A junior track experience driving some supercars!
A fun day out at Lydden Hill racetrack brought to you by your least favourite inconsistent car fanatic.
I'll be honest. I've been into cars for over half of my life now (not exactly a gigantic statement but that's besides the point) and, as comes naturally with being an underage petrolhead, one of the biggest things I've wanted to do in my life is... drive a car.
These days, you can get incredibly close to the sensations of driving, with electronic steering wheel and pedals specially made for racing games (which I've been told by others feel nothing like an actual car), and insanely accurate physics simulators like BeamNG drive. But, as I've been told, these simulations have never managed to bridge the gap between real world driving, and what is in essentiality strings of 1s and 0s tied together to drive like a car.
And because I knew this, about 4 months ago I managed to get myself a "triple supercar blast", as the company that runs the event calls them, for my birthday. The cars I'd be driving were a Lamborghini Gallardo, an Audi R8 4.2, and an Nissan GTR R35, and the date I was driving them on was the 10th July.
And so what I'm going to do today is my first and hopefully not last DriveTribe car review, from a 14, of three supercars, all driven at 11mph. Not exactly the run-of-the-mill type of article I've written before, but it should be fun. And also I wanna gloat to my good friend and R8 fan Dan because that's just what we do to eachother.
(This is post-event James here, it wasn't 11mph. I think I saw 50 at one point in the Gallardo, and most of the others were at around 30.)
(Also here's a map that I drew my route on for some reason)
The event itself was brilliant. You could tell it was well set-up
First up... the R35!
I could almost see over the wheel in this one!
At it's launch nearly a decade ago, the R35 Nissan Skyline was an instant benchmark for performance machines; it would batter 911s twice it's price around a short, or even the more iconic tracks like the Nürburgring. It was a wolf in sheep's clothing, to sum it up nicely.
And with a track record like that... it made me quite nervous getting into it.
Naturally I was terrified to get in anyway, because this was the first car of the lot and I've never actually driven a car before. I'm not usually one to get particularly scared by anything, but sitting in the driver's seat and running over all the big numbers in my head... I'll be honest, at that moment I just wanted to disappear into a void.
But after one of my eight laps in this thing were over and done with, everything started to become a little more "safe" inside my own mind. And here's where I get to use my fancy road test language.
The roadholding ability of that thing is absolutely phenomenal. And the best expression I can use to describe the handling is incredibly sharp. Typically, I'm used to driving things not even remotely fast in racing games and having to flail the wheel about like a madman just to keep thing thing on the road, but in the GTR there was no let-up at all. Even when taking a chicane with I'd say a reasonable amount of throttle, the nose just dives into the corners and the four-wheel drive just pulls the car into the corner.
Bearing in mind that when we were about 10 miles away from the track, it had started pummelling down with rain, and as far as I'm aware none of the cars were on wet tyres, and it was just perfect. Obviously the track did dry out after a while, but while it was still soaked I felt no apparent struggling.
The speed that this thing can change direction, especially through the previously mentioned chicane, was like nothing I've ever seen before.
Of course, I've never driven an actual car in the real world (I've only used my own electronic steering wheel and pedals for games like Forza Motorsport 7) so I've never had the feeling of actual horsepower under my right foot.
But the feeling is intoxicating.
This version of the GTR, which I assume is the 2009 model based only on the looks, has around 480 horsepower and 560Nm of torque. Every GTR engine was of course handbuilt, so they more often that not those figures were often an underestimate, but otherwise that was more than enough for me to have fun around a short track. Because it has so much torque, even in the higher gears which I was told to switch into, at any RPM, you put your foot down and the car will instantly pick itself up and sprint.
From the factory, the car could do 0-60 in around 4 seconds flat. And you can feel that power even at the slightest touch of the throttle. I never actually made it to 60, at least not from what I could see from my too-slow seating position, but even with such little space you can feel how effortlessly it could do that.
I may have overdone it slightly on the main straight with such an excess of power once I started to get a feel for how the car gripped and accelerated. But thankfully for me then and now, writing this segway, the brakes seemed to be made of superglue.
At first I completely overcompensated with the brakes, because of course I'm used to my Logitech G290 with a brake pedal stiffer than the springs you find in those tiny biro pens. They were squeaking on this car quite badly - which really put me out of it because I kept thinking I'd locked the wheels up. It didn't seem intentional, but who knows; maybe it was a training car or something.
But generally the stopping ability of that thing was stunning. The kinds of G-Forces that the car can make in all areas in remarkable, but the stopping force especially is out of this world.
The GTR is a true performance machine; you can feel it at any speed, and with any driving style - even my dodgy racing lines that I really wasn't... supposed to do. But the instructors seemed to allow it. It feels light, it feels stiff, and it feels as if it could keep on going to light speed if the limiter was taken off.
Next in the lineup... the Lamborghini!
The Lamborghini was the car I was most looking forwards to. I've always been a fan of the Italian supercar - hell, father even has one - and like most young kids these days I've been into those things pretty much since I was 5. There's just something so radical about a Lambo; they're so stylish, so crazy and unrestrained, so outlandish. There's such a childish appeal of any Lambo - big or small - and that's most likely why I love them so much.
That childlike way of not at all understanding what a thing does but being instantly attracted to it because it looks cool.
But now, I do know what this thing does. It's a lighter, faster, stiffer version of a Lamborghini Gallardo, and it's brilliant.
This version of the Gallardo is the hardtop Gallardo Performante, or at least that's what I've been told. The reason they had a Performante was explained to me very well by my respective instructor; I believe it was worded something similarly to: "It's got a big spoiler on the back. We're all children here, and we all love a big spoiler." Once again, childish appeal. The age old Italian tricks.
After browsing a few Lamborghini forums, apparently they only made around 170 Performantes (not sure that's exactly right, but it sounds close to accurate) making that the rarest car I've... driven. Yes, I'm using the "I have nothing to compare it to" joke, I'm very original.
The Gallardo is a very different beast to the GTR. The Nissan feels track-ready, lightened and - as I mentioned - impossibly agile. The Gallardo feels more like it was built as a V10 first and a car second. The steering isn't as precise, the brakes aren't as sharp, and the torque isn't as low-down in the rev range. But that's not what it's for.
Driving the Gallardo was an entirely different experience. The track was wider, and the tyres were stickier and larger, and with the addition of the rear wing the grip was invigorating. It wasn't as agile or as darty as the GTR, so you did have to work a little harder to get it through the corners, but when you get out the other side boy oh boy you can reap the rewards.
The Gallardo Performante has a 5.2L V10 mounted in the middle, producing around 570 horsepower and 540Nm of torque. It can do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, and keep on going to a top speed of just over 200mph.
That might go some ways to explain why I drove the fastest in this chap. Firing this thing out of the corners is a joyous experience; listening to the V10 start to shout and scream, and hearing the wind flapping around through the open windows and through my hair, it's stunning. The sensation of speed was incredible in that car; even at speeds lower than the motorway speed limit.
The throttle response, for example, is faster than John Coleman rushing to give a "That's Pants" badge to... something. I don't remember the joke. The feeling of speed has been greatly exaggerated in racing games over the last few years - you only really feel like you're going fast when you're doing around 150mph. In that thing, you can do under 60 and feel like you're about to go into light speed.
The torque was definitely at the middle of the rev range, which made it almost behave like a VTEC engine - it hits around 3,500 RPM and BANG! It's off. I only managed to hit that point a few times, as I was in second gear as a default, but when it happened it was like gold.
People always talk about being at one with the machine, which mostly is an Italian car trait - especially the 80s / 90s Alfa Romeos. But driving that, I felt like I'd grown a car out of my hands and feet. I'm very grateful for the instructor I had who seemed to trust me enough with the car to go 'fast' and overtake other cars by myself (which I'm not sure I was supposed to do). All in all, I loved it.
This was most definitely my favourite car of the trio, maybe because of sheer style or maybe because of sheer speed. Most likely both.
And finally... the Audi R8!
Personally, I've always preferred the 4.2L V8 edition of the first gen R8, and I've always been slightly salty that Audi discontinued it for the second generation in favour of the Lamborghini V10. I've liked it the most because it's more comfortable; it's softer, less stiffened up, and all-in-all is more focused on being a mid-engined grand tourer than managing the immense power sitting behind your head.
This R8 wasn't particularly to my liking at all; I've never been a fan of the matte black look, but more importantly the car refused to shift into first for a good five minutes while I was trying to set off. It also took the liberty of deciding to completely lock up the throttle halfway round the first lap, which of course made me press it harder, and then when it unlocked it did give me quite a fright.
On the occasion the car was working the way it was supposed to, I found out quite quickly that it was obvious that the car was more than definitely built almost like a Mustang; designed to chug along at very low RPM. I'd say quite strongly that a lot of the torque was at the lower rev range, kind of similarly to the GTR, but it's delivered in a different way; from my experience in racing games, it makes it drive almost like a mid-engined Mustang.
Which we DON'T want, by the way, Ford. You don't need to hash up the Mustang name any further than the Mach E.
The handling I'd say is the least sharp of the trio, in keeping with the previously ranted focus on comfort and softness. I wouldn't describe it as agile or "like a knife's edge" or whatever people say, but god it can turn sharply when you put your full strength into it.
The brakes, however, are much stronger than any of the others - it caught me by surprise when coming back round that chicane I mentioned earlier, I nearly stopped completely and caused a good large bill to the company. Sorry about that, if you happen to be my R8 driving instructor and had to try and carry on from that.
The V8 version of the 1st Gen Audi R8 has, as you might be able to tell by my constant praise of this model, has a 4.2L V8 mounted in the middle, producing around 414 horsepower and 430Nm of torque. With the automatic gearbox in this model, it can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.0 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 187mph. That's nothing to sneeze at, even with it being the slowest of the trio. It's still enough to take down my old man's Ferrari 360, and that's how I measure performance nowadays in cars.
A while ago I mentioned luxury and comfort in response to the softer steering, and much like said Ferrari 360 I was absolutely baffled at how smooth the ride is. I suppose the surface isn't exactly run-down - Lydden Hill is a rather small racetrack, after all - but in the event of me clipping the grass or running too wide over a curb, the car wouldn't freak out and give up, like the other two.
Quite the opposite, in fact; it was very composed and calm. Which I think speaks for the car as a whole.
Going round to there and driving those cars has to be up there as one of the best days of my life. The team running it was kind and very well organised, the cars themselves I found incredibly joyous and thrilling to drive, whilst also being just terrifying enough to keep me on my toes even after I'd learned the circuit. The instructors I had with me in all three cars were really friendly and encouraging, which really helped ease my nerves and made me not want to run away and hide.
I don't want to gloat much, but two of the three instructors simply didn't believe me when I said I'd never driven a car before - I assume in relation to the quality of my driving - and the third just didn't ask. So if anyone out there who's reading this owns a racetrack and two supercars, I'll gladly accept a race.
I'll try and find the package we bought on the Every Man Racing website and link it... underneath here, somewhere. And with all of that being said, thank you for taking about an hour and a half out of your day to read this damn thing, and goodbye.
This was my face getting into the R8 - I don't think I've ever been happier or blurrier in a picture.
(Here's the package I used, or at least the closest thing I could find: www.everymanracing.co.uk/product/junior-platinum-supercar-driving-experience-blast-3-cars-anytime/.)
(There's also another one with a high speed passenger ride included that's cheaper for some reason? www.everymanracing.co.uk/product/junior-supercar-driving-experience-blast-3-cars-high-speed-passenger-ride-anytime/)
(There's also also a seemingly new rally driving event which I might try saving up for, so keep your eyes out for that hopefully much shorter article soon: www.everymanracing.co.uk/product/junior-rally-blast-anytime/)