It’s when the digital speedometer hits 300km/h that I stop looking. My eyes are looking as far up the road as possible. My hands are clammy. And my body jolts as every single imperfection in the road surface rattles through the cabin of this million pound hypercar. My buttocks remain firmly clenched.
The thought that I’ve only been behind the wheel of this Porsche 918 Spyder for about 10 minutes and am already knocking on the door of 200mph seems utterly preposterous, but then this is no ordinary journey.
Rewinding about 36 hours and many hundreds of miles, I’m where it all started: Bodø, Norway, a town well within the Arctic Circle you’ve no hope of pronouncing correctly if you aren’t at least a little bit Nordic.
I’d say we’re up at first light, but this time of year in this part of the world, there’s no such thing - it never really gets dark. From here, an incredible task lies ahead: we have a fleet of Porsches - including the aforementioned 918 Spyder - and we have to drive them 3350 miles (5400km) down to the very southern tip of mainland Europe in Tarifa, Spain.
The idea is we’ll be replicating the distance travelled by the 919 Hybrid at the Le Mans 24 Hours last year, but on the road. In one go. If that sounds bonkers, that’s because it is, and it’s going to be made possible by a pair of tour buses that’ll follow us the whole way - as we sleep, a team of night shift drivers will take over to keep the convoy moving. Just thinking about the logistics behind taking seven ‘star cars’, two support cars, two buses plus a small army of journalists, photographers, videographers and mechanics through eight countries, while only stopping for the occasional comfort break or driver change, makes my head hurt.
Every car here has some sort of connection to Porsche’s 919 WEC LMP1 programme. With the aforementioned 918 joined by a 718 Boxster, 718 Cayman, 911 Turbo S, Panamera 4S, Cayenne e-Hybrid and a Macan GTS, the subject areas of turbocharging, four-cylinder engines and hybrid power are all covered.
This promises to be one hell of a trip.
Despite the mercury sitting slap bang on zero degrees centigrade, I nab the keys to the Boxster first, and immediately get the roof down.
We’re heading straight for the Swedish border, around 100 miles away. The further we go, the more the temperature drops. This isn’t ideal, and not just because of my the top must always be down convertible dogma: all cars here are running on summer tyres.
Thankfully the roads have just about thawed, having apparently been quite treacherous over the previous few days. We scythe our way down to the border without incident, passing preposterously pretty fjords all featuring their own rugged, snowy backdrop.
It’s a gorgeous part of the world, this, but as we make our way into Sweden - after a short stop to sort out some boring paperwork - the temperature drops dramatically, and the scenery flattens out a little. Now it’s all about ice lakes, snow, and temperatures as low as minus eight. Thankfully, I’ve found the button for the heated steering wheel.
It’s eerily barren out here: no visible wildlife, no people, and no cars, save for our convoy. As the scenery thaws and the miles pass, a tiring monotony starts to set in, but a fuel stop well into Sweden provides the perfect antidote: a swap into the 911 Turbo S.
Good lord this thing is fast. Modern turbocharged performance cars - including the Turbo’s 911 Carrera cousins - tend to be all about hiding their forced induction, but this thing has no interest in such skullduggery. It’s an unashamedly boosty supercar: from 3000rpm and up you’re pummelled into your seat as an almighty sucking sound fills the cabin, with the 572bhp 3.8-litre flat-six almost playing second fiddle to the two giant blowers.
With sun coming down as we approach Stockholm, I make my last car swap of the day into the Racing Yellow 718 Cayman S. I quickly find myself weighing up the good and bad points of the Cayman’s new turbocharged flat-four engines, coming to the conclusion that the whole noise argument matters less in the tin roof Cayman than in the drop-top Boxster. And you really can’t argue with the speed: even after a stint in the Turbo S, it feels mighty fast.
Just outside of Stockholm, we meet up with our rolling hotel and hand the cars over to the night drivers. The beds are coffin-like berths and once in them the inertia of the bus makes you feel like you’re constantly on the verge of tipping over, but after the early start and long day we’ve had, falling asleep is easy.
Bleary eyed and achey, I stumble off the bus and into a hotel in which I have a room for all of 20 minutes to freshen up and change. Quite how you book a bunch of hotel rooms for under an hour each without seriously awkward questions being asked, I’m not sure, but it perks me up for the drive through the remainder of Sweden and through Denmark.
I jump back in the Cayman, and our convoy soon finds itself on the spectacular Øresund Bridge - a five mile long suspension bridge leading to a 2.5-mile tunnel that brings us into Denmark.
Quickly dispatching our short Denmark stint, we’re loaded onto a ferry, but not before causing all kind of chaos as we pull into the wrong lane. All eight cars in our convoy - 918 and all - gingerly reverse back and manoeuvre into the correct lane, amid much beeping of horns and swearing. Oops.
Once onboard, the Boxster’s alarm promptly and loudly goes off, with the key holder just having disappeared somewhere further up the ship. We’re not exactly flying under the radar today.
At the next car change, it’s finally time for my first 918 stint. Clambering over the vast, rather scratched carbonfibre sill, I drop down into the seat and select drive. Pulling away in near silence under electric power only, I flick into sport mode, and the 4.6-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 behind me thunders into life. This is going to be good.
The two lane road soon gives way to a multi-lane autobahn, and the all important national speed limit sign flashes by. Time to see what this thing can do. Flicking down a few gears on the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, I floor it for the first time.
If you could sum up the 918 in one word, that word would be immediate. Giving an already punchy N/A V8 an instant electric torque boost makes for the kind of response and acceleration that leaves you dumbstruck.
A few miles up the road, I get my clearest run yet. As the speed hovers around 160mph, a series of bumps clatter through the cabin. This is not a smooth piece of road, and the low, stiff 918 feels nervous for the first time as it skips over the imperfections.
I see the speedometer hit 300km/h (186mph) before I look away to frantically scan the road ahead. The world outside starts to go rather blurry, as all kinds of internal combustion anger explodes behind my ears with rage, before I spot a pesky 120km/h speed limit sign.
This is the only high-speed autobahn run any of us ends up getting: soon after I swap the keys for the relaxing but not terribly exciting Cayenne e-Hybrid, the rain hits hard, and the traffic builds up. I don’t get anywhere near my ‘PB’ during my second 918 stint, and it’s not until I swap into the 911 Turbo again and enjoy a brief but entertaining blast to the Belgian border that the road clears up.
Our final stop of the day is in Liege, home of Belgium’s famous waffles. But everywhere is closed, so they’re not on the menu tonight. Boo.
During our bumpy slumber, we’ve made it out the other side of Belgium and a fair way across France, winding up in Le Mans, where the Macan GTS is waiting for us as our first ride of the day.
A photo call sees us driving around the Bugatti circuit, the permanent part of the La Sarthe track used for the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, and despite the slow speeds, it’s a pretty big tick in the life goals box. Taking part in a classic Le Mans running start is the goofy icing on the cake.
Compared to the autobahn hypercar shenanigans of day three, this is all a lot more laid back. After a short stint in the 911 Turbo we’re in the utterly relaxing Panamera 4S, and after the Spanish border police shout at us for using a walkie-talkie and we wait 20 minutes to join a motorway while a cycle race trundles past, we’re well on our way to Moorland Aragon. There, we’ll be watching the 919 Hybrid LMP1 team undertake a 36 hour test in preparation for Le Mans. The reason? If you can manage 36 hours, 24 should definitely be doable.
Like the Cayenne, the wafty Panamera may be relaxing, but it isn’t all that exciting. We’re pushing it for time thanks to that damn cycle race, so a motorsport-style pit-stop/car swap with the 718 Cayman S is in order. The whole thing takes about 30 seconds, and while the new Panamera crew is busy adjusting seats and loading luggage, I launch control start onto the deserted Spanish motorway and get up to… err, 130km/h and no further, honest…
It’s then we get a phone call. “Have you got the keys for the Panamera still?” Shit. This is why keyless start systems are a bad idea. Thankfully, the Panamera was left running, so it’s just a case of slowing down to let the saloon catch up as it shouts at the driver for the missing key, pulling into the next lay-by, and handing over the key. With much egg on face.
Several hours later, the sun sets on Aragon as we watch the 919 crew doing their thing, and a plan is hatched. Tomorrow morning, while luggage is moved and photos taken, I’ll be taken to a nearby, empty desert road with the 918, and given the chance to have launch-control based fun and get some killer footage.
Something doesn’t seem right. We should have had our wake up call by now. Clambering down the stairs of the tour bus - which has an interior akin to a seedy nightclub, by the way - I see the worried faces of Porsche employees who’d normally be on the other bus. The reason? Bus number two has had a puncture, to the point that the tyre’s actually fallen off. We’ve lost about an hour and a half. Ah.
The stricken tyre has torpedoed our 918 Spyder plans, but thankfully, after some jiggery pokery with the route including canning our hotel/shower stop, the convoy is back on schedule with no risk of missing our police escort through Tarifa or our flights home. Just don’t ask how badly we smell.
"The trip simulated what drivers through during a 24 hour race: the highs, the lows, the teamwork, the exhaustion"
We have to hurry though, and are unceremoniously ejected from the sole running bus and pile into the nearest available car before setting off.
That car ends up being the unloved Cayenne e-Hybrid, but at this point, I’m tired, one of my ears is completely blown out (probably after spending most of yesterday with my head hanging out the window to do some car-to-car photos), and I’m quite happy to relax behind the wheel of the quiet and smooth SUV. Besides, I have a killer view as the 918 blasts through various tunnels up ahead.
Exiting the motorway, we drop down into Tarifa and pick up our police escort. We’re taken across a causeway and to our finishing point, with the 918 predictably mobbed by the bemused tourists whose holidays we’ve just just crashed.
As I exit the Cayenne, the enormity of what we’ve just accomplished hits me. Just a few days ago we started way up in the Arctic Circle in sub zero temperatures, and here I am now at the southern-most point of mainland Europe in 30 degree heat, looking across the Mediterranean to Africa.
Nearly 3500 miles. Eight countries. Vast quantities of coffee and Candyup. All dispatched without the cars experiencing a single issue. For the squishy bits behind the wheel, it’s not the same case. The trip quite successfully simulated what an endurance racer goes through during a 24 hour race: the highs, the lows, the teamwork, the exhaustion.
In conclusion? I’d make a crap endurance racer. Even completing our ‘race distance’ in the much less stressful environment of Europe’s motorways, I’m utterly ruined. And I smell quite bad. But the memories I’ve made won’t be budging for a while.