LERATO: This year was again a year where it was the people I interacted with that dominates my highlights. There were people from all walks of life with intriguing stories and many are inspiring.
Not surprisingly, the birth of my son ranks right at the top of the pile for 2017, but I also came across some aspirational stories during the year, like seeing a car dealership going from humble beginnings in downtown Johannesburg to a fully-fledged establishment. BMW Joburg City Auto and its dealer principal Stephen Nale continue to strive for great heights, in spite of the tough economic landscape the automotive industry trades in.
Characters in industry
There were also several interviews conducted with some rather interesting characters in the industry, not the least of which was Stefano Domenicali, global CEO of Lamborghini. Then there was the chat with chief engineer of Ferrari powertrains for road cars, Francesco Morettini, who shared nuggets about the nuke of an engine that is the 6.5l V12 that powers the 812 Superfast and the challenges that he and his team had to endure to achieve this feat. I also managed to catch up with Calvin Luk, BMW’s exterior designer, who was instrumental in penning both the X1 and X3 models.
Then just last week I finally drove the 911 GT3. Billed by many to be the holy grail of sports cars, the wait to drive one was more than worth it. It is, unequivocally, the most complete and quintessential sports car and the one I would gladly shell out my money to own.
Another highlight that will forever be etched in my mind is driving on the iconic Imola racetrack, where one of the best racing drivers, Ayrton Senna, lost his life in 1994. Driving into the fateful Tamburello corner in the Huracan Performante was truly a bittersweet moment for me, but an experience I will treasure for a long time.
MICHAEL: There was a time back in the spring when an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde and I hit the Amalfi Coast of Italy. And I never want to do that again.
If you define "highlight" as a thing that stands in the memory and will never be wiped, then the Amalfi trip was the most memorable thing I did all year. For all the wrong reasons.
Now, people will tell you that driving down the Amalfi Coast in a high-powered Alfa Romeo is a bucket list, life-defining moment. And they’d be right, just not in the way they think. Oh, if you look at some old Italian movies, then check out a map of the joint. Loop down from Napoli to Salerno, overlook the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that took out Pompei and look down on one of Italy’s biggest cities.
Then you drive around the western point to Positano and on to Salerno, all smiles and sunshine, crystal blue waters clean Mediterranean air and delicious lemons scenting the air. But it’s nothing like that. The single road around the Amalfi Coast is narrow enough to make any bus driver cringe, if you assumed it was a one-way road. But it isn’t. It’s a two-way road.
Then there was the Alfa itself. Strong engine, big power, rear drive and a barrel of monkeys in the fun stakes. While it’s going. Ours broke once, then had a mystery steering ailment that shocked and spasmed the wheels back and forth every time we dialled in more than half a turn of steering lock.
So, the dream drive turned out to be a complete slab of misery and you can erase it, and the Amalfi Coast, from your bucket lists right now.
Instead, you could do some of the other stuff we did, like drive a McLaren 720S at Italy’s Vallelunga racetrack and through Rome. It’s every bit as good a sports car as people wanted it to be.
Or you could attack one of Europe’s modern private racetracks, like Ascari in Spain or Bilster Berg in northern Germany. Neither of them is easy to get to, neither of them is easy to get onto, but for all the replica-corner charms that make you think of classic Grand Prix tracks at Ascari, Bilster Berg is dangerous, looping and a brilliant, charming challenge, especially following DTM legend Bernd Schneider in a hot Mercedes-AMG GT R.
But that still wasn’t quite the best drive. The best was belting that car’s slightly softer sister, the GT C convertible, across Arizona in a rush to catch a flight 200 miles away. But that one will remain between me and the highway patrol officer.
MARK: For me, many of the highlights of 2017 did not actually involve driving at all. I visited two of the best events in the world, the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este on the bank of Lake Como in Italy, to witness some of the most beautiful and iconic cars of all time, and I attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK to see many icons take to the famous hillclimb in anger.
Seeing the results of Global NCAP’s first ever crash test of cars on sale in SA as part of its Safer Cars for Africa campaign was a big highlight. The government does not take road safety seriously enough, and in many cases nor do motorists, and the crash tests showed exactly what can happen if you put price ahead of the safety of you and your family.
I just hope more cars on sale here are tested and government starts to pay proper attention.
I interacted with a number of amazing people this year too, including the CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, Ralf Speth, the fascinating former head of brand BMW, Hildegard Wortmann, and the group IT boss of Williams F1 and Engineering, Graeme Hackland. All gave some great insight into today’s automotive industry and the trends for the future. I also managed a quick chat with F1’s Eddie Jordan while heading to catch a flight in Cape Town.
When it comes to the cars, there are two highlights. One is being one of the first journos in the world to attend the launch of the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. It was a special experience The car was good, too.
The second highlight behind the wheel was driving a couple of Porsches in Germany. One was the famous 964 Turbo, but that was cut short by a scheduled telephone interview with the South African trade and industry minister.
I did get more time in the 911R, particularly when I spotted a twisty road through the window of a restaurant and grabbed the key and ran. That car is just amazing. The only reason why it is more of a highlight than the GT3 I also drove this year, is because the 911R was manual.