Up the hill at Goodwood in two supersaloons

Published: 08 July 2010

Having been to Goodwood three times as a regular punter before I landed my current job at CAR, it's a real privilege to be invited to drive up Goodwood's hill. This year I was lucky enough to get behind the wheel of the Alpina B5 and the Vauxhall VXR8. Here's what happened...

The in-house BMW M5 rival - aka, the Alpina B5

First was up Alpina’s new B5, and in a first for the Buchloe-based BMW master, it was not only unveiling an all-new car at Goodwood, but in right-hand drive form too. All the better for me to feel more comfortable behind the wheel as I negotiate my way up Lord March’s tight and twisty front drive; as we queue up at the start line, I notice a map of the hill climb, with Danger! triangles on almost every corner. Brilliant.

And, as ever, there’s a bit of a wait for our run, even though we’re the first group of cars on the hill that day. I go for a little wander up and down the assembled crowd of cars to calm my nerves, though it doesn’t help as everything around pretty much has more power and a better driver behind the wheel. Case in point is multiple Le Mans winner Derek Bell, ahead in a Bentley Continental Supersports convertible, and between the two of us is a Noble M600 and a Lexus LFA.

I retreat to the air conditioned cool of the B5, and run through the spec list with the man riding shotgun beside me, Alpina’s sales director Kris Odwarka. Under the bonnet is the same all-aluminium V8 found in the bigger B7, and with twin turbos blowing on 4.4-litres it cranks out 500bhp at 5500rpm, plus 516lb ft from 3000 to 4750rpm.

More importantly, there’s trick direct injection technology that shuts down the fuel supply during upshifts, so the eight-speed ZF swaps cogs in under 200milliseconds. And not only is that pretty fast for a torque convertor, but a happy bonus of the fuel interruption are deep booms on each shift, similar to what you’ll get from one of VAG’s DSG ‘boxes. In a big V8 saloon it sounds a little odd, but very cool.

Everything else is standard Alpina fare, from the cool blue dials (why BMW M Division stopped using pale purple instrument clusters I don’t know), the chunky bodykit and spindly 20in wheels, and the fact that it’s fully BMW approved, has undergone the same endurance testing, and is sold through BMW dealers.

Up to the line and I select the Sport+ setting, and the B5 launches damn briskly. There’s a brief chirrup from the rear tyres before the electronics cut in, but once second is selected (and accompanied by a charismatic boom) this big Alpina really starts to pick up the pace. Then I’m hard on the brakes, and as I’ve only driven the hill once before (in 2009, in a Mini E), Kris Odwarka barks rally-style instructions to me for the next minute or so.

We arrive at the top, and as we were early in the run, we’re able to watch all the other cars arriving, with a Pagani tucking up behind the Alpina. It’s quite a collection.

The HSV Commodore GTS - aka, the next Vauxhall VXR8

Three hours later I’m in the Cathedral Paddock to meet the Vauxhall PR man, who hands over the keys to a mean-looking Holden. Make that a HSV Commodore GTS, the latest version of the Down Under super saloon that’s a VXR8 over here. And, reading between the lines, if everything goes to plan, this will become the facelifted VXR8 in early 2011.

Having run into snapper James Lipman during the day, I’ve invited him along as a passenger, and we both watch the air displays while we wait for Lewis Hamilton. No, he’s not coming to see me, but he is driving the MP4-12C up the hill, but he’s also just been in his F1 car, and with massive crowds to negotiate too, it takes him a little bit of time to get here.

Not everyone is interested in Lewis though – we get a few fans asking us whether the HSV has the bi-modal exhausts (no), whether it’s a 7.0-litre (just 6.2 I’m afraid), and if it’s supercharged (nope, ‘just’ 425bhp on offer). Of course they’re mostly Aussies who ask, but one English family is equally interested and they pose in front of the car – I duly ruin it with a thumbs-up on the background. Sorry.

Finally Lewis arrives, and we burble down to the start line. Mindful of what the Vauxhall PR man has asked (‘Just make the start spectacular’, was his request as he handed over the keys) I’m busy plotting the best place for a burnout when a marshal signals to me. I roll down the window. ‘Are you thinking of doing a burnout or doughnut, sir?’ ‘Err, I was considering spinning the tyres,’ I stammer, flummoxed by how they’re on to me and wondering just where on the narrow hill I could get the HSV spinning on the spot. 'Right you are then, sir,' comes the reply. 'I'll hold the car behind'. And with that the Ruf behind me is stopped so I can smoke the rear wheels for the crowds gathering on the edges of the holding area. Unfortunately I haven’t turned the traction control off so we launch forward with no smoke.

Thankfully my real start is a bit better, and once I’ve moved 10 yards beyond the start line (and a marshal) I stop, light up the tyres and lay two decent black lines along Lord March’s drive. With Mr Lipman whooping beside, we carry on up the hill, V8 roaring.

Hamilton is already at the top, as is Chris Evans and his very expensive (£5 million) 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder. And the marshal directs me to park just in front of Chris’s car, so I have to squeeze gingerly past. Gulp!

Thankfully I don’t scratch it, and after Lewis has signed autographs and posed with fans we head back down the hill, and return the VXR8 safely to the paddock. Quite a day.

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy