Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT vs plane: which one wins?
In the ultimate track battle, we pitch a V8-engined Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT against a stunt plane - which one is faster around a track?
Long-running readers of Auto Express know that along with bringing you industry-first news and the latest reviews, we like to push the boundaries with some unusual features. The library of old back issues, neatly organised in maroon-coloured leather binders in the Auto Express office, is a treasure trove of mad and wacky stunts over the past 28 years.
Pitching a car against a bike is a favourite theme, but just as a Hollywood movie-trailer narrator would say: “We’ve never raced an aeroplane… until now.”
So when the call came in asking whether we’d like to race our own plane, the answer was an emphatic ‘yes’. The man suitable for the job would have to be quick, professional and able to make a car dance around a track. Chief reviewer James Disdale and speed king Steve Sutcliffe were washing their hair, so alas, it landed on me!
The race sounded perfectly simple: one lap of Blyton Park race circuit in a V8-powered car against a plane with just 110bhp. The track, built in the middle of nowhere in Lincolnshire, has been a favourite Auto Express stomping ground for years, and it was going to play host once again to an epic battle – but this time with a relative novice at the helm of a powerful V8 machine.
However, when I arrived at the circuit, it wasn’t the flat, featureless runway that struck me the most, but the car. Waiting for me was indeed a V8, but not in a small, lithe two-seater. It was a near-two-and-a-half-tonne SUV – the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. And then I clocked the plane.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – not being a plane buff, I suppose I imagined something quite friendly looking like a Cessna Caravan. But instead, I would be racing a stunt plane, and more specifically, a Silence SA1100 Twister, flown by specialist aerobatic pilot Peter Wells. In car terms, this was a race between a Lotus Elise being driven by Lewis Hamilton and a Routemaster bus with Frank Spencer at the wheel.
So why did we do it? Well, the SRT is powered by a HEMI engine that was originally used not in a car, but a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. And secondly, why the hell not?
For health and safety reasons, presumably, the race started with the plane in the air with Peter expertly crossing the start line at the same time as I did. Even though his plane had a measly 110bhp, the altitude meant he just glided through the air. Driving the SRT was like forcing a brick through a wind tunnel, but the car was doing a good job at propelling me along the back straight.
Next came The Wiggle chicane, and I was hard on the brakes. Just before my run, a new set of brake pads was fitted, so it was a bit of a shock as I stamped on the brake pedal and hardly any speed came off. All that body weight that was thrown through the chicane now found itself hurled backwards over the rear axle, and all the while Peter was rounding Bishops in an artful bank. He turned on the smoke machine and great plumes of white cloud bellowed out from beneath the wings and surrounded me. While he was showing off, I was readying myself – and my stomach – for the biggest braking zone into the 90-degree Ushers.
On turning in, the SRT hopped and bounced on its springs; the car was clearly complaining about having a novice at the wheel. While the car didn’t like it, this was where I made up time as Peter couldn’t turn as quickly as me. In fact, this was the decisive moment – the plane couldn’t catch the 461bhp 6.4-litre HEMI V8 SRT out of Jochen bend and into Lancaster for the final time, and I crossed the line with a whisker of time in my pocket.
Once back in the comfort of the tearoom, the realisation that I had beaten a plane set in. But the real winner was the Cherokee SRT – a car that isn’t particularly well known in the world of hot SUVs, and lacking the profile of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or Range Rover Sport SVR.
As a last remark, it’s a race that’ll go down in the Auto Express library as one of those cannot-be-repeated features. Although I am available for hire as a winning racing driver for a small fee...
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