GTS to the Arc­tic Part Two

After driv­ing from Lon­don to the Arc­tic Cir­cle Cen­tre in the 991.2 Targa 4 GTS last is­sue, in part two we head home via the sheer driv­ing nir­vana of Nor­way’s finest black­top

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Lee Sib­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy by Rich Pearce

The sec­ond in­stal­ment of our 5,000-mile epic takes in one of the world’s most breath­tak­ing roads

PART TWO: THE WORLD’S GREAT­EST ROAD

Beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful Nor­way. It’s hard to do jus­tice to pur­vey the scale of its majesty: so un­end­ing and so gen­uinely breath­tak­ing is its to­pog­ra­phy, you’ll not likely have seen such nat­u­ral splen­dour be­fore – cer­tainly not through the wind­screen of a ve­hi­cle. As I men­tioned in part one of our epic, 5,000-mile road trip from Lon­don to here in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, there is quite sim­ply a jaw-drop­ping vista around ev­ery cor­ner in this part of the world.

Snap­per Rich Pearce and I made the jour­ney up from Bri­tain in lit­tle over a week, and our Targa press car was due back at Porsche Cen­tre Read­ing in just an­other week’s time. So, after stop­ping for our oblig­a­tory tourist pic­ture at the Arc­tic Cir­cle Cen­tre, we climb back into the Targa 4 GTS and pro­gramme its PCM to guide us due south to the sea­side town of Kris­tian­sund some 752 kilo­me­tres away. That’s 11 hours of driv­ing, not in­clud­ing stops, so we’d bet­ter get a shift on: the days may be long up here, but time is nev­er­the­less still tick­ing.

Un­be­liev­ably, the max­i­mum speed per­mit­ted in the whole of Nor­way – a coun­try mea­sur­ing some 385 thou­sand square kilo­me­tres – is just 90kph,

or 56mph (one or two ring roads out­side the cap­i­tal of Oslo per­mit 110kph, how­ever). At face value it’s an ab­surd cap, yet in re­al­ity it’s no great bother. Sur­rounded by scenery such as this means we’re only too happy to stow the Targa’s roof, put its PDK gear­box into au­topi­lot and coast along, drink­ing in the grandeur of the craggy yet ever­green ter­rain.

Al­most un­be­liev­ably again, our route en­com­passes the E6 high­way for pretty well the en­tire jour­ney, this be­ing the main artery run­ning right down the mid­dle of this nar­row Nordic coun­try. We join it, still en­joy­ing the road largely to our­selves, and let it snake us south­wards to­wards our des­ti­na­tion.

Kris­tian­sund it­self will never win any awards for tourism, but its sig­nif­i­cance for au­to­mo­tive thrill seek­ers should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. The near­est ma­jor town to the At­lantic Ocean Road and then Troll­sti­gen, it’s the gate­way to what can be days of ab­so­lute driv­ing nir­vana. We reach it mid­way through the next af­ter­noon (we told you we’d am­ble!), park­ing the Targa by the wa­ter and head­ing over to our overnight digs.

We’re out very early the next morn­ing, fir­ing up the Targa’s 9A2 flat six just be­fore 06:30. An­noy­ingly, it’s rain­ing: after nine days straight of blue skies and bright sun­shine – aside from when the clouds blocked our at­tempt at a mid­night sun shot back in Swe­den – we be­grund­ingly ac­cept Mother Na­ture’s need for a lit­tle wa­ter­ing of her land­scape. The rain cer­tainly doesn’t dampen our ex­cite­ment, how­ever: we are sure to­day is go­ing to be one of the best of our en­tire ad­ven­ture as we tackle two of the world’s most rep­utable driv­ing roads.

The At­lantic Ocean Road in par­tic­u­lar has been on my bucket list for some time. Buoyed by idyl­lic pic­tures of a sin­gle rib­bon of tar­mac hop­ping over the sea from one tiny is­land to the other, it’s billed by some as one of the planet’s most pic­turesque drives as it hugs the point at which Nor­way gives way to the vast At­lantic ocean. It’ll be a plea­sure to drive this, I tell my­self, head­ing south out of Kris­tian­sund’s main is­land via a tun­nel to the start of the At­lantic Ocean Road.

Emerg­ing back into day­light the other side, we re­alise the rain has ceased, and the clouds above have re­duced in their den­sity. Strong rays of early morn­ing sun­shine are now bleach­ing the flat land ahead, cast­ing a spot­light on the mag­nif­i­cent Stor­seisun­det Bridge. There are eight bridges in to­tal in just 8,274 me­tres of the At­lantic Ocean Road, though in truth there’s not much to it other than that.

Be­fore the se­quence of land-hop­ping bridges, I pull over and bring the Targa to a stop. With no rain I want to stow the Targa’s fab­ric roof once again to be able to fully en­joy the views and smell the salty sea air. Pulling and hold­ing the roof stowage but­ton in the mid­dle of the 991’s cen­tre con­sole, we watch the Targa’s ki­net­ics re­move its rag top in 19 long sec­onds be­fore re­join­ing the route and press­ing on.

Min­utes later we find all eight bridges have been con­quered, and the wa­ter around us has been re­placed by green­ery as we head in­land. Was that it? It’s a dis­ap­point­ing re­al­ity, leav­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of the At­lantic Ocean Road far short of Visit Nor­way’s procla­ma­tion as the world’s most beau­ti­ful drive. It sim­ply doesn’t last long enough for that ti­tle, though the Stor­seisun­det Bridge it­self is an ab­so­lutely glo­ri­ous feat of en­gi­neer­ing, ris­ing sharply up into the sky like an au­to­mo­tive stair­way to heaven

be­fore fall­ing down and round the other side, its slight curve round giv­ing it added def­i­ni­tion when ad­mired from afar.

It’s a dis­ap­point­ing start to the day be­fore break­fast has even been con­sumed, though we put that right by stop­ping in the beau­ti­ful city of Molde on the Romms­dal penin­sula for some food.

Our next des­ti­na­tion surely will not dis­ap­point. Headed south east from Molde – via a cou­ple of ferry hops over gi­gan­tic fjords – lies the mag­nif­i­cent Troll­sti­gen in the Roms­dal val­ley.

Trans­lated as the ‘Trolls’ Path’, it opened in 1939 to pro­vide a key trans­port link through the moun­tains be­tween the vil­lages of Vall­dal and Ån­dal­snes.

Leg­end has it that trolls pa­trol the road to scare trav­ellers mov­ing along it, never stray­ing from the long shad­ows caused by the steep sur­round­ing moun­tains to avoid di­rect sun­light, which would oth­er­wise turn them to stone.

Troll­sti­gen is part of a na­tional tourist route of­fer­ing a bril­liant, high-al­ti­tude drive last­ing some 100 kilo­me­tres to the pic­turesque Gerainger Fjord, but you’ll need to time your visit right to ex­pe­ri­ence it: due to treach­er­ous con­di­tions caused by Nor­way’s harsh win­ters the road is only open be­tween late April and Oc­to­ber.

Troll­sti­gen it­self is less than five per cent of that, but it’s the most spec­tac­u­lar. A mas­ter­piece of a ser­pen­tine road chis­elled into the moun­tain­side, there are 11 hair­pins in to­tal, el­e­vat­ing you quickly to its max­i­mum al­ti­tude of 858 me­tres above sea level. How­ever, with only small stone blocks at the edge of the nar­row roads wind­ing up the steep moun­tain­side, trolls are very likely go­ing to be the least of our wor­ries.

Alas, when we ar­rive at the base of Troll­sti­gen by mid-af­ter­noon, heavy traf­fic on the nar­row road is at a stand­still. Killing the Targa’s engine and hop­ping out, our eyes fol­low the trail of sit­ting traf­fic to ap­prox­i­mately half­way up the moun­tain­side, the dis­tance be­tween us mean­ing even tourist coaches look like lit­tle blocks of Lego sta­tioned high above us. Then, we spot it: an air am­bu­lance has landed on the road, and the ru­mour is a mo­tor­cy­clist has had an off.

Au­thor­i­ties at our base level say the road will re­open in around an hour, but even then traf­fic is go­ing to be chronic – it’s peak tourist sea­son with coaches aplenty, and sec­tions of the moun­tain road aren’t much wider than the width of a mod­ern car. It’s not the en­vi­ron­ment to drink in the world’s best road in a Porsche 911 Targa, so we head off in the direc­tion we came, and elect to re­turn later.

When we say later, we mean much, much later.

It’s now 10pm, the chok­ing traf­fic align­ing Troll­sti­gen some eight hours ear­lier hav­ing long gone. It’s still light of course, yet the roads are en­tirely de­serted, as are the car parks and even the view­ing plat­form at the top. The re­al­i­sa­tion of our iso­la­tion fills us with giddy ex­cite­ment: we’ve the keys to the manor, and it seems no­body else is home.

The road to Troll­sti­gen fol­lows the Roms­dal val­ley floor right to its end, where the tow­er­ing moun­tain trio of Kon­gen (The King), Dron­nin­gen (The Queen) and Trol­lveg­gen (The Troll Wall) ap­pear to block any fur­ther pas­sage. It’s here where the road pro­ceeds to el­e­vate quickly, us­ing all three moun­tain sides and those 11 hair­pins to nav­i­gate a path up and over th­ese most ex­treme of nat­u­ral ob­sta­cles.

With the roof on the Targa al­ready stowed, I slap the PDK lever left to en­gage man­ual and flick the car’s Mode wheel round to Sport Plus to sharpen the car’s throt­tle, gear­box and sus­pen­sion set­tings in prepa­ra­tion for max­i­mum at­tack. Troll­sti­gen, here we go!

The Tar­mac be­neath our Pirelli P Zero tyres is snooker-ta­ble smooth as we fly into the first cor­ner, a medium left-han­der with a sub­tle gra­di­ent, which then darts up and round to a sharp, steep righthander hair­pin. A lit­tle left-foot brak­ing scrubs some of the Targa’s ve­loc­ity as I point the wheels for the apex, the nose obey­ing or­ders and div­ing wil­fully for the cor­ner. While it’s nowhere near as di­rect as a GT3 or RS, I’m im­pressed by the pos­i­tiv­ity of the GTS’S turn-in – es­pe­cially for such a heavy car. Hold­ing the revs in sec­ond gear through the cor­ner, we’re in the peak power band at 3,000rpm, and a squirt of my right foot sees the Targa surge en­er­get­i­cally up the moun­tain­side as we be­gin to re­ally climb in al­ti­tude. A flick of the right-side PDK pad­dle snatches third, and with vir­tu­ally no de­lay the rev nee­dle be­gins an­other as­sault on the red­line as it winds around the tacho to 7,000rpm.

Ap­proach­ing the right-hand hair­pin my left foot presses much firmer onto the brake pedal, haul­ing down the Targa’s speed. The left PDK pad­dle on the Targa’s steer­ing wheel is now called into ac­tion, a quick dou­ble pull on it bring­ing us down into first for the tight bend. Ac­cel­er­at­ing hard out of the turn, it’s here where those twin tur­bocharg­ers now homed in the 911 prove their worth: in no time at all we go from what would be a gen­tle jog round the hair­pin into a ve­loc­ity which feels not un­like that of a plane on its sprint to­wards take-off. Flick­ing up through the gears, the Targa’s mo­men­tum is un­re­lent­ing, it pulling strongly right to its red­line at seven grand.

We zoom over a stone bridge past the thun­der­ous Stig­fos­sen wa­ter­fall to our left, some spit­tle land­ing on our wind­screen as we go. I clear it with the wipers to main­tain a clear vi­sion of the road ahead, which gets nar­rower as we as­cend onto the third moun­tain face at the end of this mag­nif­i­cent Roms­dal val­ley. Push­ing up a straight, I sneak a glance across the val­ley to our right – wow! We’re al­ready so high up, the road on the val­ley floor where we started just min­utes ago now a mere sliver among the rocky grandeur of the rest of the canyon. Its scale is truly breath­tak­ing. Al­lay­ing the ver­tigo, I turn my at­ten­tion back to the road, which kinks left and then right be­fore a left-hand hair­pin.

It goes with­out say­ing that due to the day­time traf­fic reg­u­larly sti­fling Troll­sti­gen – Nor­way’s tourism board says a ve­hi­cle passes the Troll­stigveien Plateau ev­ery ten sec­onds – if you want to re­ally drive this mag­nif­i­cent piece of ar­chi­tec­ture rather than merely ex­pe­ri­ence it at walk­ing pace, you need to visit first thing in the morn­ing or last thing at night. You will then re­alise that, more than pro­vid­ing a trail across this treach­er­ous seg­ment of moun­tains, Troll­sti­gen is an awe-in­spir­ing driver’s road, of­fer­ing plenty of en­gage­ment and ex­cite­ment, but also de­mand­ing con­cen­tra­tion and con­vic­tion to get the most from it. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing this as we zip through the re­main­ing hair­pins and up the last of the ten per cent in­clines, I re­alise how lucky we are to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence Troll­sit­gen in a way few oth­ers will get the plea­sure of do­ing.

Less than a minute later we are at the top and, shak­ing a lit­tle from the in­ten­sity of the buzz, I can’t help my­self from stop­ping the car and tak­ing a look back down the val­ley from the view­ing plat­form jut­ting off the moun­tain. De­signed by Reiulf Ram­stad ar­chi­tects, the struc­ture blends won­der­fully into the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and of­fers a view un­beat­able with­out the aid of a he­li­copter.

The land­scape leaves me speech­less. The val­ley is just so vast: its steep moun­tains cave down dra­mat­i­cally to the floor below, the en­tire val­ley now shrouded in shade as its west­erly sum­mit shields the late-night sum­mer sun. Nev­er­the­less, there’s a rich vi­brancy of greens from the trees and plants grow­ing all the way up the grey cliff faces, punc­tu­ated by the bright white of flow­ing wa­ter­falls re­liev­ing the moun­tains of melted ice at their peak. In the mid­dle of all that you can see the sliv­er­ing black­top of the road swing­ing this way and that, snaking ma­jes­ti­cally up the val­ley to the view­ing point be­neath my very feet.

I could stand here for­ever and ad­mire ev­ery de­tail this view has to of­fer, but the ex­cite­ment of an­other drive usurps this in­quis­i­tive feast. Push­ing hard once again, the Targa’s chas­sis moves around un­der more pro­nounced weight trans­fer on the way back down, but there’s never any dan­ger of the car los­ing grip. Its ex­cel­lent, ac­tive AWD sys­tem with Porsche Torque Vec­tor­ing sees to that, sup­ported by chunkier wheels and wider tyres in this Gts-spec set-up.

And so we spend the next hour go­ing up and back down Troll­sti­gen, hustling the Targa through ev­ery cor­ner and at­tack­ing ev­ery straight, en­joy­ing ev­ery sin­gle yard of as­phalt this bril­liant road has to of­fer. To­tally bereft of any other hu­man life, tonight the Trolls’ Path is our play­ground. On the last sprint down, the Targa’s bur­bling flat six echo­ing fiercely out of the val­ley on over­run, I re­alise this is the best road I’ve ever had the priv­i­lege of driv­ing in a Porsche 911. There is sim­ply noth­ing in the world with a majesty and in­ten­sity like it.

We catch the last ferry across the fjord to

Geiranger and ar­rive at our ho­tel with only min­utes left of the day. Tired and weary, we grab some sleep, aris­ing later the next morn­ing to the re­al­i­sa­tion our epic Arc­tic ad­ven­ture is nearly at an end. It’s time to go home.

Leav­ing the tow­er­ing moun­tains be­hind us, over the next few days we head south to Oslo then catch a ferry back to Den­mark be­fore driv­ing back to Calais and en­ter­ing the tun­nel back to Bri­tain. Ar­riv­ing on the out­skirts of Lon­don soon after, our jour­ney is com­plete. Pulling in to Porsche Cen­tre Read­ing, I feel a lit­tle emo­tional: the Targa is still cov­ered with the chalk of Nor­way’s stun­ning land­scape, a phys­i­cal re­minder of the ex­trem­i­ties of our lat­est ad­ven­ture. With­out it, I’d have to pinch my­self: did we re­ally just drive to the Arc­tic Cir­cle, and back, in two weeks? The chalk will wash away, but I’ll never for­get that won­der­ful ser­pen­tine road in the heart of beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful Nor­way.

BELOW ad­mir­ing the view over the stun­ning gerainger fjord

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