From Knockhill to Sotogrande11 | 09 | 2017

    Hugh Hunston enjoys something of a busman’s holiday as he finds himself taking time from a polo match to share a new Maserati Levante SUV with Javier Diaz as the Spaniard reflects on racing at Knockhill in Formula Renault

    TWO DECADES AFTER his chilly Scottish adventure, a dapper, wiry and tanned Javier Diaz provided the link between the windswept Knockhill race circuit in August during the mid-Nineties, and the sun-drenched Santa Maria’s polo club this summer near the plutocratic resort enclave of Sotogrande, 15 miles north of Gibraltar. (Related: Maserati unveils new SUV)

    Javier was the official vehicle demonstrator — or shotgun rider — for Maserati, title sponsor for the blue-chip, single horse–powered event, as it combined high-end corporate exposure with opportunities to persuade well-heeled Spaniards and exiled Brits that the legendary blue-trident badged brand’s products should be on their radar.

    It was more by luck than judgment that, while on holiday in the area, I discovered Maserati’s involvement in this elite tournament and the switched-on UK PR department remotely paved the way to attend and incorporate a busman’s holiday element into the Spanish trip.


    It also provided my first experience behind the wheel of the Modena manufacturer’s entry into the burgeoning premium SUV market, the handsome, smartly sculpted Levante, with Javier happy to navigate an all too short route, combining the Mediterranean coast auto via and sinuous rural roads.

    Before and after the drive on board the 3-litre, V6 petrol, bi-turbo, all-wheel-drive GranSport crossover variant, Javier ran through an outline of a journeyman racing career, which included contesting a UK Formula Renault round at the Fife venue on board a Marlboro-backed car.


    No, he wasn’t wearing corporate shorts and polo (inevitable reference?) shirt that day, and remembers sheltering from the elements between races in a quilted jacket. Javier rated Knockhill as challenging and satisfying to drive. His CV stretched from Formula Ford to Ferrari GT competition. He is a friend of handy countrymen racers Jordi Gene and brother Marc, while holds trenchant opinions on Spanish F1 regulars Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Junior, which I will not betray.


    It is heartening to report that the Levante maintains Maserati’s rich racing bloodline. That includes the legendary 250F Formula 1 car and birdcage Tipo 60 sports car, both driven by Stirling Moss.

    Fitted with a sequential quick-fire sequential gearchange and decidedly firm chassis, plus pin sharp steering for a car with a fair amount of heft, it is a satisfyingly nimble driving proposition. The cockpit embodies high-tech, electronically controlled, variable formats for the Levante’s driving set up, from long-distance relaxed gait touring to brisk point-to-point dashes.


    In terms of driving dynamics there were parallels with the thoroughbred polo ponies, contesting the late afternoon chukkas in front of the cava and canapés-consuming crowd. Rapid acceleration, manoeuvrability at speed, plus the ability to pull up promptly in short distances. Perhaps the most enduring impression from the brief outing was a memorably and strident Italianate exhaust note, strong on Latin automotive bark, howl and over run crackle. Music to the cognoscenti’s ears.


    I will spare you Italian stallion imagery but sufficient to say the Levante, costing between £66,250 and £76,995, provides a refreshingly stylish alternative to the less than elegant Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, and Range Rover Sport, which were ten a penny or euro round the traffic-calming dominated avenues of Sotogrande.

    Meanwhile back at the polo field, the winning team was duly paraded in Quattroportes to await the unheralded arrival of former Spanish monarch King Juan Carlos and equestrian enthusiast daughter Princess Elena.


    Despite its patronage, Maserati did not have it all its own way as the royal entourage, including the inevitable heavy security complement, arrived on board Solihull’s finest, Land Rover Discoveries, before the ex-king presented the winners with their awards. Arguably armoured horses for courses?

    Related: Levante offers conquest sales

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