IAIN ROBERTSON

Sometimes, legendary drives occur from a need to satisfy business demands and, in the case of the Suzuki Swift launch exercise, writes Iain Robertson, it was a programme that commenced in the Alpes Maritime but ended up in Rutland.

Having been commissioned by Suzuki GB to create a launch video for the new Suzuki Swift, my cameraman/producer partner, Rob Marshall, and me (as writer/director/presenter), joined the media flight from Farnborough Airport to Nice, two hours later sidestepped deftly the media presentation held in one of the Cote d’Azur airport’s suites, grabbed the keys to a scarlet Swift and headed for the hills.

My local geographical knowledge has come from in excess of fifty trips to the region that have included a couple of Monte Carlo Rally visits. In most cases, I struggle to remember the names of countless pretty villages, spectacular gorges and an unique weather system that often defies the Mediterranean-influenced mists and low cloud formations just a few kilometres south, as the hill routes are all above the murkiness. However, with a degree of ‘photographic recall’ (and a quick check on an obligingly provided, fold-out Michelin map), we headed for the beautiful Var valley, where 3,000m peaks tower with jagged assuredness towards the skies.

Although we were on a fairly tight time schedule, with a need to return to our base overnight hotel in Monaco by 6.30pm, we had a good five hours’ worth of shooting time that would still allow up to 90 minutes to reach our accommodation. Knowing how congested the Principality can become at any hour of the day, I was aware that straying more than a notional 50kms north of it would factor in time-delaying awkwardness. To be fair, all we needed were establishing shots of a red car, which would be edited into footage to be shot in the UK using both blue and white alternatives (yes, the video would have a red, white and blue theme).

Of course, apart from the stunning vistas, the beauty of this part of France lies in its manageably light traffic density…that is, away from main population centres. With the skiing season over and the pre-summer numbers of visitors at a low ebb, we not only benefited from fabulous weather conditions (believe me, the skies could not have been bluer) but also the ability to find near-empty ski centre car parks that are perfect for recording expansive and more interesting pans and sweeps for the camera.

En-route we also found some wide-open hairpin bends that were ideal for repeatable cornering shots, an important criterion for video, and plenty of downhill sequences that provide interesting outside long-shots that we could repeat from inside the car. Townships, like Valberg, gave us some close-quarters manoeuvring imagery, all with the magnificent mountainous backdrop. However, Monaco beckoned and despite a failed attempt to record the Swift arriving at The Monte Carlo Casino (the gendarmerie urged us to move on…they would not have done so, had we been in a Porsche, Ferrari, or Bentley!), eventually, we found our abode for the night.

Upon our return to Blighty, we realised that we would have around two months’ delay until UK-registered Swifts were available, which did give time to refining the UK shooting schedule. We decided to use some of the quiet and nondescript fenland roads to the south of the City of Lincoln for some specific shots, mostly close-ups, wheels-turning and car passing above camera, as well as some tracking shots placing the blue car alternately ahead and then behind the white car…when they arrived.

When they did, we worked to a tight weekend schedule that commenced in the lovely market town of Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire), the home of the pork pie, continued down the A606 to the sleepy town of Oakham, before deviating (in heavy rain) to the south-side of Rutland Water. With the conditions playing against us, we returned to the Lincolnshire fenlands for the tracking shots and an overnight stay (at home!).

Sunday was spot-on weatherwise. Bright sunshine and surprisingly quiet roads whisked us back to Rutland Water and the Yacht Club, which provided us with its slipways and a relaxed sailing backdrop. Then, after a quick wash of both cars, we settled in the centre of historical Stamford, which was crowded with visitors. Using the well-known George Hotel as a base, Rob set-up his camera at various spots around the centre of town, as I drove first one Swift, then the other, around the ancient buildings and narrow back lanes, which would be edited creatively afterwards.

The balance of the video, shot on the Monday, dealt with two dealer visits, one in Leeds, the other in Ripon, to interview Swift customers and obtain their ‘vox-pops’. Although more routine and using the A1 as a predominant route, it was the delights of Rutland, England’s smallest county, that formulated the legendary drive. The A606, while hardly a spinal road, dates back to Roman times and was used as a drover’s route between market towns for centuries.

The topography is mainly flowing hills, some a lot steeper than others, which mean that every peak reached reveals yet another vista across farmland that highlights the fascinating depth of the Heart of England. The older properties are produced from local sandstone that is darker in hue to the honey-coloured equivalent in the Cotswolds, although there are other similarities. Rutland Water is the focal point and a circular route around it, with many lovely rest halts, quaint pubs and the constantly changing scenery is delightful. Inevitably, the rambling set park-up their cars (mostly with consideration) and will take a day to walk around its shores.

Although Stamford is in South Lincolnshire, it borders with Rutland and is packed with good eateries, fine shopping and the marvellous Elizabethan pile of Burghley House, historical home to the Cecil family and the Earls of Exeter, which is open to visitors. As a photogenic location, perfect for videography, our resultant Suzuki video was also one of the best we have ever shot.

As to the car, it is a little cracker! Relatively small in exterior dimensions, yet remarkably spacious inside, it is perfect for enjoying cross-country forays in the UK. Its compliant suspension shrugs off the worst of British road imperfections, while its broader roadholding and handling aspects engage with the driver and, whether commuting, or thrilling to fast road sequences of bends, the new Suzuki Swift proves itself to be a competent and interesting driver’s machine.

Next time:  Driving a BMW 3-Series from Nice to the UK, non-stop…almost!