This year, as you may well have noticed, things are a little different. Even though we started running BDC on October 11, I’m going to back up this narrative by six months to March 11, the day Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA postponed the season. Call it the billion-dollar canary in the coal mine.
If something as massive and all-encompassing as professional basketball could be paused just like that, our little supercar festival was surely doomed. We started hearing murmurs, then reality set in. First BDC (and the associated World’s Greatest Drag Race) was postponed, then budgets were slashed, then we found we had no sponsor. Time was running out. What we’d come to expect from BDC would be no more.
Of course, more important than the financial picture was the safety of our team of road testers, editors, photographers, videographers, track workers, and manufacturers’ support staffs in the midst of a pandemic. Could we pull this off even if we wanted to?
The 2020 edition of BDC would look much different. The number of competing cars was chopped in half, as was the number of judges, to shrink our quarantine bubble and reduce health risks to our team. For all sorts of inside-baseball reasons, we couldn’t do our normal closure of the carnival ride known as State Route 198, either.
However, with a shrunken field, we could potentially get all of Randy Pobst’s racetrack hot laps done in one day, which meant the judges would be able to spend time driving around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Score!
Catered meals, boozy dinners, quick swaps between cars, anything resembling normalcy was out. Face coverings, alcohol wipe-downs, and eating takeout alone in our hotel rooms were in. But BDC was a go. In fact, the strictures allowed us to focus more closely on the cars.
Ah, yes, the cars. Pre-pandemic we had of course planned to bring along our usual dozen competitors. When we realized that we’d only have half the crew compared to BDCs past, the painful decision was made to cut the field essentially in half. Logistically, it was simply impossible to deal with 12 cars, no matter how super. Here’s what we wound up with:
A damn fine list if I don’t say so myself, and a Porsche SUV. Why so many Porsches? Why an SUV? Why no McLaren? Why not the car you wanted to see compete?
Back when BDC was happening in July, there was a scenario where we could have had five Porsches. (They certainly are prolific in Zuffenhausen.) Allow me to flip that question over to you: How do you choose between a 911 Turbo S and a Cayman GT4? How do you not include the Taycan Turbo S? At some point, we had to make some hard decisions to let others play in this small sandbox.
One thing was for sure: We needed to follow the market. Like we’ve done for the past two BDCs, we included an SUV—decided by a super–SUV shootout, the winner of which was guaranteed a spot. We were also toying with the idea of having a super-wagon competition, and the winner may very well have been the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo.
But because BDC is one-half road trip, it was easy to cut the range-limited electric Taycan. And the Audi RS 6 was delayed, so no wagon shootout happened. Even though any sense of rule-making was out for 2020, we honored our word and included the shootout-winning SUV, the Cayenne Turbo Coupe—hence three of Zuffenhausen’s finest.
As for a McLaren, specifically a 765LT, when BDC was originally set for July, that Super Series monster wasn’t available, so we wrote it off. Then when BDC got moved, we neglected to inform McLaren. As it happened, the 765LT became available in the U.S. the week before BDC started. Let’s just blame the pandemic for this one, though it was funny hearing from McLaren during BDC, asking why we didn’t have its car.
The inverse of this involved Ferrari. In the past, Maranello wouldn’t play when Sant’Agata Bolognese showed up. Because we had Lamborghini firmly into the “yes” column, we just assumed Ferrari would decline. Then, with mere days before nailing down the field, Ferrari rang and asked if we would we like a blue F8 Tributo for BDC, knowing full well a Huracán would be present. You can imagine our response.
As for all the other cars not represented, obviously the seven performance vehicles we chose are all quite good. Also, we’d previously driven all of the cars that we uninvited, and, well, we brought along the cars we thought had the best shot of winning. And an SUV, which turned out to be much more than a go-fast gear hauler.
Right! Day one began with the five judges (editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin, road test editor Chris Walton, features editor Scott Evans, pro driver and Laguna Seca legend Randy Pobst, and yours truly) rendezvousing with the photo and social teams (who collectively would be driving two of the competitors) at Mugu Rock just west of Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway early on a Sunday morning.
One thing we didn’t count on was how many other people thought the giant seaside boulder would be a cool place to hang out before 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Multicolored supercars draw crowds, and on that day the gathered crowd had many questions, many more opinions, and very few masks. We quickly split for our next destination, the Shell station at the bottom of State Route 33 near Ojai. Which of course meant heading up 33, one of the greatest canyon roads in a state littered with them.
The first surprise of the day involved the two cars in the 700-horsepower club, the 711-hp Ferrari and the 760-hp Ford. Evans was in the F8, Walton was in the GT500, and Evans could not shake him. I was about 10 car lengths behind the two of them in the (slightly) less powerful 630-hp Lamborghini Huracán Evo, and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. A Ford hanging on the bumper of a Ferrari? Sacrilegio!
Back at Mugu Rock, Walton had extolled the virtues of the GT500. “The harder you push it, the better it gets,” he said. I’d also read his First Drive review, in which the normally stoic Walton not only called the Shelby a “world-class supercar-killer” but also said it was “a helluva thing, a monster!” It took me seeing him jamming that Ford up the Ferrari’s tailpipes to fully buy the Shelby hype. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, as the refreshed GT350 came in second overall last year, and the same engineer is responsible for both Shelbys (thanks, Steve!), yet somehow, I was shocked. The Lambo? Pretty darn good, as well, but we’re familiar with the Huracán, what with it having won in Performante guise in 2018. No surprises there.
We spent the remainder of that first day rapidly meandering our way up the coast to our hotel, the Clement Monterey, switching cars every hour or so. Nothing else too shocking occurred, though a few talking points began to emerge.
One was that we made an excellent choice in selecting the Chevrolet Corvette as our 2020 Car of the Year. Not that any of us had doubts, but speaking for me, it had been over a year since I’d driven the mid-engine C8—and between then and now I’d driven an embarrassing number of mid-engine supercars—so it was nice reminder of just how stellar a job Chevrolet Performance had done.
What impressed us the most was how great the Corvette’s ride was, easily the best in the group, even better than the Cayenne Turbo Coupe’s. Weirdly, there wasn’t a lot of chatter about the Porsche Turbo S, the 640-hp stud muffin that has been eating up comparison tests ever since it launched.
The opposite was true of the Cayman GT4. Every judge praised the uber-Cayman in the canyons and cursed its ride quality on the freeways. Speaking of cursing, a bit of a dark cloud had formed above the Ferrari. Although it was feverishly quick, the steering was odd—too quick and too light. To a man, we found the brakes wooden, weird, and frankly a little spooky. Something wasn’t right. We arrived at the hotel well after dark. Time for food, sleep, and an early morning.
For more than a decade, the generous folks at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca have granted us track days in June or July—squeezing us in between an endless array of IMSA, Superbike, single-marque, and myriad other race weekends.
Typically, those summer mornings are cold, damp, and foggy. What would an October date look like? Hardly cold at all, which immediately burned off into actual hot weather. Different for sure, but maybe a warmer track would be good for laps?
For his part, Pobst felt the track’s lack of use due to the pandemic would mean the racing surface wouldn’t have enough rubber on it (racer speak for the rubber coating tracks get after months of continual racing, rubber literally left from the previous cars’ tires).
Pobst, our test team, and our video team churned through the seven cars at a rate of about one per hour. The quick version of the process is that the test team begins mounting the necessary datalogging hardware while the video team begins fitting GoPros, microphones, and sound gear—all while following strict COVID social distancing and wipe-down protocols. Then Pobst jumps in and heads out for a couple of warm-up laps before coming back to the pits so our test team and engineers from various OEMs can adjust the tire pressures. Also, sometimes the stability control isn’t at its most optimized, Pobst isn’t thrilled with a particular suspension setting, or a camera fell off. We’re able to make quick adjustments and get him back out there.
Whereupon he rips off his three hot laps. And although we have Vboxes to time his laps to the thousandth of a second, no one can resist hand-timing with their iPhones. Typically, Pobst’s tires are best on his first lap, his reactions are at their sharpest on his second, and then everything starts to fade by lap three. That’s street cars on a racetrack for you. This year, I’d jump into the cars as soon as Pobst was out and perform both a cooldown lap and a quick spiel to the camera for the hot lap videos (presented by Tire Rack!). Meanwhile, Evans would interview and record Pobst for a subsequent transcription. Rinse and repeat.
By the end of day one, the Lamborghini Huracán Evo had quietly set the quickest lap of the field, popping off a 1:32.85 humdinger that was good enough to crack our all-time top 20. Two things: The Evo wasn’t actually quiet, blowing over 105 decibels on Laguna’s sound meter, on a day when we were limited to 93 dB (apologies for our noise, residents of Monterey, Carmel, Salinas, and probably Santa Cruz). Also, the lap seemed a bit slow, as it was 2.85 seconds off the Huracán Performante’s pace from two years ago (1:30.00). When we asked the Lamborghini technician why that would be (remembering that the Performante and the Evo have the identical 630 hp 5.2-liter V-10), he explained that the Evo is missing the Perf’s fancy active aerodynamics, aka ALA. Laguna is a track that rewards braking and cornering, where ALA really comes into play. How about that?
Meanwhile, Ford, Porsche, and especially Ferrari (barely a second quicker than the Mustang) were unhappy with their lap times and requested that we retest all three cars the following morning.
This is one of the reasons we get Laguna Seca for two days: to get the best lap times possible. Ferrari wanted to rebuild the F8’s brakes overnight (we figure a $20,000 service for Joe Hedgefund). Porsche felt that we never got the tire pressures quite right on the 911 Turbo S. Meanwhile, the boorish Shelby blew over 107 dBs on the sound meter, causing Pobst to get a meatball flag thrown at him by a confused corner worker (meatballs typically mean the car is leaking gas or something similarly catastrophic). Pobst immediately slowed to a crawl and thus lost his first “hero lap,” the mythical first few miles when the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s are at their best.
All three cars improved the next day. The Shelby GT500 went from a 1:34.99 to 1:33.84. That’s better by a second. It’s hard to chalk that up just to the “hero lap,” especially as the subsequent laps were only a few tenths off the faster time. Were conditions better on the second day? Probably, but this same controversy follows BDC every year.
Next up was the 911 Turbo S, which had put down a suspect 1:33.67 lap on Monday. Why suspect? Well, a 2017 Turbo S had done a 1:33.21. The new 992 version, which comes packing 60 additional horsepower, shouldn’t be slower. However, the 2017 Turbo S sat on racy Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires, and the 2021 model showed up wearing plain old P Zeros. Why not Corsas? Porsche explained that at the time of this test, the only Turbo S tires available to U.S. dealers are P Zeros. That will change in the future, but for now the Turbo is stuck with a midrange street tire. Pobst had another go and—no big surprise—beat his time from the day before, laying down a 1:32.97, barely beating the 2017 lap but, crucially, beating it. The new car is quicker. As it had better be. We’re already imagining its time wearing Corsas.
Then came the Ferrari. Three years ago, a 488 GTB not only won BDC but also laid down a blistering lap of 1:31.68, the 10th-quickest we’ve ever seen. That lap happened under similar circumstances: After day one, Ferrari asked us for a do-over. We said sure, and then a team of Italian engineers specially flown out for our event rebuilt the brakes overnight. Suddenly, the car was 1.53 seconds quicker. Did anything besides the brakes get changed? Hard to say.
This year the F8 Tributo had only managed a 1:33.80 on its first go-round, nearly a second behind the Lamborghini and, much more troublingly, more than 2 seconds off the pace of the 488 that it replaced. Try spinning that one. However, we knew there was something legitimately weird going on with the Ferrari’s brakes. Another attempt was in order.
At first, it didn’t go well. Pobst is not known for his use of profanity, so when I heard his tapestry of expletives over the radio, I knew something bad had happened. Turns out the brakes had not been properly bedded, and Pobst went off the track at Turn 11 on his warm-up laps. Luckily, he didn’t hit anything, and the brakes were now properly bedded.
In a bittersweet lap for Ferrari, Pobst was able to run a 1:32.27, the fastest lap of the competition but still more than half a second slower than the 488 GTB. Official explanation? None. One more thing—Pobst off-handedly mentioned that he felt if we re-lapped the Lamborghini, it would shave at least a second, putting the Huracán Evo in front of the Ferrari.
Having finished hot laps by lunch, we judges were able to spend most of the remainder of that day lapping all seven cars, a real treat. I’d go so far as to say that we ought to cut half the field again next year and do the same.
A few truths revealed themselves. As much as we generally like the Corvette and the Turbo S, they were the only two competitors that showed up without R-compound tires. This hurt both cars on the track. The Cayman GT4, which so impressed us all out on the road, felt underpowered on the track (though its precision made for a great familiarization-lap car to get the lay of the land, and we horsepower junkies can wait for the GT4 RS coming soon).
On the opposite end of the spectrum were the Italians. The Ferrari is a veritable missile of an automobile. But paired with those brakes, well, it’s not an ideal combination. No one felt comfortable driving it. Meanwhile, the Lambo was brash and bombastic—yet out of all competitors, it universally gave the judges the most confidence in driving/lapping at pace. Be it a pro racer like Pobst, a day-in-day-out car tester like Evans, a properly quick guy like Walton, or a desk driver like Rechtin, each came back into the pits shaking his head in admiration at the Huracán’s composure at speed. Turns out you don’t need ALA after all, the Huracán chassis is that good.
The Cayenne Turbo Coupe proved to be an absolute laugh riot around Laguna’s 11 corners. Sure, the not-quite 2.5-ton (4,999 pounds) pachyderm was different than the other competitors, but it had a killer app: burying your right foot in the throttle solved everything. Losing traction? Pointed the wrong way? Understeering into an apex? Just punch it. Purists can of course look elsewhere—or take a long walk off a short pier—but I can’t remember laughing as hard while on a track. Only 2.5 seconds behind the Corvette, too.
As we sat down to a broadly arrayed outdoor firepit with some brown liquor to discuss the previous three days, we narrowed the field of potential winners down to two cars that are basically opposites: the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and the Lamborghini Huracán Evo. Yet here they both were, the two cars we liked driving the best.