Monday 2nd August 2004


996 TURBO S

Nick Hall took the new model to the Nurburgring for some high speed hooning

There is no more extreme a test track on this Earth than the old Nurburgring, it’s a Mecca of motorsport and driving fanatics and needs no introduction. So offered the chance to sample this piece of motoring heaven for the first time I couldn’t pass it up – especially behind the wheel of the new 450bhp Porsche 911 Turbo S.

F1 stopped coming to the Eifel Mountains after Niki Lauda’s near fatal accident in 1976. His ears burned off while marshals rushed to rescue him, and the difficulty marshalling this track that is close to seven times as long as a modern Grand Prix track became apparent.

Serious sportscars and club racers still come here, though, and on set days of the month the track opens its legendary doors to the public for €12 a lap. It would never be allowed in most countries and on a wet day it is akin to population control – culling the stupid. They helicopter out the terminally injured, and don’t credit their deaths to the Nordschleife. Old hands reckon on at least one a month, though, and most of them – perhaps inevitably – are bikers.

Learning

Experienced drivers will dish out as much advice as you can handle and even provide a few hot passenger laps – a vital experience for the Nordschleife novice. Jamie Martin, a Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, or hypnotist to you and me, chauffeured me round the old ‘Ring in his Honda Integra. It was an educational and sobering experience.

This track has 157 corners, which makes it impossible to learn in one day, and due to rollercoaster twists and turns the next tight bend can come out of nowhere. Also the margin for error is virtually non-existent. The barrier hugs the circuit, separated from the track by just a metre of grass for much of this 14-mile winding snake of a road. And with a collection of evil cambers for each corner and high kerbs that require the utmost respect, deviate from the line and a small moment can turn into a massive accident in a heartbeat.

Many have found out to their cost that missing the important cambers that can cradle you into the apex can spit you and your steed into the opposing wall. Several websites are devoted to smashed cars at the old ‘Ring, and it was significant that the most committed drivers took old Golfs, Fiat Unos, 3-series BMWs and cheap road-legal racing saloons. Those driving supercars tended to take things a little easier.

The first lap of this place will blow your mind, it’s the ultimate challenge of man and machine. Luckily, my machine was pretty close to the ultimate.

911 Style

Releasing a ‘Sport’ version of the classic 911 bi-turbo is a bizarre concept in itself, like Rolls Royce sending out an ‘L’ edition. But with horsepower figures climbing rapidly amongst the competition, Porsche clearly felt its wide-bodied superpower needed a boost. A number of saloon cars are now hovering around 500bhp, it wouldn’t do for one of Germany’s premier sportscars to be outshone too brilliantly in any department.

This particular example was a Turbo with the ‘Sport’ kit retrospectively fitted, so it missed out on the metallic paintwork – leaving us with a near-luminous yellow car for a 2000-mile odyssey round Germany’s deep South and finally on to the Nordschleife.

It was a price worth paying, but you don’t expect pitying looks from local women when you’re driving one of the finest cars Germany has to offer. It was a shame, because the interior is stunning. Dressed in swathes of fine leather, and seductive carbon-fibre, the new 911 S also benefits from a fantastic Sat-Nav system, which even had the contours of the Nordschleife in its memory banks, and in-built phone.

More importantly, though, it has an extra 30bhp over the ‘standard’ 911 Turbo due to larger turbos, an engorged intercooler and a remapped ECU. In truth this hasn’t impacted on the major figures, with the 0-62mph time dropping to 4.2s and the top-end rising a minimal amount to 191mph.

Porsche has concentrated on the in-gear acceleration, releasing an extra 80Nm of torque to take the Porsche up to 474lb/ft (620Nm). This means that the extra power is focussed on ballistic overtaking moves, and also increasing the already impressive range of this 3.6-litre engine.

Whinge on about air-cooled classics if you will, but this is the new generation of Porsche and the water-cooled unit, especially with a pair of turbos strapped on, is a mightily impressive bit of kit. This car provides a donkey kick to the lower back at speeds where lesser cars are hitting their terminal velocity.

Any gap in the Autobahn traffic bigger than the car itself becomes a legitimate space, forget about building up speed. This car could just impose authority on, for instance, a highly modified Golf that decided to have a go at about 120mph. He disappeared in the rear view mirror within a matter of seconds as the speedo crept up to 180mph on a derestricted stretch of road.

Stable

The pure stability of this car at this speed explains why Porsche has spent four decades tweaking the same basic shape, despite taking criticism for doing so, smoothing the lines and honing the most aerodynamically impressive piece of kit in this sector. The rear wing rearing up to provide a twin-foil at speeds of over 75mph is just an ornate piece of automotive artwork, the true strength of this machine lies in its rock solid composure just 10mph shy of its top speed. If it wasn’t for the traffic flying back to meet the car at video game speeds, it would actually feel slow.

Lift off and the car shifts its balance and the sense of speed starts to hit home, but the Porsche remains surefooted even under heavy braking. This is a rare occurrence, by the way, as the Ceramic Composite Brakes, part of the upgrade, are phenomenal.

They are 50 per cent lighter than the steel units they replace, and way more effective. On the Autobahn shedding close to three figures took the merest nudge on the middle pedal and I locked up only once on the public road – chasing a 590bhp Ruf R Turbo across German backroads – so capable are the brakes and huge rubber footprints digging in to the road. I had to stand on the anchors on a few occasions to avoid wiping a sizable chunk off the £99,300 car’s front end. But unlike other Porsches, this car never felt like breaking away.

Balance

Kept on a trailing throttle, the Porsche performs even better due to the intelligent four-wheel-drive. If the back starts to slide the car feeds power to the front wheel. So this car, driven on the throttle, can get the driver out of trouble.

At the Nordschleife I had to tighten the line dramatically to make many corners or account for an errant biker slicing down the inside line. Cars, bikes, trucks and even tour buses are out on circuit at the same time, throwing other hazards into the mix. Coming into the banked Karrussel bend, perhaps the Nordschleife’s most famous bend, I was forced to launch down the inside of a double decker bus, which wisely hugged the outside of the bend and avoided the angled concrete slabs that compressed the outside suspension, held the car in the corner and let the Porsche take a 200-degree bend at more than 80mph.

I also had to hang on when I went in all wrong, skipping over the crest of the camber towards the high kerbs. Every time the 1590kg beast hauled me out of trouble, sometimes in a lurid powerslide but mostly with an unhurried calm that belied the speed on the clock.

It’s a hugely effective weapon that is, perhaps, too good for the public road. The GT2 and GT3, not to mention the stunning if less powerful RS, offer a purer, more challenging driving experience. The 911 Turbo S is a more complete machine, hugely capable, even though it might be a little less fun. On the road, that is. On a track, particularly this one, the 911 Turbo S was, quite literally a life-saver.

Nick Hall

Photography by Thomas Angus of www.Image404.com

Author: Nick Hall