How many times have you driven 2 iconic super cars at grip limit on circuit in one day? Not had the pleasure? …. then read on. Colin Hoad, Chief instructor at CAT Driver Training has, and he is sharing the experience with you here.
I consider myself to be very fortunate. I am a petrolhead who works in the motor industry – for me, work has become a pleasure and not a chore. The past six years since launching CAT Driver Training have been all consuming. The excitement of building a business and providing driver training to a truly international audience at some amazing locations has been awe-inspiring.
The cars I have driven and trained in could not fail to light even the most hardened enthusiast’s fire. Consequently I am often asked: “what is the best car you have driven?” On receipt of that question any thoughts floating around in my grey matter cease instantly, and I am transported back to Moscow race circuit. The date is August 2008. It’s very hot and sunny and I am about to climb into a Porsche Carrera GT to give the owner a demonstration lap, (which turned out be several), of the circuit.
The motor racing circuit on the outskirts of Moscow is a tight & twisty almost Kart like circuit. 15 turns linked by 4 long straights. A challenging prospect with 600 BHP under your right foot. I am sharing the circuit with several track day regulars in a variety of exotica: Ferrari 599’s, 430’s Scuderias, Porsches M3s Imprezas and Evos. Russia has adopted the Legends series and several of the local racers are testing, along with the equivalent of a Russian Touring Car – a heavily modified Ford Focus.
Process, Process, Process
When Porsche launched the Carrera GT, any article I read placed a high degree of emphasis on the vehicles unpredictability at grip limit. Several mentioned Walter Rohrls accident whilst testing on the Nurburgring (Nordschleife). I had also witnessed first hand from the pit lane, the vehicles ability to swap ends through Copse during a Silverstone track day. All of this negative thought was now affecting my focus. A few sighting laps would be needed to dial into the circuit grip levels, and the basic characteristic of the platform I was about to explore, and of course, focus on the job of driving quickly.
So it is head down and get to work, irrespective of the vehicle you are driving the rules are the same. Work your driving process until you reach the limit of adhesion, and then evaluate the characteristic of the vehicle. Any small unnecessary inputs or exaggerated use of any of the controls will be magnified in such a highly strung machine. Your aim should always be to understand the basic handling characteristics before you start to exploit the available grip. What am I driving? And how does it behave at “Steady State Grip Limit”? What does the grip limit trace look like? Pointy and unpredictable, or rounded and user friendly?
It’s sometimes hard to control your emotions when faced with such an engaging piece of machinery. The clutch bite – sharp and unhelpful – takes several low RPM attempts to move off smoothly. The engine barks and rattles with a harshness akin to a circuit machine. The view from the driver’s seat is confusing: Porsche levels of perceived quality – neatly stitched hide with uncharacteristic splashes of polished carbon fibre. The flavour is Porsche, the taste is racing car.
A lap to “dial in” with my emotions now in check, it’s time to build some speed into the lap. Contrary to what I had read, my brain, hands, feet and eyes were very happy to work the oversteering rear out of the slow speed turns. But what about the high G sweepers? Directional change is pin sharp, the chassis rotates neatly around its central axis and inspires confidence.
The sweepers, however, are a little more challenging. So much power and yet not enough grip. Push on and you have to be ahead of the oversteer (Yaw Rate) with your counter steering input. If you are slow with your hands and/or do not dial in enough counter steer angle the monster appears. For the experienced this is petrolhead nirvana. The ultimate challenge: a racing car with an MOT! Enough compliance in the chassis to make it a viable road car and edgy enough to make you feel you have just walked a tight rope. Could my day get any better?
Wake Me up I Must Be Dreaming!
My client happy, I jump out of the Carrera to speak to client no.2. I am working with three drivers today and have scheduled time with each of them on a rotational basis. Here comes the question any aspiring supercar owner only needs to be asked once: “Colin would you like to give me a few laps in my Enzo?” My answer? “Yes that would be a pleasure” (translated into petrolhead language would read Yeeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaa!).
I have driven many Ferraris, both current and historic, and have the utmost respect for their dynamic behaviour. You can never quite relax when driving on circuit in a Ferrari. They are, in my opinion, what the brand perceives them to be, thoroughbred horses. Small irregularities in geometry settings, uneven tyre wear, or perhaps an over heated brake on a track day, are not as easily tolerated by the prancing horse. When they are working in tolerance they are sublime – the ultimate drivers machine …. but you must keep them well fed and stabled.
There is one more thing I should mention. The Manittino – little lever in Italian. This is the dial on the steering wheel that alters suspension, traction control, the stability programme, E Diff, gear change speed and throttle response settings.-599s and 430s have 1 dial for the various settings. The Enzo has several dials and my customer had elected to give me race settings with traction and stability functions off! Thanks! 1 million pounds worth of car that’s not mine, and no help from the stallion!!!
Just getting into an Enzo is an event. Once you’re in with the butterfly doors shut, you don’t need to start the engine to feel like you are going fast. This is one happy place to be. Wrapped in a carbon skin with little headroom (with a crash helmet on), my enthusiasm to drive the car is overwhelming, the Formula 1 grade detailing inspiring.
Press the start button and my happy space becomes frenetic. The engine feels like it is bolted directly to the chassis: high frequency zings fizz through the pedals. Pull the paddle to engage 1st gear and we are away, through the pits and out onto circuit. Building speed is an effortless task, the power and torque curves immaterial, the feeling of acceleration brutal.
The overwhelming first impression is the speed of the gear shift – harsh and mechanically unkind in its operation, any loss of drive imperceptible. I have the ability to change gear and to not have to be so clinically concerned with tyre scrubbing weight transfer through a corner, as with a conventional gearbox/clutch arrangement. It creates a liberating feeling of adventure.
After only a couple of laps my mental track map is readjusting to this new found sense of freedom. I am not about to take liberties, but I can go up and down through the gears mid corner without the risk of aggressive lift off or roll oversteer. You can instantly feel the benefit of the paddle shift on lap time and vehicle stability.
The warmer the tyres become the more grip they offer. I am pushing now, power sliding out of the hairpins and taking gears through the long sweepers with my foot nailed to the gas pedal. The Enzo is not difficult to drive, it just wants a firm hand on the reins. I am left with a feeling that no matter how good dynamically the chassis behaves, I have simply too much power under my right foot. The window you are driving within at grip limit, is pointy and sharp. The transition from a hint of understeer to full blown oversteer is predictable but short in real time.
Too Much Power?
Reduce the power output by 100 BHP and you would be driving a phenomenally well balanced machine. The edgy feel is power induced, not just the amount of wild horses, but the way they deliver. Just curl the toes of your right foot on the gas pedal and you are accelerating exponentially, steering weight and response are tuned to match the performance … the result – the Enzo feels like an extension of your body. Fantastic!
Back to reality and my day continues but this time from the passenger seat. A great experience and one to be savoured. Which did I prefer? I have to say both vehicles would be welcome to reside in my garage under a soft grey car cover, but the Enzo would be the first to reserve its place.
Engine: V12, 5,998cc
Power: 650 BHP @ 7,800 RPM
Torque: 485lb ft @ 5,500RPM
0-62 MPH: 3.7secs
Top Speed: Claimed 220MPH
Kerb Weight: 1365kg
Porsche Carrera GT
Engine: V10, 5,733cc
Power: 604 BHP @ 8,000 RPM
Torque: 435lb ft @ 5,750RPM
0-62 MPH: 3.7secs
Top Speed: Claimed 205MPH
Kerb Weight: 1380kg