BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES
Motor Trend|March 2021
THAT CRAZY YEAR IN WHICH A SMALLER FIELD MADE THINGS HARDER
JONNY LIEBERMAN

Take a moment to realize how fortunate we are to have written this story because there was a very real chance that the 2020 edition of MotorTrend Best Driver’s Car wouldn’t happen.

This year, as you may well have noticed, things are a little different. Even though we started running BDC on October 11, I’m going to back up this narrative by six months to March 11, the day Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA postponed the season. Call it the billion-dollar canary in the coal mine.

If something as massive and all-encompassing as professional basketball could be paused just like that, our little supercar festival was surely doomed. We started hearing murmurs, then reality set in. First BDC was postponed, then budgets were slashed, then we found we had no sponsor. Time was running out. What we’d come to expect from BDC would be no more.

Of course, more important than the financial picture was the safety of our team of road testers, editors, photographers, videographers, track workers, and manufacturers’ support staff in the midst of a pandemic. Could we pull this off even if we wanted to?

This debate went on for months, until the very day we were going to call the whole thing off and tearfully pull the plug … when by a stroke of magic/luck/salesmanship the fine, fine (did I mention fine?) folks at Tire Rack swooped in and saved our rubber-burning bacon by cutting a check to cover the costs of Best Driver’s Car. BDC was back on, socially distanced in October instead of July, but OMG it was happening. So if you want to thank someone for what you are about to read, buy your next set of tires from Tire Rack. (I will now swing my leg back over the fence separating the editorial and advertising sides of the business.)

The 2020 edition of BDC would look much different. The number of competing cars was chopped in half, as was the number of judges, to shrink our quarantine bubble and reduce health risks to our team. For all sorts of inside-baseball reasons, we couldn’t do our normal closure of the carnival ride known as State Route 198, either.

However, with a shrunken field, we could potentially get all of Randy Pobst’s racetrack hot laps done in one day, which meant the judges would be able to spend time driving around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Score!

Catered meals, boozy dinners, quick swaps between cars, anything resembling normalcy was out. Face coverings, alcohol wipe-downs, and eating takeout alone in our hotel rooms were in. But BDC was a go. In fact, the strictures allowed us to focus more closely on the cars.

Ah, yes, the cars. Pre-pandemic we had of course planned to bring along our usual dozen competitors. When we realized that we’d only have half the crew compared to BDCs past, the painful decision was made to cut the field essentially in half. Logistically, it was simply impossible to deal with 12 cars, no matter how super. Here’s what we wound up with:

• Chevrolet Corvette Z51

• Ferrari F8 Tributo

• Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

• Lamborghini Huracán Evo

• Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

• Porsche 911 Turbo S

• Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe

A damn fine list if I do say so myself, and a Porsche SUV. Why so many Porsches? Why an SUV? Why no McLaren? Why not the car you wanted to see compete?

Back when BDC was happening in July, there was a scenario where we could have had five Porsches. Allow me to flip that question over to you: How do you choose between a 911 Turbo S and a Cayman GT4? How do you not include the Taycan Turbo S? At some point, we had to make some hard decisions.

One thing was for sure: We needed to follow the market. Like we’ve done for the past two BDCs, we included an SUV— decided by a super-SUV shootout, the winner of which was guaranteed a spot. We were also toying with the idea of having a super-wagon competition, and the winner may very well have been the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo.

But because BDC is a one-half road trip, it was easy to cut the range-limited electric Taycan. And the Audi RS 6 was delayed, so no wagon shootout happened. Even though it was 2020 and any sense of rule-making was out, we included the shootout-winning SUV, the Cayenne Turbo Coupe—hence we have three of Zuffenhausen’s finest.

As for a McLaren, specifically, a 765LT, when BDC was set for July, that Super Series monster wasn’t available, so we wrote it off. As it happened, the 765LT became available in the U.S. the week before BDC started. Let’s just blame the pandemic for this one, though it was funny hearing from McLaren during BDC, asking why we didn’t have its car.

The inverse of this involved Ferrari. In the past, Maranello wouldn’t play when Sant’Agata Bolognese showed up. Because we had Lamborghini firmly in the “yes” column, we just assumed Ferrari would decline. Then, with mere days before nailing down the field, Ferrari rang and asked if we would like an F8 Tributo for Best Driver’s Car, knowing full well a Huracán would be present. You can imagine our response.

As for all the other cars not represented, obviously the seven performance vehicles we chose are all quite good. Also, we’d previously driven all of the cars that we uninvited, and, well, we brought along the cars we thought had the best shot of winning. And an SUV, which turned out to be much more than a go-fast gear schlepper.

DAY 1

Right! Day one began with the five judges (editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin, road test editor Chris Walton, features editor Scott Evans, pro driver and Laguna Seca legend Randy Pobst, and yours truly) rendezvousing with the photo and social teams (who collectively would be driving two of the competitors) at Mugu Rock just west of Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway early one Sunday morning.

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