Friday, October 30, 2020


This coming weekend is the Gran Premio Dell’emilio Romagna, to be run at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, named after the only son of Il Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari. Grand Prix races held here in past years were known as the San Marino GP.


Gilles Villeneuve had less than a week to live when I saw him at my first Formula One race. We obviously didn’t know it at the time, as we arrived full of the energy of youth and enthusiasm for the San Marino Grand Prix.


I still have the poster I bought at Imola in 1982, to celebrate Villeneuve's skill and bravery. These days it fills me with sadness.


The grand prix visit was one of the highlights of my first trip to Europe, as a guest of Alfa Romeo.


It was brilliant. If you don’t count collapsing on the floor of my first-night hotel room with a massive case of jet lag-induced dizziness . . . 


In those days, car companies didn’t do the over-and-back medical experiments like the ones of recent years, when Aussie motoring journalists are routinely piled onto a plane for a day of driving in Europe, a quick turnaround and a week of brain fog back at home.


We were in Italy for more than a week, test driving a range of new Alfa models; visiting the factory at Arese, just outside Milan; interviewing the chiefs; exploring the museum; visiting the Vatican on a tour through Rome, and then taking a bus to Imola for the race.


Our tour leader was Enrico Zanarini and he could, then and now, pass for an Italian movie star. He eventually returned from Australia to his native Italy and moved into all sorts of motorsport-related business deals, including managing Eddie Irvine, and now Antonio Giovanazzi, as well as wrangling some big-time sponsors for Ferrari.


Whatever I expected for my first dive into Formula One, it was not what I got. These days it takes many weeks of application and vetting before you are (perhaps) approved for an F1 media pass, but that day in Imola we lobbed at reception in the control tower, showed our passports and business cards, and were instantly rewarded with full pitlane credentials.


Some of the crew immediately went driver-spotting but a few (including me) grabbed the media-only scooters and took a pre-race lap of the track, one towing a promotional girl - in Giacobazzi hot-pants, from memory - who was on roller skates.


Lunch was a delight, once we realised the chilled dishes were warmed by a chemical reaction below foil trays. Remove a tab, set off the heating, and wait for a feed - or drop the burning tray from your lap, clean up and start again.


The ‘tifosi’ outside was large, noisy, colourful and boisterous.


But it was not all happiness and light.


The field for the race was decimated by a stoush between Bernie Ecclestone and Jean-Marie Balestre, over control of F1 and Bernie’s boys, including Alan Jones in his Williams, parked for the weekend and left the race to what were called the ‘grandees’ of the European teams.

In the end, San Marino in ’82 amounted to a demonstration run for Ferrari, who were fielding Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, after Renault went fastest in qualifying and Alfa Romeo - our team - provided colour and movement.

Top: Michele Alboretto finished third. Centre: Rene Arnoux, who got Pole. Bottom:Bruno Giacomelli DNF

There were only 14 starters with a miserable five finishers after both Renaults - Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux - expired with engine dramas and the Alfas of Bruno Giacomelli and Andrea de Cesaris also succumbed to mechanical failures.


But it hardly mattered to me, as I walked more than half the track to sit on the hillside at Tosa and watch my heroes at work.


The speed and sound was fantastic and, as a Villeneuve fan, I was happy to see him out front, and play-racing with Pironi.


It all turned very nasty at the end, when Pironi reneged on Ferrari’s team orders and ambushed Villeneuve on the run to the flag.

I’m not clear on the details that followed, because we were racing to catch our bus for the three-hour traffic jam - just to get from the parking spot to the autostrada.


But I can remember that one of our crew had lost his wallet, triggering a rapid whip-around to re-stock his coffers. The unfortunate beneficiary broke down in tears as he thanked the touring team, who had raised more than he originally had in his wallet.


“Stop crying. Imagine what we would have raised for someone we liked,” fired the team joker, breaking the tension and embarrassment on the bus.


Villeneuve was also broken, by the treachery of his team-mate, and was so livid that he could barely take part in the podium events.


His anger never abated and, during qualifying the following weekend in Belgium, he was so intent on taking pole position that he crashed his Ferrari and was killed.


Many years later, I was watching the live late-night television coverage on the day that Ayrton Senna was killed at Imola.


That, too, fills me with sadness.

Paul Gover


Scott McLaughlin has earned his place to contest the greatest race on earth - the Indianapolis 500 - in 2021.


At an almost deserted Indianapolis Motor Speedway today (Thursday Oct.29 Australian time) McLaughlin slid into the cockpit of his Shell-Backed Team Penske Dallara and went faster than he’s ever been in his life.

And he passed the most important examination of his racing life.


To prove that he’s not some over-rated numpty from the bottom end of the world, McLaughlin had to undergo the mandatory rookie orientation test at the Brickyard.


Make no mistake, this is harder than it sounds.


A driver has to put in ten laps within the 300-338km/h range, another 15 between 338 and 346km/h and then, finally, ten hot runs at over 346km/h.

And those speeds are relatively low compared with the expected qualifying pace for the race itself. But it’s all about baby steps at the moment. After all, McLaughlin is currently a veteran of just ONE Indycar start.


And that ended with a crash!


But at IMS today he put that out of his mind and delivered the kind of performance that everyone, especially his new boss Roger Penske, expected from the always cheerful 27-year-old Kiwi.


“I went the fastest I’ve ever been in my life,” said McLaughlin on his Twitter account after passing the test with flying (almost literally) colours.


“1 step closer to the indy 500.”

It’s good to get to know the IMS, for this is a place where the more laps the better.


Get it wrong at this place and the combination of mind-scrambling speed and enough concrete to build Donald Trump’s Mexican wall and you’re looking at a bad day at the office.


Drivers have died at this place for making just the slightest miscue.


This rather grim reality is why the powers-that-be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway demand that any newcomer, and in the past this has included superstar drivers such as Fernando Alonso, have to prove they’ve got the skills to navigate the turns and the speed necessary to tackle the Indy 500.


After all, a hapless rookie out of his or her depth at 360km/h can cause a considerable amount of carnage in a closely packed 33 car field.


And it has happened in the past with rather horrific results.


Proving just how important this day was viewed from within Team Penske, the fact that the man who pays the not inconsiderable bills of the now four car Indy operation, Roger “the Captain” Penske was also a keen observer in the IMS pitlane.

Penske is a busy man and it’s not as though he has a lot of free time, so the fact he wanted to be present personally speaks volumes about his belief in his new signing and the success that both can achieve together in the seasons to come.


When he wasn’t in the car McLaughlin was more often than not huddled with Penske team driver coach Rick Mears, a four times winner and six time pole position starter of the Indy 500.


With plenty of hand gestures and a few carefully chosen words of wisdom and advice, Mears gave the young Kiwi hard-charger the kind of priceless insights into what it takes to be successful at the greatest motor racing arena in the world. Just to 'finish' at Indy would be a great cap to a very successful 2020 Australian season.

For a wide-eyed rookie it just doesn’t get any better than this.


For McLaughlin it really wasn’t the perfect day in Indianapolis to be running fast laps on the 4.0km “rectangular” oval.


This is not a place for the feint hearted at the best of times, but the cold conditions made series tyre supplier Firestone a little more than just nervous. 


With it’s rubber designed to operate within a specific temperature range, Firestone technicians were worried that a cold track, not to mention intermittent rain, would make it all just a little too dicey to send the cars onto the track.


Things did, thankfully, did improve during the day and as his mentor Roger Penske watched from the timing box, Scott McLaughlin took his first stride towards contesting the greatest racing show on earth.


Postscript: Not only will Roger Penske be watching his new talent debut at the 'Brickyard', but he'll be watching the turnstiles too, as the new owner of not only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; but also the Indy Car Series as well - both of which he snapped up last November for USD$300 million!

Thursday, October 29, 2020


It’s nice to re-acquaint with old friends, especially those with whom you established a loving relationship. Such is my drive this week in the 2021 Aston Martin Vantage V8.

Despite the many years I spent helping to develop a ‘new’ image for Bentley, which was ably assisted by the launch of the Continental GT coupe in 2003, my heart belongs to Aston Martin.


For many reasons. I have enjoyed a long association with just about every sports car badge from Britain in the time since I earned my driving licence, in 1959. MGs, Austin Healeys, Sprites, various Lotii, TVR, Bristol, and then the step up to the big names, like Jaguar and Bentley.


However, Aston Martin burst into my life when my old friend Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez was hired by Ford to try and sort out one of Britain’s oldest, and traditionally money-losing marques.


In 2004 Ulrich Bez revealed to me his plans for a car which could match the Porsche 911 in most dimensions – design, size, performance, handling and cachet. Tough challenge, given that Porsche has ‘owned’ the 911 market segment for as long as anyone can remember.

He said it was a no compromise car, just two seats, adequate luggage space, a V8 engine, and exemplary ride, handling and performance within the same limits as the 911. Knowing Porsche’s dominance of the segment, I wished him well.


Designer Henrik Fisker came up with a svelte, flowing shape, and Dr. Bez inspired the Aston Martin product engineering team to stretch their efforts to match the competition’s values.


My first drive of a Vantage on home soil was in 2007, shortly after I retired from Bentley. Given how Ulrich Bez had clearly outlined his challenges and his approach, I was thrilled with my 300km test drive. The car delivered on its promises, with serious pause over the quality of the interior, and some fit’n’finish issues on the exterior.


However, my own significant history in the motor industry tells me you achieve the best quality scores when producing in volume, with firmly established processes.


So, after a brief encounter with the Vantage in 2019, I am re-acquainted this week with the 2021 version, and I’m delighted to say that all is forgiven.

The interior materials and finish are exemplary, as is the external panel fit and paint quality. The seats hold this test driver perfectly (although I’m not sure anyone weighing in over 90kg will be really comfortable), and the instruments and controls (many borrowed from Daimler Benz) are ergonomically well-positioned, and intuitive in their operation.

But, really, driving an Aston Martin is all about the experience. The experience of pushing a refined, sophisticated high performance sports car to its limits and revelling in the results.


I will not tell you this is a better car than a Porsche 911 – it’s just too different and too differently-engineered. I’m sure the car magazines will be only too happy to run comparison tests and make their judgements, but as someone who has admired Porsches, but never been a convert, I find the Vantage delivers everything I desire in a compact, high performance coupe. Plus, given my British bias, its combination of styling, materials and handling suit me just fine.


I take my hat off to Chief Designer Marek Reichman, whom I have known as long as he has been at Aston Martin.

He has produced designs which capture the spirit of modern Aston Martin design, established by Henrik Fisker, but he has moved the level onward and upward to achieve a new plane, and details which reveal his innate sophistication as a designer, and his ability to apply these details to a production car.

So, to the drive. I’m on my favourite loop (in the middle of nowhere) and this allows me to wind up the AMG V8, and stretch the Vantage’s legs. The Vantage points beautifully, and only when you get into a tight corner at high speed does it ‘step out’, but so controllably.


The precision of the steering is fantastic, and the response from the Aston Martin-fettled, AMG-derived V8 is smooth and linear. This engine was definately the right choice.

Combined with the ZF 8-speed torque converter automatic with paddles, the driving experience is great, whether dribbling through the burbs, or having the tach needle bash the redline out in the sticks.

I’m sure the Porsche fanboys will tell me the 911 is not only comparable, but better, however I love the concept of the Vantage with its (virtually) mid-mounted V8, and 50-50 weight distribution when the driver is on board.

I have written extensively about Aston Martin’s business issues and the question of its survival, but while it keeps turning out cars with the value and personality of the Vantage I believe that Aston Martin could have a future, while ever it can deliver on customers’ expectations and ‘stay in the game’.

This car, as tested, has a sticker price of AUD$372,000 - and let me tell you, it IS value for money!

John Crawford

*My thanks to James Read and Gold Coast Aston Martin for delivering the test car.


The last corner at Portimão (Galp) looks foot-flat simple and easy in a Formula One car during the Portuguese Grand Prix. But I have another view.


Unlike the on-car camera ride with Lewis or Max or Daniel, mine was shaped through the windscreen of both a BMW M3 and a Jaguar F-Type, and that corner is delivered with a full-pucker, suck-it-up perspective at anything close to full throttle.

Portimãu is tough.

It’s not Mount Panorama scary or Monza quick, and I have driven both of those and a bunch of other F1 tracks, but it is the sort of circuit that gets your attention and demands your respect.


I was thinking about this while watching Free Practice 1 on Cable TV, and re-living my experiences in Portugal at a couple of very memorable press preview drives.


I had been to Portugal before, in 1984 at the F1 title shoot-out between McLaren teammates Alain Prost and Niki Lauda, but I had no idea where we were going when we lobbed to drive the F-Type for the first time in Europe.


We headed out of the beautiful and calming city of Lisbon  into the countryside, which looks a lot like Australia with grotty soil and sparse trees.

On the road drive the Jags were quick and tasty, the company was good, and then we turned the corner into the Autodromo Internacional Algarve.


To be truthful, I had never heard of the place. But it was big and new, and obviously designed for lots of spectators to have a good time.


Jaguar had helmets and briefings and then we were let loose, at first with an instructor alongside, and later on our own.

My first laps at Portimãu were very tentative, because it’s a place that needs some learning. The main straight is very fast, over 240km/h in the F-Type V8, and there are drops and dips and rising corners and then long, long, long sweep back onto the straight.


It’s one of those places, so rare in the stop-start world of modern F1 circuits, where you have to link the corners together. It’s not stop, point, stamp and go.


Even the sweep off the end of the straight, through a high-speed right into a tightening right hairpin, takes precision and commitment. The uphill exits bait you to push hard and early, but that’s a mistake.

By the end of the day, I was having a real hoot. And when one of the other Aussies cleaned up about 10 cones that were placed to mark the line into Turn 3, after a tank-slapper moment through the first complex, I laughed and laughed. No-one was holding their hand up, but I knew the culprit.

The next time at Portimãu I knew exactly what to expect. And wasn’t I pumped.

This time there were BMW M cars and race drivers to follow, with no-one sitting alongside. Timo Glock, who I knew from his Toyota F1 time, was one of the hosts. So was Martin Tomczyk.


They were hard on the gas from lap one and, once they were convinced you were not about to crash and hurt yourself, they ratcheted things up with each lap.


The culmination was a passenger lap, although Tomczyk blew a rear tyre on a taxi ride while he was about two car lengths ahead of me.


This time, Portimãu was fun. Serious, seriously quick, fun. I knew where the road was going, I knew where I could brake late and hustle the car, and I knew where I had to leave a margin for error.

Following Tomczyk, before the blow-out, there was a chance to crank the M3 sideways on some of the exits and to dig deeply into the ABS for the tighter corners.

I think the F1 drivers must have loved the racing in Portugal. The circuit is different to what they're used to.

It all came flooding back as I sat in front of the big screen and I was reminded, not for the first or even the 100th time, that my life has been blessed and privileged and filled with ‘money can’t buy’ experiences and memories.

My F1 Renault test drive at Paul Ricard

I plan to share many more of those special times on

Paul Gover

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

TWINS? by John Crawford

 Is it just me? Or are there some coincidental similarities in the profile view of the new Genesis G70, and the 2020 Toyota Camry?

Both these cars were designed over the past 18 months to two years, one in Korea and the other in California, but it always amazes me when similar cues, side-lines and body contours end up looking like they came from the same sketchpad.

John Crawford

Sunday, October 25, 2020


Barely has Paul Gover’s drive story on the current Genesis G70 hit DRIVING & LIFE, than we have a new series of shots of a facelift, with slick new design cues and major improvements to equipment.

Most of the changes are to the sheet metal, but big changes inside increase the perception of greater luxury, and more brand-specific driver aids, like a brand new 10.3in. multi-media screen, and Genesis-specific navigation system.




This new G70 is the last car Belgian designer Luc Donckerwolke drew for the company, before being forced into early retirement due to illness.

As he enjoys a quiet life in his (hopefully) COVID-safe Bavarian bunker, Genesis is aiming to have the new car on sale PDQ, to counter some mild criticism that some of the current interior fittings appeared less than compatible with a luxury car image and pricetag.

Immediately noticeable are the striking new headlamps and taillamps, featuring a twin-rail illumination panel inside brand new apertures, sort of borrowed from the GV80 SUV.

The side vents in the front flanks have been positioned lower down, to give an impression of greater depth to the front fenders. Genesis badging appears to be bolder, and there’s larger, oval tailpipes.

However, other upgrades are focussed on performance, which tends to make us think Hyundai intends G70 to be much more of a 'performance' car, than a stodgy Grandad's Grand LuxoBarge.


There’s no doubting Hyundai’s seriousness about breaking into the premium saloon club alongside Lexus and better-known European competitors, and this new direction is driven by Hyundai’s new chairman, 49 year-old Euisun Chung. There’s a palpable energy behind the Genesis experiment, including the selling process, where Genesis has eschewed the traditional dealer network model, for its ‘studio’ settings in major cities.

Euisun Chung has stated that he wants all Hyundai employees to ‘think like pioneers’ and to ‘advance innovative and adventurous ideas’. I think the first expression of this mindset has been the Genesis GV80 SUV. After all, Luc designed the Bentley Bentayga, so he knows how to guide the styling of Genesis' luxury SUV, without simply ‘copying’ Bentley’s design cues.


This challenge by Chairman Chung has obviously rubbed off on Genesis first, and I look forward with genuine interest, to Genesis sustaining its confidence and persistence in pursuing a spot on the premium luxury ladder.

As Paul Gover has said, not many people know about this brand, so as someone who has had considerable experience dealing with brand rebuilding, brand positioning and brand marketing, I await Hyundai’s next pioneering moves to establish its luxury credentials.

John Crawford

Friday, October 23, 2020


Roads loaded with pocket battleships like the Mercedes-AMG C63, BMW M3 and Audi RS4 make it hard for the Genesis G70 to shine.

Most people don’t even know that it exists.

But the Korean contender is a car that is far better than you might expect from Hyundai.

It’s a smooth compact in the prestige class, with the same responsive, turbocharged V6 engine that helps the Kia Stinger to shine, and the same sort of driving dynamics as the old-school BMW 3 Series, plus a full suite of luxury gear.

The G70 was the second Genesis model into Australia, following the larger and stodgier G80, which found most of its friends among the country’s hire-car drivers. They enjoyed the space and smoothness, as well as the five-year warranty and service package that was the same as the one for private buyers.

Not many Genesis have been sold over the past year, but that’s not down to the car.

Genesis took a unique launch path without traditional dealers, focussing on an inner-city showroom in Sydney that was more like an art gallery. It looked impressive but it’s not the way Aussies like to find and test their cars, and so the G70 has become a hidden gem.

It’s deliberately pitched into the historic prestige heartland where the BMW 3 Series usually ruled, until Audi went all glam, and Mercedes arrived with its sledgehammer C63 as a headliner and backed it with a brilliant compact Benz CLA.

Genesis executives know the best place to conquest a prestige buyer is at the bottom end, since they are usually welded to a brand by their late forties, and the G70 picks up that theme.

The G70 family starts just below the psychological $60,000 barrier, although my test car is the fully-loaded 3.3-litre turbo that takes it just short of $80,000.

The local Genesis team needs to get much more foot traffic in its glamourous upscale 'studio' in the heart of Sydney, but then, as my friend and branding expert John Crawford, (who has done this very successfully for both Jaguar and Bentley in the USA) says: "Genesis needs to arrange a lot of dynamic drive days in a tightly-controlled environment, like Sydney Motorsport Park, so that the car's real driver appeal shows through."

Apart from the well-focussed driving package, the Ultimate Sport model gets a sunroof and great leather, along with all the other luxury stuff, as well as sports suspension, big brakes and alloys, with Michelin tyres.

I have driven the G70 a few times, starting with a surprising – for me – sprint through the northern Californian foothills during the Monterey Speed Week. The car is better than I expected, almost as good as I had hoped.

Back home in Australia, and with the Stinger as a benchmark, the G70 impresses as a sharply-focussed driver’s car with the value I expect from Korean carmakers. The difference from the Stinger is that the Kia is more of a family cruiser car with a sporty strike, while the G70 is a taut four-door for driving.

So, when the opportunity opens for a revision drive in the G70, from the Queensland border to the harbour city in Sydney, it provides plenty of fresh perspective.

Lots of cars seem good when they are close to home, but hit the highway and the seats get grumpy, the lights go dim, and there are shortcomings and frustrations you never notice in the ‘burbs.

These are the conditions when ordinary cars become very ordinary, but good cars prove their value.

The G70 is parked on the positive side of that fence.

It’s a lovely companion for a long-distance run, with everything from supportive seats to that twin-turbo V6 with the punch to knock out any overtaking challenge. The fuel economy is good too, for its position, at 8.4 litres/100km.

The lane-keeping assistance is annoying and intrusive, but there is also an excellent ‘coasting’ feature which saves fuel – and money – on long downhill stretches. I’m not convinced about the driver-fatigue reminder, which keeps telling me to stop and take a break. Have the Genesis engineers missed the creation of Red Bull?

It’s a complete package that is well engineered and well finished, and although Genesis is the upscale spin-off from Hyundai – did I forget to mention that? – there is not a single Hyundai badge on the car and it feels nothing like the i30 or impressive new Venue city-focused SUV.

It’s a car which can get up and go on any road, with particularly taut responses in twisty country conditions, and is a relaxing long-distance tourer.

I have the proof, from my interstate run and just on that experience, without all the other good news, I’d be happy to recommend the car to my best friends.

The resale is unproven, and it faces some of the toughest opposition in Australian showrooms, but the Genesis G70 is a car that definately deserves a closer look.

Paul Gover

This story first appeared in

Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Yes, the famous Stelvio Pass, probably best immortalized these days by the crew from Top Gear, who have driven it several times, and once named it THE best drivers’ road.

The Passo dello Stelvio is between Italy’s two ‘Bs’ – Bolzano and Bormio. Look for those two towns on Google Maps and that will give you a good idea what’s involved in getting to this well-known pass. Probably the best known of all Europe’s passes.

At an elevation of 2757m it’s Europe’s highest navigable pass, and the highest paved road in the eastern alps.

The original road was built between 1820-25 to connect the former Austrian province of Lombardy with the rest of Austria. It has 75 hairpin bends, 48 of them on the northern side marked just by numbered stones, no guardrail!

The Stelvio Pass remains a challenge for those expending lungful’s of air too, as it is closed for one day every year in August when more than 8000 cyclists and over 30 runners ascend to the highest point – in the name of sport.

Despite its altitude, it is marginally easier to drive than the Furka Pass, however these days traffic is the big problem, especially in the summer. Try and plan your drive for the end, or beginning, of the snow season.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio in situ

There are a lot of great ski resorts in the region, but the road is completely closed in the winter. So, it’s public transport if you’re going skiing.

There is a commercial solution for those who would love to drive the Stelvio. The ‘Great European Rally’ takes place in September, where you can sign up to enter in your own car, and the route includes the Passo dello Stelvio. It's run by The Great Rally Company.

One interesting historical note is that the Pass is just 200m from the Swiss border, and during the Second World War, whilst artillery was being fired between Nazi and Allied forces, shells passed ‘over’ Switzerland. Due to Switzerland’s neutrality, the opposing forces had to agree to stop any fire which ‘passed over Swiss Territory’ – which just highlights that there are tragedies of war which can be avoided.

If you are driving in Italy, plan to drive the Stelvio – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

John Crawford