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We drive the record-breaking Skoda Octavia vRS Bonneville
Last August a modified Skoda Octavia vRS powered its way into the record books at Bonneville Speed Week when it cracked 227.008mph.
That's the fastest a forced-induction 2.0-litre car has ever travelled and a mark that's unlikely to be beaten any time soon. Or is it? I swapped the arid salt flats of Utah for the wind-swept two-mile straight at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire under the fanciful illusion that I, too, could join the 200+mph club.
Read Tom Evans' live-from-Bonneville Skoda report
Only a handful of problems stood between me and record-breaking glory. First; the Bonneville record was broken by journalist and seasoned racing driver Dickie Meaden. I'm a mere hack with a penchant for speed.
Secondly, Bonneville is about the size of a small English county with miles of endless straight to wind the needle up past 200mph. Accordingly, the Octavia's gearbox is geared for long runs so it isn't bouncing off the rev limiter too early. Bruntingthorpe isn't quite as spacious and if you don't get on the brakes after a couple of miles you'll find yourself getting closely acquainted with the undergrowth, probably as a prelude to an explosion that would put Buncefield in the shade.
Thirdly, to qualify to drive I have to climb out of the Octavia in less than 10 seconds, no mean feat when I have to undo a five-point harness, struggle out of a tight-fitting seat, remove a clip-on window shield and heave my less-than-athletic body over a thick roll-cage.
Thankfully the car's technician and the man behind the record-breaking run, Ricky Elder, isn't holding a stopwatch when I fumble out onto terra firma. He assures me I did it within 10 seconds.
The inside of the Octavia is like Hannibal Lector's cell - sparse, dangerous and petrifying. The seat, if you can call it that, is a thin piece of sculpted metal with minimal padding, like a modern torture device.
Nestling on the floor beside me are two fire extinguishers, which Ricky primes and, with all seriousness, tells me to use if a fire breaks out. My heart rate goes up a couple of octaves as I take in the gravity of the situation.
The five-point harness has me strapped to the seat like an insect caught in a Venus flytrap. The only familiar accoutrements are the Octavia's dash and gear lever, which look as incongruous in these surroundings as aristocracy appearing on the Jeremy Kyle show.
I start the vRS by switching on the fuel pump and battery, then thumb the starter motor and... suddenly things get deafening. It isn't an exotic rumble like you'd get in a supercar, but a violent mastication of engine components.
Read a Skoda Octavia review
Like most temperamental racing cars, the Octavia is a difficult car to drive off in; too much throttle and the front wheels will be spinning faster than a wind turbine in the Irish Sea, too little and you'll stall.
Thankfully, I find the right balance at about 3,000rpm and make my way out to the start line. The acceleration isn't violent but progressive, the vRS's two-litre turbo engine stretching through the first four gears with ease and my changes coming in just as the red lights flicker on the dash.
The gearchange isn't precise so you can't bash the changes through like a touring car driver. You have to be smooth and positive. Into fifth gear and you can start to feel the 600hp at work, the turbo primed to come in high up for an explosive kick towards 200mph.
As the speed rises, the front-wheel-drive Bonneville car feels light and edgy, cross winds requiring minute inputs on the steering to keep it straight.
The Octavia is only getting into its stride as we home in on 150mph and I make a change into sixth. Suddenly the end of the Bruntingthorpe straight looms into view. There are few scarier sights than approaching a row of parked lorries several hundred metres off at twice the speed limit.
I give myself a few more seconds and wind the digital dial up to 155mph before I run out of nerve and punch the brakes.
They are unservoed and require a firm and prodigious shove to lose speed. Unfortunately, Ricky has ordered me not to use the parachute as it will tear on the rough surface. This is how the car would have slowed down on the salt flats. Brakes weren't fitted.
After a few more runs my session is over and I walk away without managing to eek out a few more miles per hour.
However, disappointment with my comparatively low speed is tempered with my zinging admiration for the great job the Skoda UK team has done. They went out to Bonneville with a modified Octavia vRS and came home with an astonishing victory.
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Don't live still in illusion that all Skoda's are rubbish, the quality of Skoda in concern VW is the second best behind Audi, and also in it's class at WRC Skoda's are doing well.
227 mph, eh?
Should make for yet another splendid minicab then.
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