I don’t like my new car. I love it!
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.
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.
My GT86 is absolutely showroom – standard, 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.
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.