Bentley Supersports ISR on ice
We borrow Juha Kankkunen's ice-speed-record Bentley Supersports Convertible for a run to the Swiss Al
Apart from missing the drag-reducing headlight covers and blanking plate for the grille, the car is unchanged since the ice-speed run.
Record-breaking cars are usually hidden in museums or snapped up by deep-pocketed collectors. Not so this Bentley Continental Supersports Convertible. It's parked outside Geneva's Bentley showroom, alongside the very first Mulsanne to be built. Even with its bigger saloon car relatively nearby in a — how do I say this — ‘unique' custard/banana yellow colour combo, it's the Supersports that's drawing all the attention. It's black now, but open the doors and some of the original colour can be seen, this once vanilla-hued cabrio having lived life asa press car. It was nicely run-in then, before Juha Kankkunen borrowed it fora record-breaking ice drive.
Hopes of the cool black exterior giving this Supersports Convertible any stealth are shattered abruptly by unsubtle sponsor decals for those partners involved in Bentley's frozen-water-speed foolishness. It's a busy looking thing, and, unsurprisingly, does attract a lot of attention. I'd be tempted to add a sticker with the top speed on it somewhere, as, aside from a few details that are easy to miss, this Supersports just looks like a Bentley driven by someone with questionable taste. Nobody's going to see the J Kankkunen sticker on the rear window unless you're stuck in traffic.
The drag-reducing headlamp covers have gone for today, as has the partial blanking plate for the grille, but otherwise this car could rock up to the Baltic Sea just off Finland again and try to better its 330.695kph record-breaking top speed. That level of cool (literally) negates the rather crashed-into-a-decal-shop looks. Recorded over a single kilometre — in both directions — on a 16.5-kilometre track created from 700mm deep ice, the speed was verified by the Finnish Police. The only ticket Kankkunen received wasa nice certificate from the Guinness Book of Records for his efforts.
Aerodynamic wheel covers remain on the car, amusingly painted to look like Supersports wheels. They help reduce drag at high speeds. Likewise, there are some other subtle aerodynamic tweaks, including a longer rear spoiler and lower front splitter. Inside, the mix of racer and luxury GT has never been more sharply in contrast. The quilted Alcantara seats stay, though instead of the usual seatbelts there is a thick-belted five-point harness. There's a handle for releasing a parachute too, for slowing Kankkunen down quickly on his high-speed runs. It's tricky getting inside; don't even attempt it before getting all those belts positioned first, as the usual large door opening is crisscrossed bya chunky roll cage. Forget getting in the back; the rear seats might be there, but even a contortionist couldn't get between the thick tubes.
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'm squeezing a bag in there, my small rucksack just fitting through one of the apertures in the heavy-duty cage. I'm sat beside one of Bentley's driving consultants, Tim, who's allowed me to do the driving. Nobody outside the factory should be driving such an important piece of Bentley's history, but he suggestsI take the first leg up to our destination in Gstaad, Switzerland.
Nonchalantly, I accept the offer, aware that it's a real privilege to be sat in (let alone drive) Kankkunen's record-breaking car. It's important to get the driving position correct from the start, as those five-point belts leave zero room for manoeuvre. I fiddle around with the beautifully supportive and comfortable carbon-fibre-backed seat and start the process of buckling in. It takes a minute or so, only then do I reach to close the door. Kankkunen's probably got people to do such things but I don't today, so off come the belts and I reach for the handle again.
That cage dissects the area of the door opening where the door handle would usually occupy open space, so a crude cut out on the door panel and blue striped tape was evidently hastily applied to warn of the potential for bruised digits. Tim's warned me too, in a tone that suggests he's witnessed the agony of someone who's forgotten to notice it. Ergonomics be damned though, finger-crushing potential takes a back seat to overall safety here, the cage no doubt hugely reassuring when you're off to take a crack at 330kph ona surface that's more suited for the sharp blade of a skate than four rubber tyres.
No such ice and snow in Geneva. Door closed, seatbelts reassembled and driving position perfected I press the starter button for the Supersports' 6.0-litre W12 engine. It fires up with a familiar sound, the flare of revs quickly settling to a quiet, though purposeful idle. Usually, I'd want to drop the roof, but that cage and a large panel of metal bolted to the underside above the cage (which Tim suggests would help in the event of a roll-over) prevents me from opening the interiorto the winter sun.
Negotiating the Bentley dealership's forecourt at the best of times is tricky enough, but with belts holding me fixed in position the potential of a Bentley-on-Bentley nudge is sizeable. Thankfully there's enough room, just, and the Supersports eases out into traffic.
It must be an unusual look in traffic, particularly in rather conservative Switzerland. So it attracts a lot of attention, mobile phone cameras pointed at it at traffic lights, and the amusing double takes of drivers as they spot it approaching or see it in their peripheral vision. I've no such luxury, as my view out is restricted, not only by those seatbelts, but the mass of metal tubing surrounding me. The people fitting the cage were probably more concerned about Kankkunen's safety over how easy or not it might be to see out in traffic.
Thankfully the stop-start of Geneva's busy streets is short-lived, as we quickly reach the motorway for our drive to Gstaad. Tempting as it is to run the Supersports up to speed on the wide, quiet tarmac, I'm mindful of the Swiss police's rather persuasive means of keeping the locals within the 120kph limit. The very road I'm heading out to drive, the A12 between Lausanne and Bern, saw a 37-year-old Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG driver have his car impounded anda record Dh3.67-million fine imposedafter being caught driving at 300kph bya fixed camera.
The people at Bentley aren't going to want the Supersports impounded, nor do I want to explain to my wife why we have to sell the house, everything in it and give up our earnings for many years. So 120kph it is. OK, 130kph, though the quick flash of a camera reins in my brief lack of concentration. Tim assures me the ticket will be binned, but I've been watching my postbox for a Swiss-post-marked envelope every day since.
Stickers, seatbelts, cage and those odd exterior additions aside, Kankkunen's Supersports feels just like any other I've driven. That's to say effortlessly rapid and hugely comfortable. The 630bhp it produces, and more usefully the 800Nm of torque, imbue the Supersports witha feeling of imperviousness that's relatively unique. Sure, there are faster, more involving and histrionic cars out there, but nothing provides such easy, yet forceful power housed in such lovingly crafted luxury.
The Supersports was designed for this sort of trip, turning off the motorway and heading up to Gstaad. There's snow on the roads now, the winter tyres and four-wheel drive giving tremendous reassurance, even without Kankkunen's level of skill behind the wheel. His talent is brought into sharp focus when Tim mentions that the rally-driving hero spent a good portion of the high-speed run with a degree of opposite lock on. Kilometre-long high-speed power slides? I'll leave that to the talent, with neither my skills nor bravery levels anything like that approaching those of the legendary Finnish rally driver.
Likewise, I'll not need the parachute, my speeds not so high as to warrant the additional braking it adds. It's been removed too, which, given I've been unable to resist pushing the handle a few times, is a good thing. Reaching the Grand Palace in Gstaad the record-breaking Supersports mixes with all the other expensive traffic in the exclusive ski town. And a Tesla, which is sucking its electric charge from a socket outside the hotel. For all the electric car's green superiority pouting the Supersports too can claim to be doing its bit for the ice-caps. Running on E85 bioethanol, its emissions of carbon dioxide on a wheel-to-well basis are fractional when you consider the performance on offer.
That's just as well, too, as Bentley needs the ice to remain for when it inevitably goes for another ice-speed record inthe future. It will, of that there's little doubt, but effortlessly easy as this Supersports is to drive, it's probably best if the driving is left to the chap with his name on the window.