The Smart had to beat not only a 911 but also Mauro Calo
In a race from one end of Wales to the other, a Porsche 911 Turbo S would leave a Smart Fortwo completely and utterly for dust, wouldn’t it? That’s what we thought…
It is a question so basic and relevant to those of us who like cars, I found the fact I had no idea of the answer entirely bewildering. It is simply this: how much faster is a really quick car from one place to the next than a really slow car? I didn’t have a clue.
Of course, a lot depends on those places. If they are the start and finish lines of a race track, the question becomes easy to answer. If they lie at either end of a motorway network, it becomes an irrelevance because, if speed limits are obeyed, then both arrive at the same time, and if they’re not, what results is not a test of one car against another but one driver’s nerve against his rival’s.
I did once race a supercar against a family hatch for this magazine, but it was to prove a subtly but significantly different point. Ten years ago, I drove a diesel-powered Ford Focus from Calais to Berlin against a Lamborghini Murciélago, my theory being that whatever time he gained from being able to do 200mph on the autobahn would be lost in having to stop for fuel more often. Rather satisfyingly, we arrived at Berlin’s Schönefeld airport side by side.
This time, I wanted a pure driving test, uncomplicated by extended periods on motorways or the need to stop and refuel. A pure point-to- point contest on some of Europe’s best roads, not to see whether a fast car was quicker than a slow one but by how much, and over a 190-mile cross-country route. So we decided to go from bridge to bridge in Wales, from the Severn Bridge in the far south-east of the country to the Menai Bridge in the north-west. The cars would leave at the same time, the difference in their arrival times providing the answer to our question.
Choosing the fast car was simplicity itself. On the cold and damp roads of varying widths on which we would be travelling, I truly believe the Porsche 911 Turbo S is the fastest car in the world. With 572bhp backed by an avalanche of torque combined with four-wheel drive and compact dimensions, it was the perfect weapon for the job.
The slow car was harder to select. It could have been a Dacia Sandero, Fiat Panda or similar but the one I kept coming back to was a Smart Fortwo. Maybe it was the knowledge that we already had the 911 and I subliminally wanted another car noted for its short wheelbase and rear-engine location, but I also liked the incongruity of the tiny city car bombing along trying to keep up with quickest mainstream version of the greatest sports car of all time. Smart was unable to provide a car with the base spec engine, but the automatic ‘Prime’ model that did turn up could still only muster 89bhp and a 0-62mph time of 11.3sec – certainly slow enough to make the point.
But a third component was needed too: a driver. I had already determined I would drive the Smart but who should I put behind the wheel of the Porsche? What was needed was someone who could really drive but who’d also understand what we were trying to achieve and how to play the game. In short, I needed Mauro. Most of you will have seen Mauro Calo dozens of times without realising it, as he spends most of his working life driving for telly programmes both currently and formerly populated by Clarkson, Hammond and May.
When he’s not doing that, he works as a stunt driver on enormous Hollywood productions like Mission: Impossible and driving for people like us. He also used to be the world’s drifting champion. So I was confident that, whatever the result, it wasn’t going to be compromised by an unwillingness on his part to get his foot down.
Now we had the game and its players, all that remained were the rules, of which there were just two. The first was obvious: both cars must follow exactly the same route and not stop. The second was that neither of us was going to flout speed limits, something entirely possible even in the Smart. Yes, this would favour the Smart, but the Porsche still held a crushing advantage: I knew from the off that every overtake I made would need to be executed one car at a time and with meticulous planning. In the Porsche, Mauro would be past almost the instant he pressed the pedal.
And so with a wave of his lens cleaning rag from photographer Luc Lacey, the contest began. The route was kept as simple as possible so as to minimise the chance of either of us going wrong. The only motorway was the first short stretch down the M48 and M4 to the base of the A449, which we’d take north to join the A40 west towards Abergavenny, whereafter we’d be on single-lane roads all the way to the northcoast. We followed the A40 past Crickhowell, then turning north up the A479 to Talgarth where we’d pick up the A470 and follow it all the way to Betws-y-Coed, save for a quick blast along the B4518 from Llanidloes north where it picks up the A470 again at Llanbrynmair.
In Betws, we’d turn left onto the A5 and head through Snowdonia to our destination. Would Mauro get there a minute or an hour before me? I had no clue, though the rate at which he came past and disappeared at the first available opportunity inclined me towards the latter.
I’m not going to dwell on Mauro’s journey in the Porsche, first because you can probably imagine how much fun …read more