Incredibly, its now 20 years since Top Gear sent me on a mission to Millbrook Proving Ground to have a bit of fun for the programme’s contribution to the Comic Relief show.
The theme that year was ‘Record Breakers’ and our researchers decided it would be fun for me to do the fastest Iap of a UK circuit in a production car.
The Guinness Rock of Records said I had to beat a 180.4mph average set around Millbrook’s two-mile bowl by journalist Colin Goodwin in a Jaguar XJ220S. I’d done many laps of this famous bowl, so l knew the place well.
It has a top lane where the angle of the banking creates ‘hands free’ driving at 100mph in any car. There was only one car I wanted to use for this challenge – and a quick cal to McLaren saw them generously step forward with the loan of their final F1 prototype, the XPS, with technical back-up from both themselves and Michelin.
XPS, with technical back-up from both themselves and Michelin. The rules specified standard road tyros and we knew this would be the limiting factor. Anything over 100mph on the banking would progressively load up the steering as you have to hold the car down and away from the quard rail, with such a constant loading, the tread would get hotter and hotter until it fell apart, so Michelin had advised us to do only four-lap runs and constantly monitor tyre pressures and temperatures. But on a very cold February day the tyres quickly last whatever temperature they had on the slowing-down lap, so it was hard to check therm accurately.
Building up to speed slowly, not using full throttle and ‘cruising’ at a steady 6000rpm in sixth. I breezed to a new record of 183mph on my first run. The speedmeter was set in kilometers and I couldn’t take my eves off the road for long enough to read it anyway. All l knew was 6700rpm in sixth was 200mph-and in my mind that was the target.
A run at 6300rpm, still not quite at full throttle produced a figure of 191.5mph, but the wind was gusting at 20mph, causing plenty of problems. The sheer speed felt incredible- I was covering 100 meters every second. The jump from 170mph to 180mph seemed like nothing, but every extra 5mph now began to feel like a huge step-and the wind was exaggerating it! For the first half of the lap the wind was behind me and to my left, pushing me up towards the guard rail and adding more load to the steering which was now trying to pull my arms out of their sockets. But, as I rounded the bowl, the note of the car gradually turned directly into the wind, and in a flash it was on my right, pushing the nose down the banking. The transition made the car dart up and down, so l was busy with the steering!
When I finally reached full throttle in sixth the acceleration was still astounding. I started a lap with the rays at 6800rpm, but into the headwind the car was buffeting around so dramaticoly I had to ooso off to oet through the transition. Once settiedt he throte wons back to full and honadod for the ine- but suddeniy the rear of the car was moving around and, as iftod to try ano contro it, t got worse – the tail was quite definitely wngging the dogl At 200mph the heast build-up had caused the tyres to bister and I had to wrestle the speed off with my heartin my mouth. ‘d nearly killed mysel having ‘a bit offun’ in the name of Comc Relief, but l’d set a nsw rotord at 195 3mph nd a registerec top speed of 200.8moh.