Fast should mean scary: Tell Me I'm Wrong


Oh happy days, we can pin this argument around the Porsche 911 GT3! This is less tossing a grenade into the PH discussion pool than it is a nuclear depth charge. Season with a dash of 'paddles versus manuals' and it's ready to go kaboom.

Little bit scared at this point? You should be
Little bit scared at this point? You should be
Ready your accusations of 'quiet news day?' and off we go...

Inspiration for this story stems in part from our farewell drive with the lovely Riviera Blue 997 GT3 that Porsche GB will by now have disposed of from its fleet. If you're the lucky buyer I think I left a pen in the glovebox so if you could post it back to me that'd be great.

Fully engaged
Anyway, the outgoing 997 GT3 is not an easy car to drive fast. Sure, compared with hairy chested Porsches of old when men were men and anyone without the skills of Rohrl could be found exiting backwards through a hedge on the first bend it's a cinch. But these things are relative and, compared with the latest crop of fast cars, the 997 GT3 is a challenging car in which to make progress.

Ability to cock this right up adds to spice
Ability to cock this right up adds to spice
The clutch pedal is fiercely sprung, its engagement window narrow and sudden, the flywheel light and the throttle razor sharp. All of which means nailing that perfect downshift is difficult and quite possibly going to result in an ugly, clutch-melting over-revved blip or a wheel-locking mis-match of revs and roadspeed. The movements and precision required to get it right are millimetric, the muscle memory and coordination to carry it out properly something that takes time to learn and the window in which to do it quite probably very narrow given you've inevitably arrived at the corner considerably faster than you intended.

Assuming you get all that right there's that moment when you turn the wheel in a 911 when, depending on how committed you've been, you'll get that chill of fear up your spine. Nothing's happened. Oh crap. I want to turn but the car doesn't. It's not going to happen. Oh no. That thing on the key ring? Is it a suicide capsule to bite on having made The Phonecall? Oh god.

You crashed it? Just bite on the silver bullet...
You crashed it? Just bite on the silver bullet...
Oh. It turned in. Phew.

Still with us?
And then the rush of endorphins as you feed the power back in, the rear hunkers down and as the rev counter passes '4' the cams shift again and that piercing howl once again echoes behind you.

This all happens in the merest of split seconds but I'm sure anyone who's driven a 911 at pace will have gone through it. And that little tap on the shoulder, that little nagging 'what if...' is healthy.

And I'm just afraid that, without that little whiff of fear, newer 911s and their equivalents elsewhere in the fast car world just raise the speed at which you'll eventually have that accident. Which you won't have seen coming because you'll have never felt the onset before.

Going fast isn't easy, and perhaps shouldn't be
Going fast isn't easy, and perhaps shouldn't be
There are some cars, not all necessarily built by Mazda in the early 90s, in which the enjoyment of that zone five or 10 per cent either side of the 'limit' (whatever you consider that to be) is the place where the real joy of driving lurks.

Chasing numbers
And that's the problem with this relentless chase to record more and more impressive numbers. Sure, that limit might be significantly higher than the previous model. But if the zone in which you can play in it has narrowed to just one per cent either side and at a point in the performance spectrum few would dare to tread it's ability wasted. What value a 10 per cent performance gain if you'd never actually use it? But what's the alternative - a new GT3 that's slower and has lower limits? That'd be commercial suicide.

I was struck by this dilemma chatting with a Porsche engineer who'd worked on both the Carrera GT and then the 918 Spyder. He was clearly a very clever chap and as passionate and skilled at his job as you could wish for. Which is why he was proudly toasting the 918's sub-seven minute lap of the 'ring with the team who'd made it happen.

Can mere mortals get near the 918's ability?
Can mere mortals get near the 918's ability?
So what did this senior engineering manager, this man who'd devoted years of his life and all his considerable intellect into making cars faster than their owners will ever appreciate choose to have in his own garage? Motorbikes, the requirement being that "they must have been built before I was born." Smart chap; smart enough to realise that trying to recreate that buzz in a car as capable and potent as a 918 Spyder is beyond the scope of all but the most skilled or reckless.

I can't take credit it for it myself but the mantra 'it's not how fast you go, it's how you go fast' is one more in the business could do with pinning to the wall above their desks, be they builders of hot hatches or supercars. Just how fast is that? Enough to make you feel alive without actually putting that happy state in peril would be a good marker. But maybe I'm wrong and just being a wuss...

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Comments (289) Join the discussion on the forum

  • MrTickle 14 Nov 2013

    Spot on IMO

  • zeppelin101 14 Nov 2013

    I found myself in a(nother) 20 year old turbocharged Nissan after an E46 M3 for this reason.

    M3s are wonderful cars, but not that easy to enjoy on the road in the real world imo, the limits are quite high. E36s were better in that regard I think...

    By comparison, the aforementioned 20 year old Nissan can be slid around happily within the speed limit and makes "quick" driving far more interesting!

  • Tib 14 Nov 2013

    Completely agree. One of the reasons I liked my MR-2.

  • Krikkit 14 Nov 2013

    100% agree.

  • Tickle 14 Nov 2013

    Very well written. I did a few laps in an Atom 300 recently, the thing was just ballistic. I cant see how you could get used to that on the road and certainly at its limits. Suppose the Caterham 160 address's this topic well?

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