If anyone has made an alarm that sounds good at 4.45am on a Saturday, I have yet to hear it. But since ignoring the unpleasant ‘squawk squawk squawk' emanating from my bedside table, would have meant missing out on driving some rather yummy cars at the Yas Marina Circuit, I begrudgingly dragged myself out of bed and into the land of the living. Or as close to it as I can manage at 4.48am. In fact it was nearly two hours later, when Amit kindly passed me the keys to the XKR-S, that my thought processes and my actions achieved genuine coordination.
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Sports Saloon & Car of the Year
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Grand Saloon
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best GT
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Premium SUV
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Exotic Car
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Coupé
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Small Car
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Hot Hatch
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Super Sportscar
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Convertible
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Supermini
Wheels Car of the Year 2011: Best Family Saloon
Had I been given free rein to make my own way from Al Safa to Yas Marina Circuit, I'd have probably gone there via Al Ain since I could happily drive the Jaguar all day, but instead I was tasked with herding cats on Shaikh Zayed Road. More specifically, I was asked to lead a dozen vehicles down to Yas Island. Have you ever tried to maintain a convoy of 12 sleepy journalists and assistants behind the wheels of cars as diverse as a Lamborghini Aventador and a Toyota Yaris? Let's just say I won't be volunteering next year!
Still, we eventually made it and whilst the others exchanged notes by the support pits, I whisked Amit off in the Jag to collect the McLaren from outside the Yas Viceroy Hotel. I'll admit to feeling more than a hint of patriotic pride as I stood admiring the two gorgeous British-built high-performance cars, knowing they'd both been deemed best in class in this year's wheels Car of the Year awards.
With the Bentley Mulsanne and Range Rover Evoque also claiming titles, it seems 2011 was a vintage year for the British car industry. And it's been a while since I could say that!
The front cover shoot was done without much delay, but when Stefan started to use remote portable lighting to fill in the shadows around the cars, I realised it was going be a while before we'd be enjoying them out on the circuit. This notion, coupled with my loudly rumbling stomach, led me to volunteer to go and buy lunch from a deli in the nearby Etihad Plaza.
However, the idea of my impressing a bevy of glamorous Etihad girls by pulling up in the Lamborghini, was quickly dashed when Stefan said none of the cars was to be moved; instead I borrowed a Ford Edge from the ever-helpful Tareq at the Yas Marina Circuit. Ah well, at least the fresh sandwiches were an improvement over last year's burgers and soggy chips.
With appetites sated and the green light from Stefan it was time to do the car-to-car shots on the circuit. There's always a mad dash for the newest and most exotic vehicles, so I did the decent thing and hid the keys to the Evoque whilst the others were arm wrestling over the McLaren (Jonathan won). An hour later the cars had all been shot individually, then Amit announced that we would be taking five selected vehicles out for a group shot.
Once again I happily found myself behind the wheel of the XKR-S, but this time I had an audience — a small crowd of interested onlookers were gathered on the Yas Viceroy's restaurant verandah. Now imagine their disappointment when, as they stood cameras at the ready, the Lamborghini, BMW, McLaren and Porsche passed them by, but not one of the drivers gave them so much as a wave. Fearful of the harm this might do to Abu Dhabi's tourist industry, I took it upon myself to wave really quite vigorously. Wave the back end of the Jaguar that is. And since some of those tourists had video cameras, I thought it best to give them a raucous 6,000rpm V8 soundtrack to remember the moment. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my excuse and I'm sticking to it!
With the group shot over and the McLaren checked into the Yas Viceroy, it was time to head back to Dubai; the return trip was mercifully easier without the need to keep checking the Evoque's rear view mirror for 11 other cars.
Following the outlandish Aventador for a while confirmed my belief that it's the first Lambo since the Countach to have real "Wow look at that" poster appeal. You can't help but be entertained by the tail lights; they look like half a dozen illuminated jet fighters flying in display formation. We finally parked the cars back at the wheels office at around 7pm, at which point my last desperate attempt to persuade Amit to let me ‘look after the XKR-S until tomorrow' fell on deaf ears.
Ah well, I'll just have to buy my own.