Su­per­cars

Brave pills at the ready. It's three of the world's fastest cars on the world's least for­giv­ing cir­cuit

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: OL­LIE MAR­RIAGE

It’s bed­room wall poster eye candy time as the 488 Pista takes on the 600LT and the 911 GT2 RS

Abig one, this. Porsche vs Fer­rari vs McLaren. last time we re­ferred this in­ter-mar­que fight the con­tenders were hy­brids col­lec­tively re­ferred to as the Holy Trin­ity. That was a cou­ple of days I wont for­get. Mainly for pray­ing the rain would stop fall­ing. This time my prayers are fo­cused on the bar­ri­ers. Who­ever thought con­crete was the right pro­tec­tive bar­rier for spindly Seven­ties F1 cars? Emer­son Fittpaldi must have thrashed around here in the full knowl­edge that the only im­pact cush­ion­ing would come from his side­burns.

“Ti­ta­nium. Car­bon. In­conel. Mag­ne­sium. It’s all here. Al­most ev­ery­where you look”

Wings, tur­bos and 700bhp. Yes, car safety has moved on in the last 50 years and the elec­tron­ics are very clever these days, but to see these three growl down the pit­lane is to ex­pe­ri­ence trep­i­da­tion. They stalk: zero ground clear­ance, bark­ing ex­hausts, tick­ing brakes, fran­tic fan fizz, the tin­kle of grit spat up from hot tyres, move­ments tight to the point of rigid­ity. Not rac­ing cars? Well, the ti­tle up for grabs here is best track-go­ing su­per­car, so maybe not far off.

Con­sider the com­po­nen­try: the GT2 RS has rose-jointed sus­pen­sion. Like the Cup racer. Sus­pen­sion set-up (su­per-stiff springs, slacker anti-roll bars), that’s bor­rowed from the Cup too. Fer­rari trans­ferred as much of its GTE en­durance racer to the Pista as it could, then called up the F1 team’s ti­ta­nium sup­plier and or­dered con­rods and turbo com­po­nents. Ti­ta­nium. Car­bon. In­conel. Mag­ne­sium. It’s all here. Al­most ev­ery­where you look.

McLaren has man­aged to strip 96kg out of the 570S to cre­ate its sec­ond LT model, 31kg of which has come from all-im­por­tant un­sprung and ro­tat­ing mass – wheels, tyres, wish­bones, up­rights and brakes. The ex­hausts now pop out the top, sav­ing 12.6kg and blow­ing su­per-heated air, some­times blue flames, over a spoiler that has to wear a heat wrap to cope. McLaren’s first LT, the 675, was chuff­ing glo­ri­ous. Surely this can’t be a sim­i­lar leap for­ward?

And 90kg has been shorn from the Fer­rari, too, and… Look, I could spend pages de­tail­ing ev­ery al­ter­ation, ev­ery gramme saved, but all Porsche, Fer­rari and McLaren are do­ing here is fol­low­ing the old adage of adding power and grip and re­mov­ing weight in a bid to travel faster. Fer­rari’s brief­ing doc­u­ment for the Pista goes so far as to de­tail how they have re­duced cyclic vari­abil­ity in the com­bus­tion process. There’s a chart that proves it.

But it’s hard to care about that when these grey, red and blue sliv­ers of ex­oti­cism are in front of you right now, sat in the pit­lane to touch, coo over and drive. What a line-up. While their hy­brid sib­lings were tech­no­log­i­cal ti­tans, each tak­ing very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches, here we find com­mon­al­i­ties. The tech­nol­ogy needed to send a mod­ern hard­core su­per­car fast has con­densed: Twin tur­bos all round, a vari­a­tion of just 103cc in engine ca­pac­i­ties, plus twin-clutch gear­boxes, rear-wheel drive.

I’m in the GT2 RS first. Lit­er­ally. Day one, minute one, of track time. God knows why I thought this was a good idea. Well, I didn’t, I was just help­lessly drawn to it. There’s some­thing about fast, hard­core Porsches, and about the GT2 RS in par­tic­u­lar. Engine aside, it’s very sim­i­lar to the GT3 RS – in­deed we con­sid­ered hav­ing the nat-asp car here in­stead. But a GT2 RS is a rarer, more fear­some beast. One with a rep­u­ta­tion.

Some col­leagues have al­ready men­tioned man­ual gear­boxes while stand­ing in the vicin­ity of the GT2 RS. They haven’t driven it yet. They have the flushed face and trem­bling hands to come, the giddy sense of re­lief. You get all that in the Fer­rari too, the same sense that you’ve tamed some­thing, wielded whip and chair. The ex­pe­ri­ences are quite dif­fer­ent though.

In the Porsche you have to man­age both ends. On cold tyres it un­der­steers, and then moves abruptly to over­steer. The tyres don’t stay cold for long, and then you get to ap­pre­ci­ate the witch­craft Porsche has ap­plied. When the engine is where it is, how come the weight dis­tri­bu­tion (40:60) is the same as the mid-en­gined cars? How the bloody hell have they made this engine man­age­able? I’m al­most more wary of it un­der brak­ing (where it does pen­du­lum slightly) than un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, where I just give my­self over to it.

Ac­tu­ally it’s shove rather than ac­cel­er­a­tion. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is a lin­ear word – this is more ac­tive, an ex­po­nen­tial pres­sure build. In a way, it’s the bluntest de­liv­ery here, but af­ter the softer ram­pup, it’s just ad­dic­tive... you can’t be­lieve the eye-widen­ing thrust. There’s an old-school vibe about the power de­liv­ery, yet this isn’t at odds with the taut dy­nam­ics. The in­tegrity is ex­cep­tional – it moves

bril­liantly. Be­ing heav­ier and taller, it has to fight for body con­trol a bit more, you have to man­age the weight, pre­dict the power, be wary of turn-in. But this is all ab­sorb­ing stuff. The GT2 RS is a very ex­cit­ing car, maybe not as zingy as a GT3 RS, but even more of a thrill ride. You want to ride the light­ning? Drive the 488 Pista. How, just

how has Fer­rari made a turbo engine re­spond like this? Hit so im­me­di­ately just about any­where in the rev range? The oth­ers only re­spond prop­erly when you’ve got 5,000rpm show­ing, but Fer­rari shoves the cat­tle prod in the tur­bos at half that.

This has shaped the dy­nam­ics of the whole car – a mo­tor sharp, fizzy and re­spon­sive enough to com­ple­ment the race-in­spired chas­sis. It’s a hy­per­ac­tive part­ner­ship, so bright and re­ac­tive you might al­most ac­cuse it of over­act­ing. A lit­tle histri­onic maybe. This force of per­son­al­ity should be wear­ing, should be a bit Timmy Mal­lett, but it isn’t be­cause, when it knuck­les down to it, the 488 Pista has both sub­lime ta­lent and an ex­tra­or­di­nary work ethic.

It’s an ex­tro­vert that does things dif­fer­ently to the oth­ers, more play­fully. What it doesn’t do is un­der­steer. Throt­tle off or on, turn-in with a dab of brakes, in­tro­duce a whiff of throt­tle at any point mid­corner, and all the Pista wants to do is prove how well it can skid. Sec­ond gear, third, fourth – doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, those tur­bos just want to jab the rear end out of line. It could be alarm­ing, were it not so con­trol­lable.

The Pista drives with flam­boy­ance and pomp. That engine – so pow­er­ful, so re­spon­sive – should dom­i­nate, yet the chas­sis is able to dance. OK, the steps are big and sweep­ing, rather than tight and con­trolled. Well, com­pared with the last of our trio, a car that dis­sects ev­ery cor­ner into tiny, tiny pieces.

I bar­rel out onto the cir­cuit in the 600LT be­hind Chris Har­ris in the Pista. This is why we don’t bother do­ing lap times. Too busy hav­ing a good time. Plus a lap time cre­ates a win­ner, an im­pres­sion that car is the best – and that’s no way to judge and en­joy cars. This is. Tear­ing around a cir­cuit, watch­ing the flair with which the Fer­rari ap­proaches ev­ery cor­ner, gig­gling as it tran­si­tions the slide onto the down­hill straight, while be­hind the McLaren’s ap­proach is en­tirely dif­fer­ent.

The 600LT is a car that loves the en­try phase. It’s the best un­der brakes and the fastest into a cor­ner, even though it’s wear­ing the skin­ni­est front tyres. The hunger, the ea­ger­ness with which it tries to carry speed in is as­ton­ish­ing. It makes the other two feel... well, blunt. The steer­ing is eas­ily the best here, and the chas­sis is so sharp it en­ables you to pick the cor­ner apart, to break the phases down.

It has the weak­est gear­box, the one that oc­ca­sion­ally re­fuses a down­shift. The engine noise is plain, does the least to get un­der your skin (the Fer­rari wails half-heart­edly, the Porsche gusts and chunters, so none is ex­actly sem­i­nal). But the ac­cu­racy, the fo­cus, the crys­tal­clear feed­back – the 600LT does that bet­ter than any of them. I find it mas­sively ab­sorb­ing.

In truth you want an amal­gam of these cars: the way the McLaren stops and turns in, its steer­ing, con­trol and light­weight feel, its sheer

agility. But I want the Porsche’s trac­tion, im­age, in­tegrity and thrust, the Fer­rari’s play­ful­ness, mas­ter­ful elec­tronic soft­ware, charisma and turbo re­sponse. See what I’ve done here? As with the hy­brid hy­per­cars, I’ve come away know­ing I’d need all three to truly sat­isfy.

Smaller points, then: the McLaren and Fer­rari need bet­ter seats. Don’t care that they might weigh more, they need to sup­port prop­erly. Fer­rari’s in­te­rior de­sign has gone off the boil and the Pista steer­ing wheel is too large and doesn’t de­liver enough feel. The 600LT’s is per­fect to hold; the GT2 RS has pre­dictably im­mac­u­late con­trol weights.

This test shows how much per­son­al­ity af­fects re­sults. If I had to take one car to lap around here for ever (and I would; Cha­rade is in my top five race­tracks), it would be the 600LT. I couldn’t be fully sat­is­fied with the oth­ers, hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced that steer­ing and pre­ci­sion. Oth­ers wouldn’t. Some found the Fer­rari more cap­ti­vat­ing; a few loved the Porsche most. But they’re wrong. At this stage, Speed Week is a track test, and the McLaren 600LT tack­les it best of all.

When the lunch bell rings, no one is more com­mit­ted to get­ting a baguette than CH

Cha­rade’s pit­lane cater­ing was flavour­some but un­de­ni­ably rus­tic

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