Driven! Volkswagen GTI W12-650

The hand-written notes compiled by the pit crew are littered with bad news.

Lap one, DNF. Car spins out in turn two.

Lap two, DNF. Car spins out in turn two. Needs to be towed back or jump-started.

Are they letting any idiot with a valid driver's license behind the wheel of this hand-built prototype valued at several million dollars?

What's wrong with you today, George? Hung over? Legs trapped in the footwell again? Or are you simply getting old?

Well, yeah. But the only real mistake I made was not asking enough questions before strapping myself behind the fancy three-spoke sport steering wheel.

I expected the VW crew to provide all the relevant information. Wishful thinking. Being the last out of maybe twenty journalists to be shuttled through this program, it was routine for them - but not for me.

They knew that the surface of the race track at Gross-Dlln near Berlin is covered with a low-grip asphalt film so that a set of tires last about five times longer. But didn't tell me.

They knew that the shift paddles behind the steering wheel spokes of the prototype are still functionless. But didn't tell me.

They knew that the ESP switch is only there for decoration. ESP and ASR are both conspicuous by their absence. Yeah, they didn't tell me this either.

I set off as clueless and enthusiastic as a Labrador Retriever. First, second, third -- not flat-out but perhaps an optimistic 80 percent throttle. You don't want to look too slow, do you?

But whatever the entry speed into turn two was, it was about 40 percent more than what the pale grey surface would tolerate. Whoops. Spin.

Never make the same mistake twice, or you really look like a bozo.

So, next time, it's first, second and third again, then a pause, getting ready to downshift and turn in. Downshift? DOWNSHIFT! I pulled the paddle - repeatedly - but it did nothing. Remember, I didn't know that it wasn't connected. I blame the car. Yeah, the car! Lift-off inertia grabs the car's midriff where the mighty engine dwells, and this time we don't just spin once. We spin twice, loop-di-smoking-loop.

Face lobster red, I reach for the ignition key. Dead. Try again. Dead.Lights off, ventilation off, try again. Dead. The only items that are still running at full whack and full volume are the two giant fans that try to keep the W-12 from exploding or imploding or melting down for good.

From the distance, a green Volkswagen van approaches. Exeunt three, four, five VW specialists gloating with a mix of malicious delight and sheer disbelief.

Ten minutes later, both parties know the truth. Which is that the battery has been wired to feed only the fans, not the starter; ESP exists in the head of the senior electrician but not yet in the car; and Gross-Dlln is famous for its ice rink characteristics, not for grip and traction.

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