Thursday 5th December 2013


DON'T DEMONISE THE CARRERA GT: PH BLOG

Harris on the post Paul Walker Carrera GT debate, hypercars and the portayal of fast driving


I am sitting on an Air Europa 737-800, en route to Valencia where later I will be driving the Porsche 918 Spyder. I know, I'm a week late to it, but such is life.

It is a sad and unfortunate coincidence that Porsche should both be launching the effective successor to the Carrera GT in the very week that this gorgeous car has become the focus of anti-speed rhetoric in the aftermath of Paul Walker's tragic death, and also that he was killed in a suburb called Valencia.

Reactionary commentators have blamed CGT
Reactionary commentators have blamed CGT
I try not to become too enraged when newspapers leap on isolated motoring incidents and reach alarming, uninformed conclusions - their editorial output is so vast stories are forgotten very quickly and therefore have little lasting traction - no pun intended.

But during this most recent bout of hand-wringing and misinformation regarding the safety of the Carrera GT I was surprised to see some of my colleagues joining the naysayers; people in my line of work suggesting that the modern hypercar should indeed be banned.

At first I read and ignored some of these comments on Twitter and other fora because I'm probably not going to present myself as the most impartial defender of fast cars being driven fast. But the wider debate was then steered towards the specialist media 'glorifying' the type of driving that had, apparently, caused the sad death of a film star.

So it was really only a matter of time before I was dragged into the debate. And remember, some of these people are motoring journalists. But as some of you know, I find it hard to avoid an obvious scrap.

The initial suggestion from one colleague - I'll stop short of calling it an accusation - was that in driving cars the way I do, that is to say in a manner many owners of such vehicles cannot replicate safely themselves, I am encouraging those drivers to do the same on public roads.

This is of course nonsense. Whether I like it or not, I am in the entertainment business. I can tell you how something drives, I'd like to think I always do so, but my product has to justify itself through volume, and sideways equals more eyeballs. Owners of a Ferrari F12 do not look at me driving it at imbecilic angles - on a circuit I hasten to add - and think 'I can do that on the A420'. They just don't.

'Neither of these cars is dangerous' says Harris
'Neither of these cars is dangerous' says Harris
I also like throwing stuff sideways. Silly, I know.

If an owner does lose control of their car, they do so because they have either exceeded their own abilities, those of the car or, more likely these days, the limits of its electronic safety systems. It is not possible to connect a video of a hypercar going sideways to a crash on the public road. People who choose to own and drive very fast cars do so because they want to experience them. It is human nature to explore the potential capabilities of anything - witness the joyful sensation of exploring the ductile properties of a borrowed BIC biro moments before it snaps in your hand - and fast cars are no exception.

So people will crash these cars regardless of whether I'm celebrating (the Mail would say glorifying) their performance potential.

Because people will always crash cars. And that can be said of all types, regardless of their power outputs.

I don't have the statistics to support the opinion, but I'm very sure that supercars are not more likely to be crashed through operator error than moderately fast cars, or crap cars driven by young people, or rather nice cars being driven by old people. In fact experience tells me that people tend to be slower in this type of car because they are so much more intimidating than your normal fast machine.

Does showing this incite have a go heroes?
Does showing this incite have a go heroes?
Give an experienced driver a new RS4 or a Pagani Huayra, and he'll be miles faster in the Audi dog-carrier. But if he fires the Audi in the shrubbery, it won't find a spot in the Mail or wreckedexotics.com. Confidence, or more specifically over-confidence, is what causes people to crash stuff. I don't know who it was that suggested fitting a large driver-facing spike to the steering wheel of every car, and removing the seat belt, but he or she had a point in the context of slowing drivers. Hypercars intimidate the driver, this makes people drive them more slowly, or makes them experience their performance, and attempt to demonstrate it in a different way, but we'll come back to that in a minute.

The next Twitter accusation was aimed at Porsche, because a well-known legal case in the US found against Porsche in another fatal crash, leading to some people labelling the Carrera GT 'dangerous'. This is so facile a statement I'm not going to bother defending it, save agreeing that out of the box that car can be pretty tricky. But then it has 600hp and is two wheel drive, so what do people expect?

The Twitter debate then tackled the notion of 'too much'. Again, I'm not well placed to judge how much is too much because I don't feel I have the right to decide for other people. I know how much is too much for me, but that's a personal opinion, and the subject is too nuanced because a motor car only delivers the percentage of its performance that the driver's foot demands of it.

My stock reply to anyone who wants to see power outputs kerbed is to ask them to stop and extrapolate that type of legislation into other areas of life: tobacco, alcohol, sex - pretty much everything that separates us from the beasts and makes us smile would be open to restrictive legislation. I don't want to live in that world. As for controlling the drivers' right foot, the only way to guarantee no driver ever oversteps the mark is to stop all humans from driving, a concept which makes me feel rather queasy.

Daily Mail hysteria only adds to mystique
Daily Mail hysteria only adds to mystique
A Carrera GT is a far safer car than a Ferrari Testarossa, despite having over 200hp more. I'd wager that the increase in power over the past decade is more than matched by the improvement in electronic safety systems, brakes and tyre technology.

Next stop for the social media jury was that old chestnut 'less is more'. I enjoy this one because I have personal experience of it. I've never crashed a Carrera GT, but when one colleague wistfully remembered the first Lotus Elise in the context of a purer driving experience that seems to have been lost in the race for outright numbers (an opinion I have much sympathy with), he also used it in the context of safety. As in, with 118hp, everything happens at lower speed. Well, I crashed my S1 Elise at a reasonable lick and, as for active safety, it remains the most treacherous handling car I've driven on wet roads. Next to it a CGT is a tabby cat.

If I don't see any need to castrate hypercars or make them extinct, but I do see one worrying trend. Namely the show-off shunt. Strangely, it comes to pass because of the intimidation factor mentioned earlier; many owners and drivers of these things are scared of properly extending them at decent speeds, so end up in populated areas, attempting to entertain pedestrians. Quite often it ends in tears. It is also completely anti-social and the best way of fostering a hatred of fast cars among the wider population.

How fast is too fast? Ask him in a couple of days
How fast is too fast? Ask him in a couple of days
Modern cars are GPS equipped and have clever ECUs. Why can't they be restricted in urban areas - not totally neutered, but allowed to deliver just enough drama to satisfy the owner, but not enough to cause a shunt?

So where does that leave the 918? I'm not sure. What I can say is that I am less excited about driving a 900hp carbon hypercar from Porsche than I was about having a go in the GT3 earlier this year. That might say more about me than the wider car industry. It might inadvertently suggest that I do have an opinion on the question of what actually is 'enough'.

Hopefully it'll make a decent introductory thought for the first drive report in the next few days.

Chris

 

 

 


Author: Chris Harris
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