What happened after Performance Car of the Year

Published: 14 January 2011

With the current January 2011 issue of CAR Magazine there’s a free 36-page supplement that charts five epic days in the south of France as we tested eight of this year’s greatest vehicles to pick our Performance Car of the Year.

But PCOTY 2010 didn’t end when we’d picked a winner after the fifth day on the epic Route Napoleon. Here’s what happened afterwards…

Day 5 – 2pm: Goodbye Ben Barry 

On day five our esteemed road test editor spent as much time driving all the cars as he did trying to corral us into making a decision on which car should win PCOTY 2010. And while we all agreed on the overall winner – even if it wasn’t put in first place by all the judges – the time-consuming part was sorting the order of the other seven. Okay, six, as we all had the Impreza Cosworth dead last.

Why was Ben so keen to count our votes and be on his way? Because he had the launch of the Ford C-Max to get to, which was a few hours away in Nice. Now of course he was keen to drive the Blue Oval’s new MPV, but he was really chomping at the bit to get going as his carefully chosen method of transport was Lamborghini’s Gallardo Superleggera. Ben originally suggested keeping hold of Tim Pollard’s 5-series Touring for a few more days and then driving back, but frankly we needed it as a support car; instead we insisted he take the Lambo.

I doubt anyone has ever arrived at a Ford launch in a Lamborghini, or overtaken so many people along the Route Napoleon to get there. Was stepping from a V10 supercar to a diesel people carrier a letdown? Probably, but I bet the C-Max had better brake feel.

Day 5 – 2.30pm: Finding a home for the Mercedes SLS and chauffeuring in the GT2 RS

Our grand plan called for snapper John Wycherley to leave early on our final day of shooting: he had a flight to catch from Lyon, and he’d get there via SLS, leaving the car with the man from Mercedes at the airport. Simple, except after repeated cornering shots with a GT2 RS (see the epic picture in our gallery, right), the combination of the Merc’s bulk and the baking hot weather meant we managed to rip some of the tread from the left rear tyre. Woops.

Not that anyone noticed initially: riding back three-up after bagging the shot, neither Jethro Bovingdon, snapper Greg Pajo or designer Alex Tapley (sitting on the sill with a gullwing door up) noticed the tread flapping in the wheelarch. It was yours truly who swapped from GT2 RS to the SLS for the leg to the next location, and noticed that something was wrong.

New plan. Jethro takes John Wycherley to the airport in the GT2 RS – no doubt breaking Ben Barry’s overtaking record on the Route Napoleon in the process – while we apologise profusely to the Mercedes PR team, and the truck driver who now has to divert south from Lyon to our location near Digne-les-Bains.

Tim Pollard, who excelled at A-level French, is dispatched with the SLS to Digne to find a willing local who will look after the keys and the matching £191k supercar until it can be collected. He’s gone a long time before he finds someone – a nice elderly lady who runs a pension – who he thinks he can trust. He then takes numerous precautions to hide the SLS where she won't find and removes the SLS keyfob in case she's a granny with a penchant for fast cars. Happily, his madcap sceme works and the SLS is duly picked up later that evening by the long-suffering delivery driver.

Day 5 – 3pm: Closing roads

It’s probably illegal, but Alex Tapley and I don hi-vis vests, grab walkie-talkies and halt traffic while Greg Pajo and Chris Chilton snap the winner of CAR’s 2010 Performance Car of the Year test. The locals take it well, and somehow believe we’re official – no fists are shaken and no horns are tooted. Perhaps it's something to do with the stunning victor, a bright yellow Ferrari 458 Italia.

Day 5 – 4pm: Leaving

Greg Pajo has bag the final shot and it’s time to head home. I’ve booked the hotel so I commandeer the 5-series Touring and its sat-nav for the four-hour schlep to Lyon. We reward Tim’s hard work by handing him the keys to the 458 – and to make him feel better about missing his daughter’s second birthday, just so he could spend a week with a million-pound collection of cars. Chris Chilton, foolishly, opts to take the Elise, and Greg and Alex grab the Impreza and Megane.

We fuel up and set forth, enjoying an incredible blast along the rest of the Route Napoleon to Castellane, the 530d doing a particularly good job of harrying a Peugeot 306 driven by a local who clearly knows the roads. Our sat-nav shortcuts us around Castellane via some narrow country roads, but after 10 minutes of bucking and weaving Tarmac Chris flashes us over. He’s buzzing after the drive in the exquisite - if underpowered - Elise, but politely points out this isn’t the fastest way to cover the 200-odd miles to Lyon, especially as it’s getting dark.

Day 5 – 5.30pm: Dinner

We concur with Chris, end up rejoining the main(-ish) road minutes later, and stop for sustenance at a pizza van next to a petrol station. We reckon there’s at least three more hours of driving, very little of which is on motorways, so fill our hungry stomachs while we can.

Day 5 – 7pm: On the road again

We set off once more, and it’s fair to say that the five of us have our best drives over PCOTY 2010 over the next four hours. From just outside Castellane we drive flat out through the darkness, the 5-series leading the way, and actually leaving the Lotus behind because the Elise’s 1.6 just doesn’t have enough power to easily overtake. Chris loves every minute though – especially when we stop to let him put the roof up – while the Impreza and Megane are in their element on these hot hatch friendly roads. And over everything you can hear the Ferrari charging to its redline over and over. It's a memorable blast across southern France.

Day 6 – 11pm: Arriving

We reach our crummy hotel on the edge of Lyon, finding the keys to our rooms on the right rear tyre of the GT2 RS where Jethro left them while it was still light. The Ferrari does its best to wake everyone, and the rooms are so small that when you open the door it completely hides the bathroom. Alex and I fruitlessly search the hotel for quarter of an hour for a toilet or sink, only to return to our rooms, close the door, and find what we’re after.

Day 6 – 8am: Returning a Porsche

The group splits after breakfast, Jethro and I diverting the 5-series and GT2 RS towards the local Porsche dealership where we’ll leave the latter, while everyone else starts the journey north to Calais. It’s rush hour, so it takes nearly 90 minutes to cover the paltry 11 miles to the dealer, and then another 15 minutes to convince the staff that we rag-bag of Brits really have arranged to leave them one of the first GT2s in the world.

Car keys handed over and desperate to make up for lost time, we set the BM’s cruise at 110mph, knowing the other half of our group will be sweeping the roads ahead for speed traps.

Day 6 – 4pm: Calais

We reach Calais, expecting to find a 458, Elise, Megane and Impreza waiting, but no one is around. We call to check in, and find that Alex, Tim , Greg and Chris are 80 miles behind us, the Impreza’s thirst necessitating extra fuel stops where our 530d has just kept on going. So much for having a set of eyes and ears keeping a look out for cops…

Day 6 – 5.30pm: Boarding

We inch the Ferrari on board P&O’s finest, merrily drive the rest of our convoy onboard without fuss, and breathe a sigh of relief. There’s just the M25 to negotiate now, and after that all we have to do know is write the words, edit the pictures, design the whole supplement and we’ll be sorted until PCOTY 2011.

Make sure you enjoy the 36-page PCOTY supplement free with the current January 2011 issue of CAR Magazine. Click here for a free preview.

By Ben Pulman

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