My favourite drives of 2023 | Thank Frankel it's Friday

29th December 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

It may not have been a great year for cars per se, but if you can bear 800 words of purest self-indulgence, 2023 was a year I’ll not forget any time soon.


I drove some amazing brand new cars for the first time: in their own ways the Aston Martin DB12, McLaren 750S, Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato and Porsche 911 Dakar showed their makers either at, or returning to, their very best form. If I had to choose one as my ‘car of the year’, it would be the Porsche, but only because it’s the one I’d used the most.

And I drove some quite old cars too. I have, for instance, been fascinated by the story of Eddie Hall, the only man in the 100-year history of the race known to have driven Le Mans solo. This he did in 1950, bringing home his then-16-year-old Bentley in eighth place overall, making it also probably the oldest car ever to survive that kind of punishment. Eddie is sadly long gone, but the car remains, lives in the Revs Institute in Florida whose enlightened staff said they’d be only too happy for me to pop across the water and try it for size.

Another claim to fame is that it is the only Rolls-built Bentley ever prepared for competition by the factory and although it has lost its aerodynamic grille and makeshift hardtop is otherwise essentially as it was when it crossed the line all those decades ago. The weather was filthy when we met, but it didn’t stop the fine folk from Revs wheeling it out and letting me rip up the road in it. They followed in a chase car and later commented that they couldn’t believe how fast I was making the old girl go, but it filled me with such confidence I was doing only what felt natural. And they thoroughly approved.


The Blower Bentley I raced at the Le Mans Classic has no such claims to fame – it’s a brand new car, but built with such dedication to be a facsimile of the car in which Birkin helped Bentley deliver its fifth and final victory in France it’s far closer to the real thing than, er, the real thing.

For Bentley owns the very car in which Birkin tried to break Caracciola’s Mercedes, and while it remains the most original of all the vintage ‘Team’ Bentleys, little bits were changed here and there over the years.

Whereas ‘my’ car was indistinguishable in its look and specification from how it had been in 1930. Birkin was my childhood hero, and to race that car at Le Mans, and to do so for Bentley, is one of the things of which I am most proud in a racing career lasting over 30 years.


Did it trump the Porsches I drove at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard? It’s so difficult to compare. On the one hand blasting down towards Indianapolis at not far off 120mph in the pitch black, with about two candle’s worth of headlamp power in an identical copy of Birkin’s favourite Blower will be one of the most memorable experiences not just of my working life, but my life full stop. On the other, the Porsche 953 I drove at Goodwood was the actual car that won the 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally, the 936/81 the actual car that won Le Mans and the 917/30 the very first example of what was then and remained for many years the most powerful racing car ever produced.

The first of the two most intense snapshot memories of the year was approaching the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight, the Bentley pulling slightly more than maximum permissible revs in top gear and spotting, through my oil-smeared aero screen the dimmest of dim lights. It was another car, though what kind, how far away and how fast it was travelling were all unknowns to me. Would I catch it and pass it with ease or would it clear the corner before me or would we arrive at the same time. Lift, brake or keep your foot in? I should have done either of the first two because I could so easily have gone slamming into the back of it, but did the third and – just got away with it.


The second is leaving the last corner on the Goodwood Hill in the 917, that not quite flat out left, and for the first time since leaving the line, putting my foot to the floor and leaving it there. It was like someone had picked up each end of the horizon and pulled it towards me so fast it felt like it might wrap around my face. That thrust, courtesy of over 1,100PS in an 800kg car was unlike anything I’d experienced in any other kind of car.

So I think we can call 2023 one of the better ones, at least as far as your luckier-than-luck correspondent is concerned. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2024!

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