My day with Andrew Frankel
I spent the day in South Wales on a twin test, to see an iconic motoring journalist at work
Making an entrance Aladdin and his genie would be proud of, Mr Frankel arrives from nowhere at our south Wales mountain side meeting point in a flash of red and symphony of V8 engine roar.
We are in the Blaengwynfi valley, about 15 miles north of Bridgend on the A4107, at the top of a two mile ribbon of black tarmac carved into the side of the valley.
The day started four and a half hours earlier in Kent, before the birds had started their morning chirps. The darkness of this early October morning is pierced by the last of a series of giant moons and just a few days after the blood moon eclipse.
My carriage waiting to take me the 202 miles to our rendezvous point, sat shimmering on the drive in the beam from the oversized moon, is a Tornado Red Volkswagen Golf R Estate.
It starts with its own chirp and we set off along the M25 and M4. Traffic is thankfully light - even at 5:30am that’s never a guarantee on the M25. After a couple of stops for caffeine and toilet breaks, I’m half an hour early, giving me time to take in the surroundings. Set against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky, a light blue that only the south-west of the UK can deliver, I’m sat high in the hills looking down over the village of Blaengwynfi, surrounded by fern-lined slopes, with a challenging looking road stretching out beneath me.
Andrew’s arrival is followed by a minute of pleasantries and introductions. He has spoken to our photographer for the day, who is running a little late. Andrew announces he’s going to take both cars for a quick run down the hill. Andrew’s red explosive arrival is an Audi RS4 Estate. We are here for a head-to-head article that he is writing for Autocar magazine.
He jumps into the Golf R and with a confidence that comes with many years of road testing and track racing expertise, he surges into the first hairpin, carrying an impressive amount of speed around the bend and then powers out of sight. I catch a glimpse of him a few moments later as he makes his way along the snaking ribbon of asphalt heading down to Blaengwynfi.
The Golf R sounds fantastic. Roaring as Andrew commits to each straight while it pops and bubbles on downshifts as speed is slashed for approaching corners, and then he’s gone. I’m mesmerised. A few minutes later a speck of red appears at the far end of the shoelace road, rapidly growing larger in size and becoming more vocal. It’s a rather surreal experience. Andrew arrives back at out hairpin, sweeping round again at a speed and line only the most talented can produce.
We have a quick debrief on the car and agree it has outstanding pace and handling attributes. Andrew adds that he feels it’s less agile than the hatchback, but no less is a very good car. He jumps into the RS4 for the head-to-head comparison on the same road and again is gone, almost before the Golf’s door has finished closing.
There’s a difference this time. The RS4 has a better side profile than the Golf, with a more rakish rear, and a V8 sound track that only The Almighty could dream of creating. The car roars away and this time you can hear him almost all the way down the hill. What a noise, what a spectacle, I’m in awe.
Luc, our cameraman arrives as the RS4 returns. Driving Yoda surmises that the RS4 is showing its age. It’s chassis twists, unsettling the body and it isn’t as good as the Golf R, but does have an amazing sounding V8.
The frantic start settles as Luc takes over and we set-up for some stills with the two cars together. This is followed with close ups and a photo with Andrew perched in the Golf’s boot, making notes.
Andrew takes the opportunity to make calls, send e-mails and starts writing his article. He checks each car for practically and such likes. He’s not here for small talk, this is his working day and barely a minute is wasted.
Once the stills are done, we mount our chariots for panning shots, I’m in the RS4. We’re using “our” hairpin to start with and go one at a time, yo-yoing back and forth for the best snaps.
After this we head down the hill to the next hairpin for photos of the cars following one another. I’m in the lead and set a steady sweep around the corner, Andrew closes up, close, very close, as Luc clicks until his heart, or professional appetite is content. We go back and forth once again and Andrew, not knowing my driving ability, puts a huge amount of trust as he sniffs my bumper on each run.
He chooses to test me as we become more familiar. We have a run of around a mile and a half before we can perform a u-turn. My mirrors are full of Tornado Red Golf. I press on but can’t shake him. He can carry much more speed through each corner than I, or than I dare. I’m in front and have the burden of £100k worth of cars and a photoshoot resting on my shoulder should I make a mistake, so I drive within myself.
The RS4 is epic. The engine sounds amazing and it feels a smaller car than it is. The interior is well laid out, superbly made and has super supportive RS4 bucket seats. The starter button is hidden on the wrong side of the gear lever however, which can take an embarrassing moment to locate. There’s an s-bend half down the road, and the RS4 does pitch and lurch a little too much before regaining its composure. The brakes can also snatch, with much of its force arriving at once.
Luc takes us to a new location for some front, rear and twin shots. There’s been a lot of waiting around and I ask Andrew whether after 33 years, he gets bored or fed-up with the waiting around. His response is stern and a unanimous no: “if you get bored doing this, then you need to take a long look in the mirror. I could be sat at a desk instead of driving these cars on these roads, it’s a great job.”
The final part of the day is for interior photos.
Andrew tells us that he has agreed to join Aston Martin at a Le Mans 24-hour race once again. He is a keen racer and recounts a couple of races this season, which has now drawn to an end. There’s a sadness that he now must wait for the winter to pass before strapping back into a race seat once again to pit his wits on a competitive track.
I ask Andrew the best way into the industry. Desire, passion and a hard working ethic will get you a long way. You can learn the writing side and it’s not always experience that will make you stand out.
He pays a subtle compliment that I haven’t embarrassed myself on the road. “It’s nice to see someone driving within themselves rather than trying to impress.” Phew, brow wiped.
The day draws to and end and we set off to our respective homes. Andrew has shown me his desire and passion for the world of motoring, his professional dedication and how much more I have to learn about how fast you can drive one of these cars.