ON TRACK

And finally to the Bedford Au­to­drome, to see how our con­tenders com­pare on a hot lap

Evo - - DRIVEN - John Barker

FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT IT feels like there might be a ma­jor up­set… First up is the most pow­er­ful car, the Mercedes. The chal­lenge with cars that have the po­ten­tial for mas­sive over­steer is that get­ting the speed out of them means tread­ing a thin line, and slip­ping off it can turn very quickly into two fat black lines. This is an­noy­ing in the slower cor­ners, when you just want to get on with things, and heart-pound­ing when it hap­pens through the fastest cor­ner on the lap…

Sta­bil­ity con­trol was set to Sport for the warm-up lap and first flyer, al­low­ing some slip and thus show­ing where trac­tion is likely to be an is­sue, which is pretty much ev­ery­where. It does a good job, keep­ing the tail in line with­out be­ing too in­tru­sive, but start to push more and there are sec­tions where it feels the car is be­ing held back too much. So, sta­bil­ity con­trol is dis­abled and the chal­lenge of walk­ing the line be­gins.

There’s lit­tle warn­ing of when the rear is about to break free, and when it does the swing is gen­er­ous. Con­tain­ing it takes pa­tience and quick re­ac­tions but the speed does come, though in truth no lap feels com­pletely clean. Each car gets three fly­ing laps, and the C63’s best is 1:25.6. To its credit, the car’s op­tional hy­brid car­bon front/ca­st­iron rear brake setup lasts very well and the tyres look evenly scrubbed across the tread.

The BMW M4 is quite a con­trast, firstly be­cause its engine sounds so loud, even wear­ing a hel­met. On the first fly­ing lap it’s ob­vi­ous that, like the Merc, the BMW’S slack­ened-off sta­bil­ity con­trol is too re­stric­tive. The car feels lighter and bet­ter bal­anced in the quick stuff but it has a lit­tle more ini­tial un­der­steer, so it feels like you have to slow it down more for the slower turns. It will kick its tail out early like the Merc but ease the throt­tle and it stead­ies quickly so you don’t have to back out and wait. Neat is best, of course, and you can be. Shame the up­shift lights in the rev-counter are hard to see and that the brakes feel soft from the off, sug­gest­ing we’d had the best of them in the for­mal brake test. Still, 1:23.4 is an emphatic two sec­onds a lap faster than the Mercedes.

What a con­trast the Audi is. The work rate it de­mands is dra­mat­i­cally lower but it feels very ef­fec­tive as well as easy to drive. Where in the BMW and Mercedes you’re feath­er­ing the throt­tle, the Audi is nailed, back­ing off only to rein in un­der­steer. It’s not an in­ert all-wheel-drive car, ei­ther; sta­bil­ity con­trol off, it feels al­most like you’re back­ing the car into the first hair­pin and then hard on the throt­tle to sling-shot from the apex.

Throt­tle pick-up feels a bit slow – a bit soft at times, maybe – be­cause you’re mash­ing rather than feath­er­ing, but the car’s ea­ger­ness to turn and its stu­pen­dous trac­tion feel enough to de­liver an up­set. It’s a slight dis­ap­point­ment that it only man­ages 1:25.0, split­ting the M4 and C63.

STUDY THE SPEEDS AND G RAT­INGS ON THE TRACK map above and you’ll soon start to build a pic­ture not only of each car’s in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter, but where it gains and loses against its rivals.

The first thing you no­tice is just how much more speed the M4 car­ries through the faster cor­ners and then builds upon once it’s on the straights. The con­fi­dence that its weight dis­tri­bu­tion and balance brings is clear to see with the cor­ner speeds it achieves.

More in­ter­est­ing is what the raw data be­trays about the Audi’s per­for­mance. In most of the cor­ners, and par­tic­u­larly the tighter ones, it’s on the power be­fore the other two, proof of its fab­u­lous trac­tion and im­mense low-down grunt. But ev­ery time it’s then sur­passed along the fol­low­ing straight by the other pair, which while un­able to get on the power so soon can ac­cel­er­ate at a greater rate there­after. The trac­tion and pos­i­tive turn-in of the RS5 is also ev­i­dent in the speeds through Club Chi­cane, and nei­ther is it a sur­prise that it’s the fastest car through Tower: there are no high­speed over­steer wor­ries to be felt in the Audi.

As for the Merc, it masks its weight and trac­tion is­sues out of the tighter cor­ners via the enor­mous torque of its V8, al­low­ing it to quickly sur­pass the Audi – af­ter the Palmer Curves, for in­stance – and keep the M4 at least par­tially in sight. But it’s also no sur­prise that it’s slow­est through the quicker curves, where the mass be­gins to tell and its spiky over-the-limit be­hav­iour pre­oc­cu­pies the mind. For ev­i­dence, look no fur­ther than the re­spec­tive speeds through the fast right of Tower.

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