I beat a McLaren MP4-12c with my S2000
“Don’t get a ticket, and don’t get dead.”
It takes a different part of your brain to speak than it does to think, so sometimes it’s important to verbally reaffirm your goals before you set out for the day. It had been a long week, so I thought I’d set out on a beautiful, sunny, Southern California Sunday morning and go get some mental help. At my last billing, my therapy costs me $4.06 a gallon, but it’s always money well spent. Advice is metered out quite vocally with my right foot.
[Jump in, fire up the engine, drop the top, select playlist, roll out]
For those readers who are unfamiliar with Santa Monica, you wouldn’t think the McClure tunnel was anything special at first. As far as tunnels go, it’s not particularly lengthy, and it’s a bend, so it can’t be taken flat-out. But here’s the wonder of it: It magically transforms the mundane Interstate 10 freeway into Pacific Coast Highway(PCH) in all it’s glory. Suck on that, Criss Angel. On one end you enter from a world of gridlock and idiot drivers, but when you exit the other side, you’re transported to a beautiful oceanfront view and three lanes of glorious blacktop. The idiot drivers are still present and accounted for, but at least everyone is wearing a smile. You know that commercial for that allergy pill where the haze is lifted and beautiful color is revealed? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
[Slide to middle lane to avoid beach traffic, begin working to the front of the line]
PCH is a beautiful road that stretches along the entire West Coast of the United States, from Mexico to Canada. I’ve driven a good portion of it, and the stretch along Malibu is one of my favorites. An ocean view, two gentle, rolling lanes allow you to pick through traffic like a puzzle if that’s your thing, and jaw dropping estates are in regular supply. It might be the only place on the world where you might see a quarter-million dollar vintage Ferrari parked on the side of the road and actively choose to direct your gaze elsewhere. Then again, few things are as eye-catching as the surfer girl twisting the water out of her hair and peeling her way out of a wetsuit on the side of the road as you drive by. It’s a wonder there aren’t more traffic fatalities with all these distractions, which might explain the slow speed. Rogue Enzos driven (and crashed) by mysterious businessmen aside, PCH isn’t an alley for speed. Which is why it’s not my destination for the day. It’s a means to an end, but if you’ve gotta wait in line to get to the ride, I can’t think of line with a better view.
[Rip up to 8.5k for 1>2 shift off a green light just for s&g, and to put some distance between myself and the pack. Once buffer is achieved, slow to speed limit]
If PCH is the artery, there are a multitude of veins that branch off into the hills of Malibu in the form of twisty roads. Smaller, narrower, and with varying levels of twist, you can choose one to your liking. And I have. While my road of choice will not be named, it’s definitely on the twisty, slow side. It climbs up 2000 feet in just seven miles, so it’s easy on the brakes. As roads go, my favorite ones look like they were drawn on a map by Michael J. Fox. This one looks like he drew it during an earthquake. On Muhammed Ali’s back. From start to finish, it’s 10 miles of twisty goodness sent from the CA DOT gods.
[Blinker on, turn onto unnamed road. Check rear view mirror for company. Enjoy.]
My road starts off with a some milder 3rd and 4th gear curves before throwing the harder 2nd gear stuff at you. Like any addiction worth a mother’s scorn, it draws you in easy before testing your mettle. I don’t do well with short-answer, so thankfully it’s multiple choice. 2nd gear? 3rd? Choose incorrectly though, and your penalty is waiting patiently for all 153 lb ft to pull you out of that uphill hairpin that you should’ve been a gear lower for.
With each passing curve, I settle into my comfort zone and that digital arc in front of me edges further to the right each time, closer and closer to the red. It’s like the tide coming in. Such a magical thing, that illuminated arc. Over the years, some have vocalized a desire for a traditional needle and dial tachometer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As is, each small orange wedge seems to indicate more than RPM, but some sort of other-worldly amalgam of engine speed, volume, and bliss. This orange arc is quantifying the immeasurable. Screw the flux capacitor, I want every car to have a funometer unapologetically in Pantone 1235c.
It should be noted that while I’m not loafing along, my driving falls in the “spirited” category, rather than the “all out” category. Blind turns, road debris, and a strong prioritization of self-preservation over foolish ego means I have no interest in pushing to my limits, which are themselves set below the limits of the car. Don’t get a ticket, and don’t get dead. I drive to the limits of the road, which I never forget is public. It’s also Sunday morning, so the cyclists are out in force, pushing to their limits. Carbon fiber mods can be cool, but when they come in the form of a Cervelo S5 twisted together with your fender, I’ll pass. And so I do, carefully. Reducing my speed, giving as wide a berth as possible, and offering a parting wave. I try to wait at least one corner before opening it back up, so as to not disturb their peace. It’s as much their road as it is mine after all.
[Slow momentarily to catch my breath, only to have it stolen again by the view looking 45 degrees down to a sparkling blue Pacific Ocean.]
There have been times in the past when I have offered unsolicited lessons to unsuspecting friends and family members on how to heel-toe, and my enthusiasm is often humored with a thin smile and an earnest question of: “When would I ever use that in the real world?” But to those who have never felt the joy of perfectly depressing all three pedals at once, and the self satisfaction that comes with selecting a lower gear and nailing a smooth downshift under moderate to hard braking, I feel a little bad. It’s like that friend who refuses to try sushi. Your loss buddy. I am channeling my inner Walter Röhrl today, and while women may dream of their little one’s first word and first steps, I can’t wait to teach my kid the finer points of shuffle steering someday. My focus wanes temporarily as my brain prioritizes imagination… “See, first imagine a line down the center of the wheel…”
[Watch for rocks in road. Dodge rocks in road. Do not cross yellow line.]
I’m satisfied by the lack of additional cars on this road today. I’ve been passed by two cars going the opposite direction, and had nary a car going the same direction as me for the last 15 minutes, but all good things must come to an end. However, sometimes that good thing ending makes way for a great thing. Through a moderate series of turns, I glance in my RVM and am greeted with a face. Low and wide with beady eyes and a goofy grin, it’s like a charcoal demon on holiday from the netherworld. It seemingly materialized out of nowhere, and it is the McLaren MP4-12c. This is a great thing.
[Keep eyes on road, don’t crash. Mute stereo upon introduction of superior soundtrack.]
If my story takes a fictitious turn here, this is where I say I tightened my grip on the wheel, bore down, and slowly but surely, left the poor sap with his paddles and carbon fiber boat behind as I deftly used my expert motoring skills to lengthen my lead on him a yard at a time ’til he was nothing more than a speck, and the only evidence of his existence was the occasional bark of his turbo 8 off the canyon walls. But I know my place in the sports car continuum, and as soon as I raised my hand to wave him past, he jumped the line and went around.
The car roared past with all the authority and volume of a metallic banshee, and if I wasn’t so focused on my top two priorities of not dying, and not getting into an accident with the monetary equivalent of a single family home in the Midwest, I would’ve gotten a better view as it went by. But I didn’t. And now, I was treated to the rear view. Momentarily at least.
As I briefly watched this car work it’s way through the curves, it struck me how effortlessly it looked for him to be pulling away from me. I don’t think it would’ve made a difference if I was pushing 1/10 or 10/10, he just walked away. I thought of the clip on Top Gear where Clarkson speaks on the magical technology in the McLaren’s suspension, and flattered my ego as I internally remarked that that was probably the only difference. Well, that and 350 additional horses will do that. As he began to disappear around each bend sooner and sooner, I cursed my automotive choice in the S2000, and knew that if I had been in something like a
Cobalt SS GTR or GT3, perhaps I would’ve hung around for longer. As it was, the entire encounter from mirror to complete disappearance lasted perhaps 60 seconds at most.
Completely gone from view, I continue the chase. Maybe he’ll pull over at a popular vista point for drivers. Maybe it’s a supermodel driving! Maybe I can offer her one of those aforementioned unsolicited lessons in heel-toe, and maybe she’ll realize the error of her dual-clutch gearbox ways, and offer to trade cars with me!! Oh, there goes that imagination again. Focus, dammit, you’ll never catch him without focus. FOCUS! Cue up Kenny Loggins on my internal jukebox. High… way… to… the… Dane-jah zone!!
I pass through a dozen uneventful turns until I round a right-hander and EUREKA! I’ve struck McLaren! Not literally, thank God. But close, considering he had slowed to a crawl, probably letting the car cool for a second. In all the thrill of the drive and subsequent chase, I had completely missed the fact that we had come to the end of the road, but I was just glad for another sighting.
[Look at watch, weigh consequences of driving more against being late to church. God will understand.]
Our road ends at a tee into a larger road, and the McLaren signals right, so I guess that’s where I’m going too. I understand the rarity in this sighting, so I suppose I’ve decided to extend it for as long as possible. He eases the car onto the main road, and I follow, and it’s here that I first witness the raw acceleration of the car on a straight. The car squatted ever-so-slightly and rocketed off away. If we were in a cartoon, there would have been a McLaren shaped cloud left behind. And I would’ve needed an over-sized ACME rocket more than anything.
Chasing after a car like that makes one feel kind of childish. As in: Like a child. I was reminded of all the wonder that I felt whenever I saw a super car in my youth, and I suppose you never outgrow some things. Nor should you. I might as well have been a cat chasing a laser- I wasn’t going to catch it, and I might look foolish trying, but that didn’t matter.
[Check for cops, as if it would matter, and floor it.]
400 yards down the road, he signals intent to turn onto the famed Mulholland Drive, as anyone would have predicted. I slide in behind him and wait in the queue. I have a moment to scrutinize the rear of the car as we wait to turn left, but the dark charcoal color doesn’t make for a very clear picture. All I see is a snarling dark mass of lights and pipes and holes and mesh. A pity the rear end isn’t more attractive, as it’s likely the only view most other cars will see of it. As traffic breaks, we turn gingerly onto a straight, and he takes full advantage to show off his new toy, fresh with dealer plates. And for the last time, the car rockets off into the distance. The view over the top of the McLaren is distorted by the heat waves pouring out of the exhaust and up from the engine like what you might see off the pavement on a sweltering August day in the valley. My thoughts turn contradictory. That is SOOOOO cool.
Literally the one thing I was left with was the sound. Not as tinny metallic as a Ferrari, it had more substance, with waste gates and turbos and magic suspension gnomes hard at work. Not better, not worse, but surely impressive. It was a primal wail that crescendoed from a tenor to alto without warning. The kind of sound I imagine you’d get if you ripped the testicles off Optimus Prime. Like Satan’s own garbage disposal.
[Check watch, time to head home.]
I turned around, satisfied in how my day had started. What better way to open up a week with a nice drive and a McLaren? Okay, perhaps the guy actually driving the McLaren had a better combination of the two things. Then again, as I felt the sun streaming down on me, and clutched in with my left foot to pull off a crisp 2>3 upshift in my own mini banshee, I had no complaints. Any sort of automotive encounter with a super car in the wild is a welcomed experience. As far as encounters go, this wasn’t a one-night stand. This wasn’t even a quickie with a stranger in the back room of a bar. This was the automotive equivalent of being buried up to your neck in sand at the beach, and watching a nude Kate Upton stroll by. Sometimes you can’t do a damn thing but just sit back and appreciate the moment you get.
Okay, so I lied about the beating.
Images courtesy of Honda Worldwide & Wikipedia. Article text courtesy of i_heart_my_DB8.
S2KI Car Talk: I beat a McLaren MP4-12C with my S2000