You are here
Speed Week: welcome to the circuit
Huge, ominous thunderclouds are building above a nondescript car park on the outskirts of the legendary Circuit de Charade, and angry cumuli are not the only things gathering - this is the rendezvous point for Speed Week, so we’re expecting company. Already we’re drawing an appreciative crowd. The British group has arrived first, the F-Type stirring every petrolhead in a five-mile radius from their Sunday afternoon slumbers, and within half an hour we are surrounded by fascinated locals, poking around the fly-spattered early arrivals.
The team spends the next hour staring through the fence. At first glance, this does not look like a very benign race track. In fact, it more than lives up to our expectation of a ‘mini-Nürburgring’, rising and falling within the confines of its own volcanic valley with a sinuous impossibility that tricks the eye. You can feel the mood change, ever so slightly. Excited anticipation of the next two days of hot laps gradually becomes infused with mild fear as the lack of room for error and proximity of trackside concrete becomes all too clear.
As I rehearse the best way to make the phrase “absolutely no room for error” sound slightly less intimidating in the driver’s briefing tomorrow, the air is filled with the baritone herald of the Germans. They arrive in a flurry, the SLS Black thumping down through the gears on its way into the car park, flanked by the thrumming RS6 and silent-by-comparison 135i. Unsurprisingly, the crowd is immediately drawn to the cartoonish SLS Black, thinking it the most outrageous car here. Little do they know what is about to arrive…
Just as the two squads discuss their various Charade-bound adventures - Le Mans versus Liechtenstein, gleaming autoroute versus 30-foot snowbanks lining the Furka pass - the unmistakable shriek of a Lamborghini V12 causes the conversation to stutter. The Italians arrive fashionably - but entirely appropriately - late, as only Italian supermodels can. Unfortunately, the Aventador and Maserati’s occupants are not Italian supermodels. They are somewhat sweaty TG staffers, wielding grins wider than the Lambo’s scissor doors.
Turns out the Italian leg had its own tales of arrival. Mostly concerning how epic the Aventador is without a roof and the Portofino Polizia’s predilection for imposing on-the-spot photographic location/Chianti tax fines. But no matter. They are here. Stage one of the Speed Week undertaking is complete.
I stare around the - now fully loaded, including our three wildcards - car park and do some Top Gear maths. With a combined ability to collectively generate 5,489bhp and 4,639lb ft and drive it through 34 driven wheels, what we have here are cars to do the Circuit de Charade justice. The various teams have travelled a total of 13,532 miles just to get here, and already it’s obvious that some vehicles have shone bright on the journey down, while others are still waiting to showcase their true talents. We hope.
It’s shaping up to be a big few days. There’s a healthy amount of respect for the circuit on first impressions, and all the cars are in rude health. Which is… unusual for a TG shoot. And so, for a dose of TG-style reality, we immediately decamp in a £1.1 million convoy to the worst hotel in the area, and elevate its status from two to four stars, merely by parking in its grounds. But we have the cars and we have the circuit, which is what matters. The thunder cracks eventually and the downpour begins, gently washing the road grime from the stars of the next few days. Though it - less conveniently - also reminds me of the zero-tolerance circuit that beckons in the morning…