for this car wouldn’t be enough. I loved it. Unlike a V8-powered Ariel Atom it does not have a determination to understeer into a tree at every opportunity. There’s a whiff, just to let you know that you’re cracking on a bit, but then it grips and goes. There’s no discernible roll, no pitch under braking. It’s properly sorted. No question.
But what I loved most of all was the lack of speed. The figures suggest it will do 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds and that flat-out it’ll do 168mph, which sounds terrifying. But it isn’t, and that means I could concentrate on braking to get the fastest possible lap time. Not braking to stay alive.
Part of the reason for this is that although the engine says Cosworth down the side, it’s actually the same basic block they use in a Ford Galaxy.
And although the gearbox is an F3-inspired unit from Hewland, it changes just like the ‘box in a Golf GTI. It’s the same story with the steering wheel. There were all sort of buttons and read-outs, but mostly they were disconnected. In short then, it felt like a car.
I was comfortable too. I couldn’t have done star jumps in the cockpit, or touched my toes. In fact, I couldn’t move anything apart from the front of my arms, and my feet. But that was all I needed.
Then there was a small fire. No biggie. It was just that a bit of carbon-fibre trim aroundthe exhaust had got a bit hot. Then the gearbox stopped working. And then the engine decided it didn’t like low revs very much.
This is in no way meant as a criticism. I was in a pre-production prototype, so I’m not suggesting the cars you buy will behave this way. But I am suggesting that it would be easier to film a DVD about gardening. Soil doesn’t wear out. Daffodils don’t overheat. Lawns don’t have gearboxes.
It is hugely exciting to power-slide a Ferrari 458 around a corner. Much more exciting than deadheading a rose, for example. But you need to remember that after you’ve laid down some smoke, the tyres will be shot and the diff will be over-heating. You can take any car to the limits of its abilities. But only once or twice. And when it comes to making a television programme, that’s never enough.
There is, however, an exception to this rule. There is one car that never gets hot, or throws a hissy fit. It’s even kind to its tyres. You’ll have to buy the current issue of TopGear Singapore to find out what it is.
Only kidding. It’s the Lamborghini Gallardo.