Sit rep – I’m warm, really warm. The scorching Spanish sun is toasting my fatigued skin, the air temperature is an indicated 26 degrees and a concoction of ordinary platelets, blood cells and adrenaline is coursing through my vasodilated veins. Looking in the rear view mirror provides no relief; through a triangular porthole my vision is blurred as if i’m under water as two channels of heat haze shimmered and danced blurring colours into a late Van Gough smudge. I could do with a swim, but I never want this sensation, this high, to fade. Then my passenger and I are plunged into darkness; the relief from the warmth is quickly replaced with the pain of a different pleasure. I am in a Porsche 918 Spyder, the roof panels are stowed in the trunk, the car in race mode and I’m reaching for another downshift. It seamlessly engages, I extend my right foot till it can go no more and the full force of a marriage between fiery, old school combustion elopes with electricity and the tunnel is filled with the harsh howls of power and joy as my comfortable pyjamas flutter violently in the turbulence. The force involuntarily empties my lungs; I catch a whiff of my potent breath and remember that I haven’t brushed my teeth.
Some context – I’m not just a smelly homeless adrenaline junky that just went full GTA and had stolen a Spanish millionaire’s 918, no, I’m on a roadtrip and strangely I’ve opened with the ending. Let me take you back to the very beginning. Norway, yes, Spain and Norway are not close, I’m sure you’re starting to see where this is, literally, going. On a Wednesday afternoon I flew to Oslo and onward to a small town called Bodø way up north on the edge of the Arctic Circle. It’s all very serene and the natural beauty will have you taking photos for hours seeing as it never gets dark. As press trips go, everything is normal. As the evening set in journalists exchanged greetings and we indulged a decadent dinner on the top floor of a tall building whilst exchanging stories about how we all fell in love with the Cayman GT4 and how sensational the Gen II GT3 is. From the next morning everything got a little less conventional.
This roadtrip had been titled ‘Le Mans Unravelled’. A flight home had been booked for Sunday afternoon – the departure airport was Gibraltar. What this meant was that in 4 days I would have to travel from the most northern point of Europe down to the most southern point – more than 5,000 kilometres and eight countries in less than four days, even in Porsches that seemed unachievable. It would be impossible, but Porsche had a plan.
The distance was so vast for a reason, 5,322 kilometres was the distance the Porsche 919 Hybrid covered at the Le Mans 24 hours in 2016 when it won the infamously gruelling race in fine form. In order to cover the distance in such a limited period of time the journey would never stop; there would never be a pause. Every night the team of 14 journalists would sleep in bunks on a bus whilst professional drivers drove through the darkness and would rendezvous with the buses again at sunrise. It sounded crazy to me and it started to make sense why there was a crew of 42 Porsche Motorsport branded support members at the dining table sipping their last glasses of precious wine before going dry for the road ahead. Then I discovered the list of cars we would be driving and my jaw dropped. For such a journey you would expect Cayennes, Macans and maybe a Panamera to munch the motorway miles in quiet comfort. These were present in the form of a Cayenne S e-hybrid, Macan GTS and Panamera 4S – very good. That was not all though, a 718 Cayman S and Boxter S joined the line up, as did a tasty 911 Turbo S. Oh yeah – and the 918 Spyder too. There was a car representing every member of the Porsche family that was currently being produced. Additionally someone added a 918, because why not?
From one topless model to another and the Boxster S. It was 7 degrees below freezing at the starting point. Sensibly, the roof on the Boxster was up, until I insisted it be retracted so my hair could be ruined, as was my body’s thermostat. The roads of Norway are draped over hills and are routed around mother nature’s beautiful and sparkling fjords. Mid-engined Boxster, sweeping roads – it sounds peachy, but the speeding penalties are as ferocious as the views were pretty. Comfortably the convoy snaked through the fascinating landscape enjoying the scenery along the way. As snow erratically blew into the 718’s cabin, the heated seats proved their worth as the Swedish border came into sight. This stop was brief and coffee provided little respite from the chills as the team were told we would have to make it down half of Sweden to meet our buses and beds for the night. At over 1,100 kilometres it would be the longest leg of the journey.
Crossing into Sweden remained a bitterly cold affair as we crossed the Arctic Circle border and encountered vast white expanses of snow and some slippery tarmac. The baron emptiness came courtesy of the harsh temperatures. The lakes around Arjeplog were frozen solid; unfortunately there was no time to strap on a set of studded tyres and hoon around on the ice rink that is normally the reason for our visits so far up into Scandinavian wilderness. The remarkable change in scenery, climate and signs of life forms came hours and many kilometres later after the radios burst into life with the call ‘LOOK OUT, MOOSE!’ prompting the convoy to come to a halt allowing the gentle giants to cross the tarmac.
The tall ferns had shaken of their icy white coats and stood bare in brown, for hundreds more kilometres the scenery remained monotonous. Fortunately the lunch stop meant a change of cars and a fellow journalist had requested the Lava Orange Boxster S. It was time to play in the India Red 911 Turbo S. The Gen II car immediately woke me up, the power delivery is astonishing and you physically have to brace yourself before stamping on the go faster pedal – I was left with sweaty palms and all.
The Turbo S immediately had me thinking Porsche should have brought along a couple more as the breadth of ability of the car was quickly apparent. The GT credentials are surprisingly good; the normal driving mode is fairly sedate. The same cannot be said for Sport+, where the ride wants to physically hurt you on the bumpy Swedish roads. The power and sheer force of the acceleration wants to push you so hard into the seats your vertebrae will leave grooves in the leather to slot back into later. The smooth road surface led the Porsche pack off the highway and into a service station where we were united with our hotels on wheels and settled in for a strange evening on the move.
Waking up and pulling the curtains to find you are on a motorway is a rather strange sensation. Stumbling down some stairs into a tiny kitchen and lounge scattered with sleepy eyed motoring journalists is very bizarre indeed. A quick shower in a motorway motel followed and it was straight back into the cars that had no rest having followed the coaches all night. Checking Google maps I was able to confirm that I was still in Sweden.
The morning’s ride was a yellow Cayman S, a turn of the key informed my ears that it was a loud one; the sports exhaust that was missing in yesterday’s Boxster makes a tangible difference. It also ensures the driver is awake and fully alert, even after such a sketchy night’s sleep. Within a few kilometres I was met by a sight that was just as breathtaking the first time I had seen it, the Øresund bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark, a bridge that is considered an engineering marvel and art in equal measure as it dives down below the sea’s surface in a dramatic fashion. Crossing the bridge signified that the third of eight countries had been entered; very soon we would enter the fourth. The port of Rødser was the departing point as the multimillion-euro convoy slotted into narrow lanes on the ferry that would transport the precious cargo into country four, Germany.
There was a short stint until the next checkpoint, a perfect chance to see what the Cayenne S Hybrid would be like. From the low-slung seating position of the Cayman, the Cayenne provided supreme visibility and the odd sensation of cruising at 100 km/h with the rev counter resting at 0 rpm as the two tonne SUV used only electricity to shift its huge mass seemingly effortlessly. Hit the gas and the needle vigorously rises as combustion joins the party and the Cayenne shrinks the distance to the car in front with startling ease.
It was in Germany where I experienced my first taste of the 918 on this journey. As baptisms of fire go, a million euro hypercar on the speed limitless autobahn is up there with the most exhilarating experiences. Grab the handle from its hidden cave and step into the carpet free cabin, fall into the bucket seat that so many Porsches have inherited and turn the key. No. 923 flashes up to the left dial. Yes, 923/918. Look down towards your right knee and chassis 000 is etched into the centre console, this is a preproduction car that is owned by the factory, a press car if you will. What’s more alien is that the key is turned and there is no noise. Not a murmur. The 918 starts in electric only mode, I’m not here to mess about in milk float mode so twist the drive select from E through H (hybrid) and into S for Sport. The silence shatters and before I know it I’m pulling out onto the autobahn with the sensually shaped spoiler peeking into view in the side mirrors. Flick it into racemode and the angle on the wing gets more aggressive. A gap opens ahead of me. I cannot begin to describe how instantaneous the power is, you brush the pedal and the car launches forward as you push the pedal as far as you dare. The digital speedometer throws numbers up in a seemingly random sequence that you struggle to comprehend.
Stamp on the brakes and the feeling is unfamiliar, you can feel where the regeneration of energy ends and where the ceramic brakes clamp hard and grip so hard your eyelids narrow to stop your corneas rolling out. Low down in the rev range the car sounds broken as if it’s gargling nuts and bolts. Whilst the metal chugs there’s a constant whine of the electricity egging you on, begging you to drown it out with the tenacious exhaust howls, and you oblige, again and again. It’s fearsome, so addictive, devilishely compelling. I tried to be sensible but time and time again a stretch of road would open up and the car would effortlessly, instantly, launch itself towards the horizon. It’s physically exhausting but the adrenaline rush is so seductive.
Soon the stretches of Autobahn came to a sad end and the lack of German speed limits was replaced with the camper vans and speed cameras of the Netherlands, but only for mere minutes. The Dutch roads gave way to the Belgian tarmac as the 918 was traded for the comfort of the new Executive Panamera 4S and the sixth country of the trip was entered – Belgium.
The back seats of the Panamera 4S Executive are the place to be following the savagery of the 918. The seats recline, there is a snazzy picnic table and there are a number of different massage options – all very opulent. The same could not be said for the evening’s dinner, thirty or more Pizza Hut pizzas delivered to the bus at a Belgian service station before turning in for the night.
If waking up on the highway the previous day was a little odd, waking up on the Mulsanne straight of Le Mans in the seventh country of the mammoth trip is a little more startling. Our morning stop for a quick wash was over in a flash and it was time to get into the cars – a Macan GTS for me as we crawled back onto the Mulsanne Straight and to the gates of the infamous circuit. It is rare to have access to the track but the BMW M2 safety car was happy to oblige leading the cars onto the Bugatti Circuit before the convoy lined up in formation against the pit wall to re-enact a Le Mans style start with drivers running across the straight. In my mind everything was sepia filtered and a little nostalgic.
I could have spent hours ogling at the history of the circuit but the crew and I still had thousands of kilometres to conquer. Back into the Turbo S me thinks. The French autoroutes were quiet, calm and a little boring. A stop for fresh croissants and a few hours later we reached a significant stop – the final border crossing from France into Spain, country eight.
The team was under pressure to rush to the final night onto the busses to make sure we would make our flights home the next day. There was one more stop before the night’s rest at Motorworld Aragon, a racetrack. There was no race on, but a very special test of a car that was behind the journey – the Le Mans winning Porsche 919 Hybrid. We had been given unprecedented access to watch the Porsche engineers put the car through a gruelling 36-hour test, 12 hours more than necessary but all just for good measure and peace of mind. The convoy arrived just before sundown and it is hard to describe the experience of watching a pit stop in a deserted pit lane as anything but eerie yet magical. It was somewhat therapeutic listening and watching the 919 decimate the calmness of the night’s stillness. There was no time to spare and after a tour of the 919 garage it was onto the buses for the final time.
As with the 24 hours of Le Mans, not everything goes to plan. During the night whilst we snored from exhaustion, the second crew bus blew a tyre and all plans were delayed by precious hours. Part of the twisty fun stuff had to be cut out, replaced by more time on the bus, sipping sub-par coffee yearning for a shower in my pyjamas. The shower stop was sacrificed in the plight of making the finish line and my flight home in time. Like an angry teenager I emerged from the bus and was handed the keys to the 918 for the final morning drive. If only the pain of waking up every morning could be met with the same scenario. In my coffee stained pyjamas, wearing anti embolism stockings and wanting nothing more than a shower, I stepped behind the wheel of one of the most desirable cars on the planet. I am sure you can appreciate why I opened this story with such a scenario.
After a healthy amount of time blasting through tunnels in the 918 I felt it was time to brush my teeth and get a fresh set of clothes. The Cayenne doubled as a changing room and catching up on sleep in the passenger seat was delightful. Waking up to see Africa out of the window was yet another oddity, I guess that was something of a theme on this journey. The convoy was met by a police escort courtesy of the Tarifa municipality that led us through impossibly narrow streets appearing to lead to nowhere. Having outraged the locals we turned one final corner and the wayward route unveiled its secret – a jetty at the most southern tip of the continent with the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean on either side. The cars lined up as the odometers read a good handful of kilometres over the 5,322 that they set out to achieve.
There was not one technical difficulty, not one warning light, not a single sign of weakness. Unlike us humans, the cars barely stopped moving. I rested, they did not. It is understandable that cars such as the Cayenne, Macan and Panamera would complete such a journey, it is unbelievable that performance oriented animals that are at the forefront of engineering technology like the Turbo S and 918 in particular, were able to drive from the top to the bottom of Europe in such fantastic form. This was a true test of man and machine – the flesh and bones finished exhausted yearning for rest. The carbon and metal seemed so unphased they could have driven back to Bodø and done it all over again.