Although quite a few vehicles these days have the potential to reach the hallowed 300 km/h mark, a combination of logistics, sanity, circumstance, and healthy sense of self preservation dictates that there aren’t too many occasions where the average person will have the opportunity to reach such speeds. The fact that a gentleman’s agreement exists between three of the leading German manufacturers to limit their performance cars to 250 km/h (in a country where some of the roads still have no speed restrictions) should give some indication that even those in the know are reluctant to be swim in the murky depths of the 300 club. This is not to say that BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are not more than capable of producing cars that will comfortably surpass 300 km/h, it’s just that at these speeds very little margin for error remains and you can understand that no one wants to be held accountable for the one nervous driver who gets it wrong and end up on the evening news.
One day in 2004 my then editor, the late John Wright, called me into his office to ask me whether I would be able to attend a launch on behalf of Car magazine in Berlin, Germany. Being 27 years old at the time, single, and with an urge to travel as much as possible, I don’t think I had even heard what car it was before happily agreeing to take on the assignment. I hadn’t been writing for the magazine very long and, in truth, was probably the least qualified person to have sent on this particular launch, but I wasn’t about to pass it up.
I remember sitting in the Porsche Cayenne shuttle car as it turned off a fairly main road and headed into a forest area. I had been told that we were going to a test facility (the Michelin test centre to be exact) but had no idea that it had been created out of what used to be a top-secret World War 2 air force base. Through the trees I could see the ruins of some barracks and the back of some large man-made mounds, which later turned out to be the heavily camouflaged hangers used to hide Russian fighter jets between missions. One of these hangers had since been turned into a conference centre and on this particular day, as we pulled up to it, at least six shiny-new Porsche Carrera GTs were parked in front of it. One of them with my name on it for later in the day.
After a few refreshments and a brief chat with the relevant Porsche people, our press group was split into two groups and my half headed back to the shuttles to be driven down one of the main runways. At the other end we were greeted by more company people and this time only one bright red Carrera GT, parked behind a green “start” sign, and pointing in the direction in which we had just arrived. Not much more was said to us, to be honest. All I knew was that the car was idling and there was a driver in the left-hand seat. Noticing some initial hesitation amoung my fellow journalists (there were only two of us from South Africa) at the question of who would like to go first, I keenly shot my hand up.
Dropping into the passenger seat the first thing I noticed was the tall, lanky driver who greeted me with a warm smile and firm handshake. The first time I met Walter Rorhl. The next thing I noticed was the clumsy-looking computer readout looking up at me from between my feet. Not much more was said as a Porsche representative made sure that my seatbelt was buckled and the door securely closed to seal me into the cabin.
The revs shot up, the clutch dropped, wheels spun, and my head hit the back of the seat. We blasted towards the horizon. I heard the clutch pedal hit the metal firewall each time Mr Rorhl’s hand reached for the balsa wood gear lever and watched the actual speed readout in my foot well climb at an alarming rate. I remember the slight bumps as the car crossed the expansion joints in the runway becoming more frequent and I remember looking across to see Walter Rorhl looking as relaxed as if he were popping down to the shops to buy milk. I also remember experiencing slight tunnel vision even though we were driving dead centre of a 400 metre-wide runway. We flew past a large board with the word “stop” written on it and I looked down to see the figure 322 on the readout seconds before the seatbelt fastened tight around me as we began slowing down at a rapid rate. I had just been 322 km/h, and officially joined the 300 club.
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