There are few good reasons to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. Even if my apartment caught fire I'd give the emergency services a good chance to sort it out before throwing off the covers and heading out into the dawn light, but that's what time we found ourselves heading to Nice train station in southern France recently. And we were smiling.
Some things are just worth that kind of pain. A passenger ride round the Monaco Grand Prix circuit on race day in the outrageous Spyker C8 Spyder, followed by a prime spot to soak up the race action and well, that counts in my book. Monaco is a race like no other, described as the jewel in the crown of motorsport. The circuit winding through the built-up principality is a monumental test of man and machine as the walls hug the tortuous track. On a hot qualifying lap, if you don't kiss the Armco more than once you're just not trying hard enough. "It's like riding a bicycle around your bedroom" that's one of the best analogies for driving here in a 900-bhp Grand Prix car. Monaco is more than the circuit, though. It's about the atmosphere, the money, the yachts floating in a harbor full of corporate guests, with one doing a roaring trade as a brothel. It's about the casino, the glamour and yet more money. That's why Spyker is here.
When the company boss, CEO Victor Muller, revived the Dutch brand in 2000 he knew there was a marketing opportunity and a half for his house-priced cars. It is the only race where Bernie Ecclestone has no control over what happens on the track which is, after all, a public road when the Grand Prix cars are safely locked away.
So Muller did a side deal with the Monaco authorities to give two of his cars the run of the track and provide passenger rides around the world's most glamorous showroom. This was the first year they had to share the track, with Renault and Wiesmann, but the Spyker was so fast it made the others look plain stupid.
We could hear the guttural tones from the train station, a 30-minute walk away from our rendezvous with Hans van Rennes, marketing manager for Spyker as well as our chauffeur. Ingolstadt's engineers just wouldn't believe their 4.2-liter, 400-bhp V8 could sound this aggressive, and close up it's mind-blowing. In case you've heard the American-spec car, the European version is even louder. It weighs just 2,400 pounds despite having an interior that could grace the pages of Ideal Homes. Swathes of leather, comfy chairs and ornate switchgear, all produced in-house, are part of the Spyker experience, but then for $260,000 you'd expect nothing less. Far more impressive than the finish is its raw,unadulterated speed. It hits 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and tops out at 187 mph, so there are faster cars for less money, but this can match just about anything on the entertainment stakes. And when van Rennes powered away from Spyker's base in front of the Casino, any impulsive millionaire would already have his checkbook out.
Due to workmen out on track, flat-out blasts were limited to the run to St. Devote, past the Hotel Metropole, and one of those moments that made up for the early start: hammering into the legendary tunnel at speeds of up to 130 mph. The F1 boys take the right-hand bend that TV manages to flatten into a kink with 50 mph more on the clock, but then they have so much downforce they could theoretically run on the ceiling. It's also a popular place for the rest of the population to put the hammer down, many of them falling victim to the police speed trap set up for the early part of the week.