It’s about 13:30 on Friday and I’m standing with my colleague, a GTSpirit.com editor, half way up the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb, photographing the Le Mans racers as they scream by. During one of the quiet moments his phone rings and he starts talking Dutch (must be one of his friends I figured).
I was wrong, it was the PR guy from Lexus Europe and there was a slot available during tomorrow afternoons supercar run in the Lexus LFA Nürburgring Edition. Did we want it? He turns to me and asks if I’d like to drive the LFA. Well, yeah of course I would if given the chance. Fifteen minutes later we are down at the Toyota/Lexus stand where we meet up with the PR guy and they start talking Dutch again, although I pick up a few important words such as camera. The slot is for 1pm and it’s to drive the car up the hill. Wow, they are serious here; it’s a drive up the famous hill during the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2011 on Saturday afternoon. Not a passenger ride, but a drive. In front of thousands of people. And MR has to be back in the Netherlands tomorrow afternoon so that puts me in the driving seat. Literally.
After climbing over the roll cage I was sitting in the driving seat being given a briefing of the controls by the official LFA driver. Immediate thoughts are what a great dial the car has and tactile steering wheel. I’m sitting quite low in the bucket seats but they are surprisingly snug and comfortable. Then I get given the key. A turn of it, flip of the paddle shifts and a press of the start button and the V10 springs to life. A refined burble comes for the three exhaust pipes as the car idles and the crowd mills around expectantly, waiting for something to happen. A short press of the right foot and the rev counter swings up past the 4,500 mark. A couple of presses in quick succession and it hits about 7,000 and everyone is happy. And then it’s over, I hand the keys back, clamber out and realisation starts to sink in that in less than 24 hours I will have driven this very car at FOS.
It’s midday on Saturday and time to sign in. I meet my passenger, Danny, who only arrived a few hours ago from Lexus EU head office. Together with the PR person we walk through to the drivers club, making full use of the red carpet. A quick signature and I’m now sporting a silver wristband with the word DRIVER in big bold capital letters. We walk over to the car, fix the video cameras to it and get strapped in. A quick refresh of the controls and I’m ready to go. The marshals give us a ten minute warning, the countdown has begun. I almost forget the electronic handbrake as I begin to ease the car out of the paddock area. Not being able to see over the bonnet bulge I have only a brief idea as to where the front of the car ends but I manage to not run anybody or anything over. I mention to Danny that I haven’t driven a left hand drive for a long time so would appreciate him letting me know if I get too close to something his side. After his initial panic he agrees.
We thread our way around the barriers and soon find ourselves in the best car park in the world as we wait to drive round to the start line. I’m feeling quite pleased at this point and Danny demonstrates some of the features of the computer and navigation system. For what is effectively a street legal racer it still has a lot of gizmos in it. I join in with the other cars in making a bit of noise and someone in the crowd has a video camera pointing in our direction and asks me to blip the throttle again, so I oblige. Eventually we start moving on the way down to the start line. So focused on where to go I failed to notice Jenson Button at the head of the pack. The M3 in front of me pulls a power slide as it turns at the bottom, something I won’t be attempting as not only is this car worth at least ten times as much being still in pre-production, as evidenced by the big red reset button in the centre console.
All of a sudden we are at the start line with no car ahead of us. I check we are still in sport mode, flip the paddle in to first and away we go. The kick of the acceleration forces us in to the seats and we’ve already gone round the first set of bends. I have no idea of the speed but hit third gear going past the house and under the bridge, keeping in mind the parting words of the official driver that this is a demonstration run. In other words, don’t push it too hard as this is a rather special car. I’m grateful of my four previous trips up the hill over the previous days, treating the wall with respect but still getting caught out at the top as there is more road than I thought. Through the hay bails and I’m past the finish line, although still a little way to go until the end of the course and the parking area. I park up behind the brand new Bentley Contintental GT, switch the engine off and relax for a minute or two. The drive back down is a gentler affair and we find ourselves in a Ferrari sandwich with the 458 in front and California behind. They are making some noise with their V8s so I treat the crowd to similar notes from the V10.
Back in the paddock and the professional driver takes over the steering as we reverse back in to our parking spot, the center consol screen now showing the view from the reversing camera. And that’s it over, I’ve just driven a £ 350,000+ selling price, 200mph topping prototype supercar up the hill during the Festival of Speed and back down without incident. Suffice to say even now I’m still grinning like a kid in the candy store.
Video of the Lexus LFA Nurburgring Edition run up the hill
Overall verdict: For what is a large car I found it remarkable easy to drive and manoeuvre at slow speeds and very comfortable even when putting my foot down. It turns in crisply and once I got to know the length of the bonnet had no problems driving it. As this was the Nürburgring Edition some of the features from the road going car were not there, such as sun visors, as they had to make way for the roll cage, bucket seats and harness. There are also extra carbon fiber wings and spoiler on the outside which helps make this distinct to the standard version and presumably improves the handling when pushing it, not something I could experience in the confines of the Goodwood hill climb. Lexus are known as a luxury car maker and with the LFA Nürburgring Edition it is fair to say they are now also a luxury supercar maker.