Car (South Africa)
HOW FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE MAKES THE MISSION R LIGHTER
on the condition I didn’t own up to it in public, I would be able to base these driving impressions on going a whole lot faster. And from this, you may deduce what you will.
The track is tight and technical, and full of unhelpful cambers, even more unhelpful bumps and a number of elevation changes. The radio crackles into life in my headphones: “Andrew. Position one on the steering wheel. Proceed on to the track when you’re ready.”
And that’s it. You just squeeze the throttle and away you go. The first big surprise is it is quite noisy in there – so noisy, in fact, that you realise the lengths makers of electric road cars go to in order to keep their motors quiet.
You’re almost immediately on a straight, so you straighten your right foot at once. With fourwheel drive and vast Michelin slick, you’re never going to spin up the wheels, even though the car has no traction control or, for that matter, anti-lock brakes. For all the technology crammed into this car, you are, dynamically speaking, on your own.
With such traction and power, the Mission R goes from a near standstill to very, very fast with no time for you to ponder any of the speeds in between. This is the first time I had driven an electric racecar and I feared I might need time to get used to the instant throttle response, but it’s easy, because it’s so linear. It’s not like there’s a torque curve to understand; it’s just all present, all of the time.
On that serious rubber, with its RSR suspension and massive (albeit unspecified) downforce, the Mission R will pull two Gs in the corners, so there’s no lack of lateral grip, either. But while the back of the car is rooted to the spot and needs to be provoked before it will move, the front can peel away from the apex quite easily, although the resulting understeer can be killed by lifting off the throttle. Besides, as Kern pointed out to me, “If you’re not happy with the balance, you could just change it mid-race.”
You could, because – in theory, at least – you would be able to choose and change the front-torear torque split on the move from a control on the wheel, which would be quite a cool trick.
I was more concerned with not crashing. It isn’t a difficult car to drive. On the contrary, it’s positively benign, but the barriers are close and the price of getting it wrong isn’t a number on which I choose to dwell. Ten laps later, I was back in the pits.
As someone who has regularly highlighted the limitations of EVS from a dynamic enjoyment point of view, what interested me is when you’re driving the Mission R, it’s not how you think, because you’re just too busy. I’m not going to say it wouldn’t be more entertaining still with a howling flat six and some paddles to pull, but even with pure electrical power, the Mission R is involving, rewarding, fascinating and, given it’s only meant to be a concept, unbelievably well resolved.
So, what, if anything, does it say about the future of the Porsche sportscar?
We know Porsche never does these projects in a vacuum, and this is no exception. You will remember how few changes there were to the Mission E of 2015 when it became the Taycan in 2019. At the very least, what you’re looking at is a big part of the future of Porsche customer racing, but there’s more here. Although nothing is certain yet, should Porsche decide an electric
Cayman is what’s required (and let’s face it, it has to happen sometime), this probably isn’t a million miles away from what it may look like or indeed how it will drive.
While I would rather remain in our internally combusted present, this is no longer an option, and if the electrically powered future can be anything close to as much fun to drive as this, we should not dread the future – rather, we should all genuinely look forward to it.
I asked Mission R project manager Michael Behr why his team didn’t make the car rear driven and even lighter than the present impressive 1 500 kg with a driven front axle. There were two answers. The obvious one is that with over 800 kw in qualifying mode, traction is seriously important. “But,” added Behr, “it would also make the car heavier.”
“Eh?” said I. But it’s true; so great is the amount of energy recovered through braking on the front axle (more than 40% of which is done by the motor alone) that if you dispensed with it, you would need a battery 50% larger to compensate. Because batteries weigh more than motors, the Mission R would become heavier.