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To get the ultimate pick of epic drives, you need more than just a panel of motoring enthusiasts. Enter Le Mans champion Guy Smith, Jason Barlow, editor-at-large of Top Gear magazine, and Tim Pollard, managing editor of MSN Cars. Between them, they share nine thrilling and unlikely roads that are bound to inspire a four-wheel adventure.
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About 65 miles south of Tokyo, it’s a great place to get your head together after ‘megalopolis’ overload. But the road up to the national park is also legendary among Japan’s notoriously nutty car enthusiasts for its endless hairpins. This is where the ‘drifting’ fraternity used to come, sliding their highly tuned saloons from one corner to the next – until the authorities lined the road with hard plastic markers to deter their fun.
Car of choice: Nissan GTR
I’ve swept around here in a full-blown Nissan GT racecar, in the 24-hour race, and a Ford Focus rental car – but it’s exciting no matter what you’re driving! A toll road in the week, that you can enjoy for €24, and a 12.9-mile race circuit with 154 turns on weekends, its nickname – the Green Hell – is justified.
Car of choice: Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
The Route Nationale 85 traces the path trodden by Napoleon on his return from exile in Elba. Climb out of Cannes into the mountains with the Med shimmering over your shoulder, and enter a hidden playground for car enthusiasts. The N85 is one of Europe’s finest long-distance driving roads: 200 miles of rollercoaster fun. The best bits of this automotive Narnia are between Grasse and Castellane.
Car of choice: Ferrari 458 Italia
There are more technical driver’s roads, but there’s something about this stretch, which runs past the Maumturk Mountains (Na Sléibhte Mhám Toirc in Gaelic) that gets the blood pumping. The windswept, earthy beauty of Connemara has inspired many great film directors and artists over the years, and the thought of a peaty log fire and a pint of stout at the end of the day might seem clichéd, but as clichés go, it’s hard to beat.
Car of choice: Porsche 911
The lanes criss-crossing Snowdonia National Park are firm favourites with road testers – because of the unspoilt views, the brilliant roads and the quiet traffic out of season. It’s one of the few places in the UK where you can let a supercar stretch its legs in safety. Just watch out for suicidal sheep whose knowledge of the Green Cross Code is shaky at best.
Car of choice: Lotus Elise 111R
Part of a section of road connecting Florence and Bologna, with art, culture and great food at either end, ‘il Passo della Raticosa’ is a mountain pass through the Apennines. It’s 968m above sea level and, when you’re not concentrating on the epic twists and turns, the view you get is like moving through a painting. It’s also a famous part of the classic Mille Miglia road race – Stirling Moss’s victory here in 1955, driving a Mercedes 300 SLR, is still arguably the single greatest competitive drive in motorsport history.
Car of choice: Ferrari F355
A fast and flowing road on the North Carolina and Tennessee border in the Great Smokey Mountains, the Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile stretch of the US 129, which has no fewer than 318 stomach-churning twists and turns. Thrilling but unforgiving to drive.
Car of choice: Small, fast and agile, the Audi TT RS coupe would be ideal.
This Alpine pass is mesmerising, a misshapen spaghetti reel of a road winding its way as high as 2,429m up in the foothills of Switzerland’s biggest peaks. James Bond drove through here in 1964’s Goldfinger, and it’s a site dripping in cinematic history. Arrive early to avoid sightseers and hordes of flat-out bikers.
Car of choice: 007 drove an Aston Martin DB5, but I’d pick the more exclusive 1960 DB4 GT Zagato.
We have so many great roads in Yorkshire, but Buttertubs Pass, which runs from Hawes to Thwaite, is as challenging as they come. The closest thing to an Alpine pass in the UK, it’s exhilarating at any speed, with sheer drops on one side as the road winds through deep limestone potholes called the Buttertubs.
Car of choice: A Jaguar E-Type, of course.