Road Trips & Driving Talent

My Favorite McLaren
March 8, 2020
Car Collecting Journey: Ferrari F50 to the Jaguar XJR-15
March 29, 2020

About six weeks ago Mrs. SSO and I started planning a road trip to Scotland.  The route was planned, and hotels were booked in both London and Scotland.  Two weeks ago, we cancelled our plans with the hope that we might be able to reschedule in the fall.  McLaren had extremely generously offered to lend us a car for the trip to Scotland and I was very much looking forward to spending a week driving the McLaren GT on some of the greatest roads in the world.  However, in light of what’s going on in the world right now, a cancelled road trip is completely inconsequential, and I consider ourselves extremely fortunate that we are able to even consider going on these sort of road trips.  

Going back six weeks to when Mrs. SSO & I started discussing the trip, one of the first questions that came up was who to invite to come along with us.  While a solo road trip is fun, sharing the driving experience and meals with great company who equal appreciate great roads, luxury hotels, and gourmet food, takes the experience to a whole different level.  Looking back to our last two Scottish road trips, my memories of several great dinners is a vivid as some of the great northwestern roads.  For us a great road trip is a holistic undertaking where you need to get five critical elements right: hotels, restaurants, cars, drivers, and the routes.  The first two on this list are generally Mrs. SSO’s responsibility and the last three are mine.

Of the three critical elements I’m normally responsible for, the easiest is the cars.  We have a simple rule for these trips, all the cars on the trips have to be supercars.  There is actually a practical reason for this, we want to make sure all the cars can comfortably keep up with each other as the driving can get a bit “spirited” at times, when the conditions allow. Picking the roads is easier that it might first appear.  At this point I’ve built up a decent database of great roads in different countries across Contintenal Europe and the UK.  The challenge is normally linking the routes up with the hotels Mrs. SSO has chosen.  Net net, the roads and hotels are puzzle that just needs a bit of time and patience to put together.

Where things get quite a bit more complicated is when it comes to the drivers.  The majority of supercar owners I have met over the last couple of decades fall into three general categories: “drivers”, “lifestyle”, and “polishers”.  For our road trips, it’s the first of these three groups that is relevant.  To qualify as a “driver” in this case, it’s not just the mindset of an enthusiast who gets great enjoyment of taking a supercar out for an early morning drive, but also a driver with extensive track day and/or racing experience or who has taken advance driving skill courses.  In my case, I learned how to drive a racecar with Fiorano Ferrari, have done more track days than I can remember, and did advance driver training with Ride Drive in the UK.  The Ride Drive instructors are off duty policeman who are trained in high speed pursuit.  In terms of how to drive enthusiastically and safely on a country road, I probably learned more in a few hours with Ride Drive than in any of the other advanced driving courses I have taken.  While setting this sort of criteria might sound a bit elitist, its actually for everyone’s safety.  

When you are driving as a group across great empty back country roads or in the mountains, having a group of cars with similar capabilities, piloted by drivers with similar skill sets, is critical.  While we have never had an “incident” on a road trip, there have been two near misses that I have witnessed.  In both cases the driver didn’t understand the gap between his Ferrari’s capabilities and his limited talent.  Had it not been for the Ferrari’s excellent traction control and great brakes, there would have been plenty of bent aluminum.  Getting in over your head in these situations makes you a danger not only to yourself and your passenger but also to everyone else on the road.  Hence selecting who to invite is critical as the last thing I want to do is put anyone in a situation they might not be comfortable in.  

There is one more added complication on the driver invites.  Not only do they need to be an experienced and skilled supercar owning driver but also have to appreciate and enjoy great hotels and excellent food.  While this sounds pretty straight forward, some people will surprise you.  On one trip we had a friend of a friend come along who turned out to be quite an eccentric individual.  This gentleman turned up with a cooler of tuna sandwiches and booked himself in alternative budget hotels nearby where we were staying.  I know it wasn’t an issue of money as this gentleman had more than plenty of it.  There is something uniquely wonderful about enjoying a great meal with friends in a wonderful location after an exhilarating day driving that is very hard to top.

When everything eventually returns to normal, we will celebrate with friends on another great road trip.  It’s always good to have things to look forward, especially in very uncertain and trying times.  Stay safe and healthy.

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March 2020

3 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    If your route includes southwest Scotland I’d thoroughly recommend a stay at Lochgreen House Hotel – drive the incredible roads of the GTR (the Galloway Tourist Route that is in many ways better than the NC500) then overnight in Ayrshire before a blast over the incredible roads to Moffat. PM me for more details if required – I’m a local😉

  2. Justin McKenna says:

    I have done road trips around Scotland 4 or 5 times. Among the best roads on the planet, and my time on the Old Military Road will live with me for a long time. Also don’t forget the possibility of a trip to John o’ Groats (which I did chasing a Carrera GT driven with some enthusiasm) or the Queenway or even a trip to Skye. As to the time of the year, I favour September or October. After the schools are back. It’s hopeless on a holiday weekend. IThere are some limiting factors though – one you mention quite properly is hotels. There aren’t that many and it is difficult to get everyone in the same nice hotel. The second is actually petrol. Driving in the northern part of Scotland in a thirsty machine is like driving long distance in an EV at any time. You have fearful range anxiety. When you are up and down the gears a lot any car, particularly the ones I went in, an F430 Spider and a 458, is thirsty, and mine were postively dypsomaniac. I reckon I was getting about 6 mpg at one stage. One of the cars in our group on one trip was a Murcielago and I think it was getting 3 mpg. And just because there is a petrol station on the map doesn’t mean it is open when you arrive on (say) a Sunday evening with fumes in your tank. So you end up filling up everywhere you see which tends to take a while. The final limiting factor in my view is actual numbers. I think no more than 4-5 cars is ideal. It is positively antisocial for a dozen candy coloured exotics to howl past civilian traffic. And that is how it looks even when it is all being done very safely with a spotter ahead with a walkie talkie (oh yes that’s a good idea up there). So maybe 4-5 cars driven at a whole lot less than excessive enthusiasm perhaps? Maybe even stagger departure times and have the front car phone / walkie talkie back. And if you are picking a safe word don’t use Go/No go. I didn’t hear the “no” part once. Perhaps Live/die. Oh yeah, mobile coverage is an issue too.

    PS I totally agree with the suggestion above – although I haven’t stayed in that hotel.

    look forward to seeing this develop.

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