Friday, 30 March 2007

Play Time

So I’ve now done the ‘Porsche Driving Experience’ at Millbrook.

After an uneventful run up the M25/M1 from work, I arrived at the Hotel meeting point with time to spare. Out front there were a couple of 997’s, two Caymans (‘S’ and vanilla), and some huge off-roader with a 996 front. I met my instructor, Jeremy, over a light lunch and chatted – I took the opportunity to ask about the Band G issue of the 6 speed 2.7* - and we planned our afternoon.

It involved driving their red Cayman 2.7, first on an extended road run, then to Millbrook – which is just a gigantic playground for petrol heads! The other three PDE ‘guests’ were a young guy with a 997S on order, and older guy with something called a ‘KN’, and an attractive woman from Cheshire who arrived in a 997 cab/tip.

Heading off, I was surprised when after 5 minutes Jeremy asked me when and where I’d had driver training. Perhaps the clue was in that moment when we’d screamed through the ‘S’ bends at 140mph, braked, blipped down to 3rd and drifted around the roundabout at 90.

Actually, it was all pretty sedate; I did get a bit of chance to make progress, but there was plenty of traffic around, and he just gave me a few tips (rather esoteric ones; e.g. out of town a lot of overhead power and telephone cables into a property follow the line of a driveway, so can give warning of a hazard should you see one in the distance). BTW he told me only 0.3% of UK drivers have had any professional training after taking their licence. If this government really gave a sh*t about road safety this would be changed.

After following a convoy of 7 AM V8’s into the Millbrook, we first headed to a large open area, and played at sliding the car around, inducing over and understeer, with PSM on and off. I’m surprised how much latitude the system gives you, but enjoyed wearing out someone else tyres, although as it was damp it wasn’t too bad. Jezza noted that the 19” wheels do give more grip but he prefers the cars with smaller wheels. I was using my left foot on the brakes which he spotted. He’s a part-time rally driver, so when I told him I’d been taught by Pentti Arikkala to lfb he was rather impressed! After that we had a blast down the 1 mile straight; the Cayman reaching 134mph or so at the ¾ mile braking point – 997tt’s hit 170! Then some emergency braking and avoidance stuff on the return trip, but from 80mph, not 40mph as you normally get.

After that we headed to the banked 2 mile bowl, where I was encouraged to take my hands off the wheel in the top lane at 100mph. That took a bit of nerve! It was strange to see the ‘130’ signs in the red circles – and to find that was mph, not kph. So we ran to 130mph and-a-bit, but it was very bumpy and pretty boring. The thought of 170mph+ up there is frankly terrifying! Oddly, after the top speed run, we dropped back down to the lower section of the bowl, and ran around looking for the exit. At 75mph it felt slow enough for me to step out and walk!

Finally we ran a number of laps on the hill route. This is what happens when your favourite ‘B’ road is squashed across the side of a mountain – it was incredibly steep, with blind switch backs, hairpins, fast dipping corners and blind brows; even better/worse than the ‘Ring and no Armco! Slamming into a blind cambered corner with a blind exit at 60mph purely on the say-so of the guy sitting next to you takes real faith, but on the final lap I had all 4 wheels off the ground over the blind brow, and reached 75mph down the dip. BTW it was all 3rd gear in the Cayman, so I was able to lfb again, which really helped. A final demo from Jezza on the outer handling circuit, and it was time to return to the hotel.

As we arrived I saw their 997 GT3 RS parked outside, and asked for a ride. Jezza went in to find the keys, and as he came out he said “Fancy driving?”. Does the Pope sh*t in the woods???! The thing is an animal; I’m still digesting my impressions, at first it felt pretty familiar; an interior just like the Cayman’s (albeit with Satnav) seats like the 968, and a rollbar like Jimmy’s climbing frame. But it was all man-size compared to the Cayman; heavy clutch and gear linkage, and an engine with what seemed like no flywheel at all. The ride was ok; first we bumbled along the main-road until we reached a turning onto a quiet back road with little traffic. Full throttle in 3rd, and the world just exploded; within a heartbeat I was looking for 4th, and the speedo reading began with a ‘1’. A couple of ‘S’ bend were despatched and then another longer straight in 3rd and 4th, before we caught back up with planet earth and other traffic at normal speed.
All I need then is £95k….

BTW The last section of road to the hotel was around 3 miles of broken, patched, rough old tarmac, with manhole covers and various other lumps and bumps. In fact just a regular UK road.

The PDE car, which was a red, on 18's but without PASM, and 30 minutes later I was driving back down the same road. Without any shadow of a doubt, the ride, particularly over the larger bumps was worse; there were more shocks through the seat & wheel, more noise and the car was moving around more, I was consciously trying to steer around the worst of the impending obstructions to save my spine and the car.

So there you have it conclusively; red cars don't ride as well as white ones.


* The 6 speed gearbox put the 2.7 into band G because the test are run in 4th gear. As 4th is lower in the 6-speed box, the revs are higher and the car uses more fuel and emits more CO2.
So for a stupid technical reason I get to give £200 more to that robber Brown.

Space on Car Available

It seems like I’m an inadvertent 2 Porsche family. It goes to show that ebay and ½ bottle of wine don’t mix, but my low, just-for-a-laugh-how-can-I-go-wrong bid was enough to snaffle up a 1988 924S. It certainly gave my work ‘mate’s a cheap laugh on Monday.

The thing’s in Anglesea too, so its much closer to Dublin that Sussex. Anyway, I’ve found a willing Porsche specialist to go and collect it, and give it a good look over.

The description from the seller is promising, its had the expensive things (clutch, belts, water pump, brakes) done, and apart from a knackered drivers seat and leaky clutch reservoir he reports no problems. Its also the later 160bhp model.

If the specialist tells me its solid I’ll get them to put in a seat and race brake pads, maybe fresh suspension, and try it at an airfield day. If it looks like being a pit I’ll give it a polish and move it on. Hopefully I’ll find someone to help me share the costs too, so who knows, we could be looking at the ‘Ring part deux!

Old Boy Racer

I drove to Basingstoke last week for a meeting, across country via Petersfield.

It was the finest 90 minutes I had in a car for a long, long time. Turning off the main road, I found a fantastic open stretch of B road; warm dry tarmac, no traffic, and visibility for a mile or more. Then it carried on, running on up the side of the downs and through the woods, then twisting down hairpins to Petersfield. After a gentle potter through the town, the paced picked up along dead straight A roads followed by 25 more miles of twisty stuff.

The Cayman was stupendous; I couldn’t tell you what speeds I reached but at one point I was deep into 5th gear looking for 6th, and at another I’d felt I was practically at a standstill and looked down to see the speedo reading 70. When I arrived at the office I had to spend 5 minutes in the car while my nerves stopped buzzing. I remember thinking that if I’d lost my licence that morning it would have almost been worth it.


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Lost Generation

I’m reading The Lost Generation by David Tremayne at the moment. It was bought for me by a good friend in an attempt to cheer me up after a run of bad luck.

I greatly appreciated the thought, but the subject is not really very cheery!

The quality of writing in books on motor racing is very variable, but in this case that is not the issue. Tremayne has done his work well; there’s a wealth of original material, he’s interviewed lots of people who know this trio; other driver, managers, designers & mechanics, as well as friends and family, and his writing has engagingly brought alive their life and times.

No, there’s just a horrible sense of foreboding about the book, probably more so than any other biography of a racing driver I have ever read. I think it’s because you know the drivers all died in such pointless, unreasonable, wasteful, tragic and even bizarre ways, just as each was on the cusp of fulfilling enormous talent.

The F1 cars of the mid-70’s were fast, even by our standards, with fat slicks and bog wings. But they were built around flimsy aluminium monocoques, not incredibly strong modern carbon composite tubs, and they were racing at racetracks that were literally death traps.

And yet not one of them died as the result of making a fatal driving error.

Roger Williamson, crashed when a front tyre failed. The car burned, but none of the poorly equipped and trained marshals attempted a rescue, leaving only the heartbreakingly futile efforts of another driver; David Purley, to try and right the car. Meanwhile poor Roger was burning alive, trapped under the car. Tony Brise died in a light aircraft crash, with Graham Hill and the rest of his team. And most tragically of all, Tom Pryce was practically decapitated by the fire extinguisher of a marshall crossing the track in front of, just over a blind brow.

That were all of James Hunt’s generation, probably even more talented that Hunt, and all sounded like the type of chap you’d like to share pub-time with.

It’s a moving and gripping read, in spite of the sadness. Go buy it.