Friends, last time we talked about how we all used to be the kid in the candy shop that wasn’t allowed to touch anything at auto shows. I experienced that myself but once got lucky to finally get close to and actually sit in my dream car at the time – the Aston Martin DB9. If you haven’t read that, make sure to head over to How I got to be the proud owner of an Italian classic (Part 1). Otherwise, this is how the story continues:
Becoming an auto show “VIP”
Having been able once to sit in true dream car I was addicted and wanted more. That auto show was my first taste and I knew there had to be more. So I thought to myself: “How do I make sure never to be that poor guy that stares at the star cars from outside the fence again?”. The answer was as obvious as it was unconventional
: Just ask! I started writing my favorite car brands and straight up asked them for tickets to their booths. And you know what? I was pretty successful! Check this out:
This is for the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show and I got tickets from both Aston Martin and Ferrari! Porsche didn’t have a closed-off booth that year and there were no tickets necessary, but all brands I asked were superbly nice about it. Seems like nobody else is daring to even ask!? Well – now you know. You’re welcome 🙂
Asking questions gets you in
So I got more comfortable hanging around people that could actually buy those cars and also around the cars themselves. I started asking more questions and – almost like a reward – got more and more access. Two instances in particular come to mind: Once I was looking at the badass of a car that is the Aston Martin One-77 as it was introduced. Everybody wanted pictures of the car. But Benedikt and I got talking to one of the engineers and as we asked more and more questions he became more and more enthusiastic. So suddenly he goes: “Would you like to see the engine?”. Why yes, we would!! So he goes and gets the keys and opens the hood to reveal the monster inside. My god. A 7.3l V12 with 750hp – the most powerful naturally aspirated engine in the world at the time. The poor guy immediately got some heat from his boss for opening up a customer car but us – and the hundreds of people behind the glass fence – got a good look at the beauty that we would have never otherwise seen.
Another time Benedikt and I visited McLaren – with an invitation, of course, because McLaren is very strict (are you surprised?). Again we were hunting for an engineer instead of a hostess. And boy did he show off the new toys. At one point we were all crouching next to the then brand-new McLaren P1 to admire the brake disks. Yes, seriously. We talked about how the mesh air outlets in the back were changed to when we first saw the car as a prototype. It’s important to know your stuff. If you come across as a true car guy the people generally will hold much longer conversations with you.
How the manufacturers started asking me, not the other way around
There is a nice side-effect of being sent free tickets to auto shows: you end up on a lot of mailing lists. Most manufacturers have separate lists for people that sign up via the website and those that are “customers”. Well, if you’re being invited by the manufacturer you usually end up on the customer list and that means newsletters suddenly turn much more interesting. Instead of just product announcements that you’ve already read about anyways they seek interaction. So rarely, but regularly, manufacturers invite their customers to events. That way I got to attend the launch of the new Range Rover Sport and, much more importantly, got to repeatedly drive McLarens on world-famous racetracks.
First drive in a supercar
Of course I did what every young petrol head with no money did: I used every opportunity to drive something with more than 200hp that I could get. I became quite good at acting my way into test drives with dealerships. Of course I won’t share my secret sauce of how I did that, but I got to drive quite a few BMWs, a couple of Porsche, an AMG and a Lotus Elise! But all of that becomes insignificant the moment someone hands you the keys to a McLaren.
McLaren has a great programme called “Pure McLaren”. It lets non-owners and owners drive McLarens on very famous racetracks around the world. The programme changes a bit every year and they even have it on their website now. When it was new, I was very happy to be invited. Of course I said yes! Now, let me get this out of the way: Driving a supercar NEVER comes cheap. Not even when it’s a promotional event. So my first drive in a supercar cost me quite a significant amount of money but boy was it worth it. I mean:
Yes. That’s me racing a McLaren 650S through Eau Rouge in Spa. If you don’t know what either of those latter two things are, go here.
How a McLaren compares
So let me tell you about how that all feels. First, you spend the whole day there but you’re in a car for only a little over an hour. There are safety briefings, fitting of gear, an introduction to the car and track and very pleasant McLaren catering indeed. You get your personal instructor that will be with you in the car for all of your (usually) 4 turns. He’s there to help you build up speed instead of keeping you in check. That means that when you’ve done your first lap and you’re back on the straight you’re actually pushing all the 650hp. Wow. Now that is power.
You only have about 15mins per run but trust me: you’re gonna want a break when you are new to this. It’s not the acceleration that gets you and if you listen to your instructor (you get helmets with headsets) you won’t mess up the turns themselves. It’s the braking that takes the biggest balls. How often do you use ALL of the brakes in your car? In a McLaren that’s actually 5 – the 4 disc brakes and the aero brake that seriously helps slowing you down at the top of the mountain in Spa. For me, it was a strange experience knowing that car had more performant brakes than anything I knew but at the same time feeling how unstable the whole car felt when you actually used the brakes as hard as you could. Incredible.
So after that experience I got back into my rental BMW X1 (can you imagine how that thing felt after the McLaren?). I had to do that again! And so I did: I flew to England, visited the McLaren Technology Centre and McLaren Production Centre in Woking and had another Pure McLaren experience on none other than the famous Top Gear circuit. At the end of the day you always get a chance to get a ride with the instructors so they can show you what they can do with the car. They do it in the end so you don’t get any ideas of trying that yourselves and killing yourself. Luckily the McLaren hostesses always manage to make you feel like a hero:
How I learned power isn’t all that matters
So there I was. I felt like a regular McLaren driver which obviously was not true but when you’re young you’re also self-confident for no good reason, right? I thought I’d seen it all. Having driven a McLaren 650S, what else could excite me as much as this? Well, the answer came from a rather unsuspected source: a car with 320hp less than the McLaren and also a couple of hundred thousands of Euros less of a price tag. A car that would teach me what driver involvement and exploitability actually means. I’ll detail my experience in my next post, but here is a teaser:
Can you guess what it is? The answer is in my next post.