Damien Smith's highlight of 2013


No two weeks are ever the same at Motor Sport. To pluck a single highlight from my experiences of 2013 is a tough call when I reflect upon great trackside vantage points at Spa or Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, or privileged photo shoots with cars that fired the reasons why I’m in this job. There’s even been the odd encounter with (rock) gods and (Edwardian) monsters.

Forty-eight hours in September summed up best the variety and diversity of Motor Sport life. On a Monday morning I flew to Vienna to drive a Rolls-Royce for the first time, stunned by the supercar performance of a nearly three-tonne five-star penthouse on wheels. The Wraith isn’t particularly to my tastes, but when it comes to R-R I now understand why oligarchs and rap stars rate them… Another world.

The next day I was in Frankfurt for the – um, how shall I put this? – contest to relieve oneself the most impressively that is played out between the German automotive giants at their national motor show. ‘Exhibition stand’ doesn’t suffice – try ‘multi-million-euro structure’, or in Mercedes’ case simply ‘multi-storey car park’. If you haven’t noticed, austerity in car land doesn’t always compute.

From the experience of sampling a 6.6-litre V12 behemoth, I was here to witness the launch of the FIA Formula E Championship, the all-electric single-seater series that will take its bow in 2014. As I say, all the colours of the motoring spectrum in this job.

These were memorable trips, but hardly the ones I’ll be relating to the grandkids. Instead, I might tell them about the day I spent in an underground car park with a clutch of special Porsche 911 variants for our June issue cover shoot (“eh?” they’ll grunt. But to me, it was special, if slightly surreal). The lurid yellow RS, the gonzo Martini Turbo and ‘Baby’ 935 are three personal favourites, and it was no hardship spending a day pushing them around for photographer Matt Howell beneath the mighty museum Porsche has built in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

I’ll also tell those future grandkids about the night I saw one of the great rock guitarists perform just feet away, at Goodwood’s incredible Festival of Speed ball. But let’s face it, that’ll mean even less to them! The Eagles and Don Felder, with his twin-neck Gibson and his note-perfect ‘Hotel California’? Again, “eh?”

Then there’s my first experience on (rather than at) the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t rain… and the novelty of riding on a pristine 1904 Panhard et Levassor kept me smiling for days. I’d spent childhood days watching the motoring pioneers trundle close to home on their way to the south coast, but it’s more fun to join in.

But if push comes to shove, the best memories will be drawn from a pure-blood motor racing series close to my heart. I’ve been waiting for a world sports car championship to write about since I took my first reporting steps 18 years ago – and in the fabulous World Endurance Championship I finally have one.

The Spa 6 Hours in May was better than Le Mans this year, largely because the 24 Hours ran under the heavy, black cloud of Allan Simonsen’s fatal accident. In Belgium six weeks earlier Audi had trounced Toyota with an impressive 1-2-3, but it was the spectacle rather than the result that counted for me. Wandering around the great Ardennes racetrack watching prototypes and GTs at full chat is one of the finest sights in the motor racing world.

I had a press pass, but of course you don’t need one to enjoy the best of Spa. And it’s so easy to jump in a car and head over (on in our case under) the Channel. Art Editor Damon Cogman and I only decided to go about a week before the race, and without the pressures of a Grand Prix crowd, finding a cheap hotel was easy. Next year, Porsche and Mark Webber will be there too. I urge you to join them.

Later in the year, I headed to Austin for the first time to catch up once again with the WEC. This time, I had a second agenda, heading off on a Texas road trip on the Monday morning with race winner and soon-to-be World Champion Allan McNish. As you might have read in the latest issue of the magazine, we had a ball.

And Formula 1? Yeah, it was OK. Grands Prix are always a buzz to report on, even in a less than sensational year such as 2013. But there’s so much more to motor sport – and Motor Sport for that matter – to enjoy. It’s the diversity that counts.

More highlights of the year
Ed Foster
Gordon Kirby
Andrew Frankel
Mat Oxley
Paul Fearnley
Rob Widdows

Click here to read more from Damien Smith

sports cars from the editor  McNish: guest editor and World Champion

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