Departing Barcelona

Crossing the Iberian Peninsula off our list.

byChris Cantle| UPDATED Jan 4, 2017 4:02 PM
Departing Barcelona

Our departure point in Barcelona is dockside. It’s before dawn, and just the faintest blue of morning backlights the sailboat masts that rest together almost perfectly still. Somehow, the streets are still busy. Bars must be turning out. A particularly celebratory enthusiast spots the S90, shouts “Nice car!” in Spanish and weaves merrily toward the film crew before his attention is arrested by something else and he makes for a taxi, and then his bed. Alex Roy and I bet that by the time he’s awake, we’ll be in Lisbon.

The Iberian Peninsula is made for setting records. It’s made for racing, too. Nine F1 tracks have made their home here. Three, just in the city of Barcelona. The countryside is dotted with inky ribbons of racetrack. They’re signed on the roadside like Yellowstone or Mt. Rushmore back home. The whole peninsula, which includes all of Spain and Portugal, is smaller than the state of Texas.

Travel the length of Spain and the length of California and you’ll see why the Spanish were so content to settle the American west coast. They’re twins of each other. All straw and green olive colored. The hills roll the same way, and are dotted with similar oaks. I can imagine Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo running his fingers through his beard and wondering if he’d made a grievous navigational error, perhaps feeling like the Fernando Alonso of his time.

The Spanish contribution to racing isn’t engineering. Asked to name a Spanish automotive marque, most will stumble. Enthusiasts will too, after sputtering out Hispano Suiza and SEAT. Play the same game with drivers: The aforementioned Alonso is the only F1 champion from the region. The name of Spanish rally champion Carlos Sainz should come to mind immediately, but instead, racing fans will embark down a long road of sorting out Brazilians and Colombians from Portuguese and Catalunyans. Until recently, the peninsula’s contribution hasn’t come from producing remarkable wheelmen.

The Iberian contribution to motoring culture is something else entirely. It’s joy. It’s weather. It’s a smiling disregard for doing things a specific way if there’s a more enjoyable way to do them. In this, they have no equal. They’ll go racing when the weather is bad. They’ll go racing if they know their car won’t make it out of town. They’ll race scooters away from stoplights and they’ll race dinghies across the harbor. Because, win or lose, it’s a delightful thing to do.

So on the occasion that Roy gets wound up and spills the beans to an enthusiastic Spaniard, that we’ll up before dawn and breezing across their beautiful country, leaving the chaotic ecstasy that’s Barcelona in the summer for the exact same thing in Lisbon just a few hours later? Well, they get it. And they get that little glint in their eye that Roy gets sometimes. Because they think our record will be soft. Because el guiri with the Volvo and the scarf is talking a big game. Because, now, a race is on.