If you’re a racecar driver you could change that to “How Horsepower Saved My Career,” or if you were an astronaut “How Horsepower Got Me to the Moon." If you're the average Joe your title might resemble: “How Horsepower Cost Me My License.” But is that the truth? Do we need as much horsepower as we always insist we do?
Similarly, are there negative consequences? Does the amount of horsepower a driver has bear any proportional relationship to the amount of tickets he/she obtains? Does the amount of horsepower in a car affect how many accidents people have? Well, instead of getting statistical (or as they would say on Top Gear: “All James May”) on you all, I would like to take you on another recent journey of mine.
This journey was unimportant and I honestly can’t even remember where I was coming from, but there's a reason that it will forever stick in my mind. It was earlier this year and I had, through many cruel jokes and miscalculations, found myself with my ex-girlfriend (probably mistake number one) driving North on I-95 between Stamford, CT and my hometown of Westport.
It was a beautiful summer day and I remember wanting to put the windows down, but this would most surely mess up her hair and I'd have to apologize for being so forgetful.
We were in her 2007 white-with-black stripes base Mini Cooper she referred to as “Tigre.”
Tigre is a car that I have never enjoyed driving as “he” has, like, no horsepower at all. I swear every time I hit the accelerator, I could plan the entire Mission to Mars for NASA by the time we hit 30 MPH. And the brakes they put on it are, I believe, setup for either an infant to be able to use or an ant. They are so touchy that driving with anything other then the thinnest soled shoes will have the Mini emblem on the steering wheel emblazoned on your face.
In the car's defense, I should mention that Tigre does handle well. Of course, you'll get constant back spasms from a suspension so rigid that it belongs on an F1 car and, if we're being honest, almost everything this slow handles “well.”
Which brings me back to the journey we were on, as we puttered towards my favorite exit in the whole world, for Westport, CT. I was in the far left lane making good headway and probably being yelled at for “driving too fast” when I realized the five semi trucks between myself and the far right lane were going to be an issue.
In my haste to figure out a solution as to how I was going to exit this roadway with the 1/2-mile sign already in view — I failed to realize that I was also being tailgated by a huge white van.
Remember, I'm in a Mini, so the semis are like Supersauri and the van a T-Rex looking at this little Mini named “Tigre” as a tasty dinner. Soon I realized my only choice was a small gap between Semi numbers three and four and, being a racecar driver, I hit the accelerator and went for the gap.
As my right arm was being beat into a pulp by the small blonde in the passenger seat, I quickly came to the realization that “Tigre” wasn’t gaining the speed I needed. My least favorite part of this car was trying to hold me back from one of my favorite places on this earth.
“To hell with that," I said in my head. I did one of those small swerves, to the right, to the supersaurus of a semi beside me, as the gap was only about a foot away.
To no one's astonishment, the semi didn’t even flinch as I charged into his comfort zone. Next thing I knew I was into the gap but the screaming in my right ear (see: small blonde) was now being overwhelmed by the ginormous thunderous sound produced by the semi's horn.
I had juuuuuuuust made it into the no-more-than 5-inch gap and pressed on through to the now empty next lane to narrowly make the exit. Needless to say in this situation, my lack of horsepower almost had my ex-girlfriend, "Tigre," and I, smashed between two semis — all because we simply wanted to exit the highway.
Which brings me to those of you in racing, who know how horsepower can make or break a good racecar. It's almost always been a factor in winning or losing a race, since the dawn of professional motor racing.
Also since the dawn of motor racing there've been drivers insisting that there is a need for more power in whatever they're driving. And for every drive there's been an engineer there to insist “We are not as far off as you say.”
As the late great Mark Donahue said, "It will never have enough power until I can spin the wheels at the end of the straightaway in high gear." Although this answer was a bit excessive, no truer words have been said about the ideology of a racecar driver and horsepower.
Most drivers will tell you that if you give them more power they'll find a way to use it. It's the cheapest way to find speed in a racecar and a basic necessity in modern day racing. Finding more horsepower in racing, no matter the formula, will never go out of style so long as they keep paying the driver in first place more than they pay the driver who comes in last.
This isn’t true for the road car world of course, which brings me to the opposite side of the spectrum of that fateful day in the Mini-Cooper “Tigre.” For some of my off-track work and racing for Toyota this year, I was given the privilege of driving a 2012 Lexus IS F for the year.
For those of you that don’t know what that is (which means literally zero of you on Jalopnik), it's Lexus’s competitor to the M3 or the Mercedes C63 AMG. It's a 416 Horsepower, V8-powered sedan that roars like a lion with a megaphone. I'd do 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and squeals its tires literally every time you even think about using the accelerator.
And it does all this while being able to achieve a burnout that produces a cloud of smoke more comparable to shuttle launch than a passenger (I wouldn’t know from experience, of course, and to anyone from Toyota reading this I still insist that a rubber bandit stole that half-inch of tread from the rear tires).
This car to me is why I love cars. It's elegant enough to pull looks from any unsuspecting young lady at a stop light and fast enough to make sure you’ll never be bored. The only thing I can relate it to would be that dream girl we all think we can bring to a classy dinner event, and before you’re home, she’ll already be putting the F in IS F to good use, if you catch my drift.
So on a very similar drive to the one in the Mini (although with far better decisions on the passenger and car choice) I was bopping (bopping is the new “cool” term for listening to music and doing things) along, when I approached a similar instance to the situation on I-95 that fateful summer day.
I was facing an exit that was less then a half a mile away, as I had become so distracted by all the bopping (probably to Drake, don’t make fun), and I realized I was going to miss my offramp. Between myself and the exit was a family that looked like the Beverly Hillbillies next to a semi carrying chickens or pigs and a large pickup truck — this being down south in Charlotte.
I hit the throttle and, in a complete reversal of what happened with "Tigre" I rocketed to the speed of sound in .0001 milliseconds (while somehow staying under the speed limit of course) and was able to make my exit, without so much as breaking a sweat.
There on that day in the Lexus IS F it occurred to me that horsepower probably saved my life. You may say “Well that’s a bit drastic,” but when you think about it, how many chances do we get to tempt fate? I mean, I race cars for a living, you can't exactly expect I slow down for offramps, right? How many times can you pull the stunt I had to in that Mini before it catches up you?
I'd rather not find out, so in the interest of my personal safety, I’m going to stick to high horsepower cars. It’s already saved my life at least once!
Photo Credits: Mini, Lexus, Getty Images