Llandow Track Day 12 Nov 2016

I don’t like my new car. I love it!

GT 86 at Llandow
A grey paddock needs some yellow ūüôā

I took the GT86 down to Llandow yesterday for a track day. I left home at 6.30 in the dark and the journey from Kinver down to the Vale of Glamorgan was very wet. However, by the time I arrived at about 9 am the rain had stopped and it was a damp, grey misty November morning.¬†A wet track didn’t bother me since this was the first time on track with the Toyota and I wanted to find its limits.

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There were about 35 cars present, I¬†think. All sorts. A few MX5s, a 5 litre Mustang, an S1 Elise, a big 6 series BMW, a few Caterhams/Westfields, a two seater open sports racer and quite a few ‘track day cars’ – stripped out and, as we used to say back in the day, ‘souped up’ saloons.

I hadn’t done a proper track day before, though I had been to an MX5 Owners Club meeting at Mallory Park years ago and did a 20 minute session out on track. The Llandow experience was very interesting.

We had a drivers’ briefing where we were told the dos and don’ts. No passing on corners, no stopping on the circuit etc etc. Then we were divided into four groups (beginners, intermediates (x2) and advanced) and we had two twenty minutes sessions in which we could come into the paddock and out again if we wished or just stay out on track. A maximum of ten cars were allowed on track at any one time.

There was no scrutineering and nobody checked clothing or helmets. In fact you didn’t have to wear racing overalls, gloves or racing boots and could wear any helmet you liked. You could also take a passenger free of charge! All so different from MSA governed hillclimbs and sprints that I am used to.

After the two 20 minute sessions we moved on to an ‘open pit lane’. ¬†This meant that ten cars went out on track and when one came in another could go out. ¬†There wasn’t too much¬†queueing to get on track – less, in fact, than when lining up for a timed sprint or hill climb and nobody seemed to stay out too long. In my case 15 minutes was about the limits of my brakes which by that time were smelling hot and fading fast. ¬†All in all I think I was out on track for about 120 minutes, which cost ¬£90, which I thought was excellent value.

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Friendly people in non MSA clothing ūüôā
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This MX5, identical to my first competition car, spun right in front of a group of four cars coming out of Glue Pot and miraculously nothing hit it. Driver and passenger got out of the car shaking!

My GT86 is absolutely showroom Рstandard,  including still running on Michelin Pilot Primacy tyres which are also fitted to the Prius. On a wet track, with the  reputation the car has for being tail happy I was fully expecting a few spins. However, I was delighted to discover that if you drive it smoothly it is very predictable and controllable.

On the GT86 you have various ‘driving assist systems’. These include ABS of course; ‘Brake Assist’, which increases the level of braking force in an emergency braking situation; VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), which applies brakes and cuts the throttle in an attempt to control skidding when turning fast on slippery roads; TRC (traction control); and EPS (electronic power steering). ¬†So very different to my Elise! Before lunch I experimented with turning off each of these systems and concluded that what I prefered on track was everything off. ¬†On the road I like them on. When you’re going down a country road and find a horse or cyclist around a blind bend, you need all the ‘driving assist systems’ you can get your hands on. However, when going around and over the curbs at the Bus Stop and Devils Elbow at Llandow, the TRC and VSC were fighting against¬†me to control the car, braking when I didn’t want the brakes for example and I felt more in control when the car was sliding predictably than when there were inputs from a computer that I was not expecting. ¬†So the track day was perfect for playing about with these systems and understanding what they do.

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Lunch in the circuit cafe.
Lunch in the circuit cafe.

So why do I love the GT86? ¬†Well, it’s doing all I want my car¬†to do and justifies selling the Elise and my trailer. It’s now my daily driver and I drove to the circuit in it, very comfortably, listening to my downloaded Spotify playlists¬†from my phone over bluetooth to the radio head unit, with room in the boot for all my stuff, and good ventilation and demisting (unlike the Elise). And it performed fantastically. ¬†I wasn’t the fastest out there – kept up with the Mustang though¬†conversely MX5s kept up with me, but it was definitely fun. And most importantly I was reassured by the handling that I will be able to do hillclimbs next season in the HSA championship. I had thought I might restrict my season to sprints with big run off areas, but having driven it fast, I think I should be OK on unforgiving hillclimbs too. So all in all I am very happy with my choice.

GT86 at petrol station
On the way home after a long day.

Car hunting

This has been a very odd season for me as I’ve hardly competed¬†at all and now it’s almost over. What shall I replace the Elise with? I change my mind on a daily basis. One reason I haven’t committed to anything yet is that I have been waiting to see what the new Abarth 124 Spider is¬†like and a¬†few weeks ago I went to Silverstone to drive it at a special event ahead of its UK launch, which is next weekend. ¬†This seems to tick all the boxes. It’s quick, it handles well, it looks good (to my eyes), it’s interesting¬†and won’t¬†be too common¬†and I could use it for both ¬†holidays abroad and for hillclimbing. But it’s expensive.

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The Fiat 124 Spider (below) was launched this weekend and I had a test drive this afternoon. The interior is very like Jacqui’s S2000 ¬†but with only 140 horsepower from its 1400cc turbocharged engine it is 100 bhp down on the Honda and feels very slow by¬†comparison. This did not really surprise me but I just wanted to make sure.¬†The Abarth ¬†gets an extra 30 bhp but is still nowhere near the S2000’s 240 bhp but still may tempt me. I could easily buy into that whole Abarth culture thing. The problem is the price. Abarth take a Fiat 124 Spider, ¬†fit a limited slip diff, different exhaust system, Bilstein coilovers and Brembo brakes and tune the suspension and engine. For this they charge ¬†¬£6270 over the 124 Lusso Plus. However, the Lusso Plus comes with Sat Nav, a decent¬†¬†9 speaker Bose sound system and LED lights. These are all extras on the Abarth and push the price up to over ¬£32,000 and makes difference between the two cars ¬£8735. What’s more, according to the catalogue, you cannot get the reversing camera, which is standard on the Lusso Plus, on the Abarth. Now, some may say you don’t need one on such a small car but I also have a big Honda Accord and this is far easier to reverse that the S2000 because you can see the back of it. I can’t see the back of the S2000 from the driver’s seat so thought the camera on the Lusso Plus was a useful feature.

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Anyway, I will book¬†a test drive in an¬†Abarth as soon as they arrive in¬†the country, in the hope that I fall in love with it. Otherwise the search will go¬†on. I haven’t been blogging about it, but to give you a flavour, on Friday night I looked at a 2002 Carrera 4S Turbo, which the salesman assured me would be worth five grand more next year, but I doubted I could afford any repair bills on such a complex car so walked away from it. Yesterday we went to see a¬†GT86 in Bromsgrove but it had a flat battery so we couldn’t drive it and the cabin wasn’t very inspiring so we walked away from that too and we’ve also looked at TVRs, which I like¬†but am put off by stories of unreliability.

Carrera 4S

 

Toyota GT86

 

We've looked at a few TVRs

Perhaps Jacqui¬†already has¬†my perfect car…

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The sensible thing might be to go down the German route – Audi, BMW, Porsche – but for some reason they all seem a little sterile and uninteresting to me.