IT’S A heck of a responsibility being a judge at Wheels Car of the Year.
We like to think that the process ensures that we don’t get the decision wrong, but some winners generate more discussion than others. The thing that connects all of the judges – despite their disparate backgrounds – is a knowledge of and passion for great cars.
They’re people like you, who adore driving and appreciate smart design. They also love the sound of a V8 and the opportunity to go flat-knacker in a 474kW HSV. After all, there has to be some light relief from calculating cost of ownership figures.
So here’s the seven responsible for bringing you Australia’s most coveted new car award.
The man in the big chair at Wheels brings a reassuring calm to the three-ring circus that is WCOTY. Responsible for signing off the official long list, Inwood has the final say on whether a car makes it in. This year he’s bent the rules a little with the HSV GTS-R W1, but nobody’s holding that against him. Wore a bow tie and braces combo to the WCOTY awards night last year; we’re running a book on whether he’ll reprise the look for 2018.
Grizzled, cynical, hard-bitten, uncompromising, incredulous, aprotic: John Carey is all of these things. He’s the nemesis of any bluffer or blowhard and is part of a formidable bad cop/bad cop combo with Hagon. A big proponent of pragmatic, no-nonsense design, Carey arrives from his Italian domicile with a huge appetite yet coruscating disdain for our feeble coffee.
Wheels’ deputy ed might be a WCOTY newbie but he brings 20 years of vehicle testing experience with him, his words having appeared in Car, Autocar, Top Gear and The Times amongst others. Possibly the Arran Banner too, the only British regional title named after a potato. Has spent more time lapping the Nurburgring than is probably healthy and enjoys writing about himself in the third person.
He’s now into double figures as a WCOTY judge and has a fiendishly well-calibrated radar as to which cars are likely to progress. At first this appears to be based on which ones go the furthest sideways on dirt, but beyond the gun wheelmanship there’s a brain that misses no detail of a car’s comparative competence. Somehow tested every car despite spending what seemed like half his time immolating the HSV’s tyres.
See that look? That’s Hagon’s “I’m listening to you, but there’s a significant probability that you’re talking out of your fundament” look. It’s rapidly followed by a flagellating point-by-point takedown. Arguably the most connected Australian motor noter, Hagon is also the resident parent-in-chief on the test panel, with a keen eye for top tethers, ISOFIX points and easy-wipe surfaces.
There are moments on WCOTY when you need to know which OE-fit door speakers came with a 1983 Holden Camira SL/X or whether a Renault Fuego Turbo had a Garrett or a KKK blower. Step forward Wheels’ resident mentat, Byron Mathioudakis. He’s more than a walking yottabyte of automotive trivia, though. He can perfectly contextualise any modern car and is intolerant of poor under-thigh support. He’ll be the guy backing the quirky underdog.
Spend too long in the Wheels road-testing bubble and you start believing that the TE50 Falcon was the very acme of automotive development. Noelle Faulkner’s role was to provide a refreshing counterpoint. A contributor to GQ, Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and many other titles that wouldn’t rate our shoes, Faulkner’s also a closet petrolhead, a handy pedaller and speaks fluent millennial.