A day at the race track with flat-six power brings back fond memories
Many of you will remember David Heynes, who died three years ago racing his Lotus 15 at Silverstone. There was a little comfort derived from knowing he was doing what he loved and, it would appear, crashed because he died rather than the other way around, but not much. For a man as young (56), fit and fun as David, everyone lucky enough to know him had every right to feel appallingly robbed. Happily most will remember him for driving an Aston DB4 very quickly and usually at lurid angles, with almost other-worldly car control.
But I remember him for a different reason: he was the man who introduced me to the Porsche 911 Turbo. I was about 12 at the time, and he was in business with my father. Quite how I wound up next to him in a Turbo or why he decided to enter a motorway slip road on full opposite lock has long since fled my mind, I just remember being awfully glad that he had. That Turbo – a 3-litre, four-speed original – could have been made for him. It was brutally fast and required an iron will and a sublime talent before it would give its best; but driven by the right man, it was unapproachably exciting. And that was just from the passenger seat.
It’s been more than 30 years since that first-generation Turbo, and while its engine has grown by barely half a litre, its output has risen by 200bhp to 479bhp. And while it now has four-wheel drive and electronic stability control, it is no blunt instrument.
I know this because I spent a day last week driving one around Oulton Park. Race tracks have an uncanny ability to make almost any road car appear impotent and unwieldy – but not this one. First time out, as I accelerated out of Cascades, I was sufficiently shocked by the available thrust to realise it was time to reprogramme my brain, sharpen my focus and get serious. This was not a car you could simply climb aboard and drive quickly, this was a car that needed learning.
And, despite my day job being to test every important new car, I was still astonished by how quick it was (it hits 60mph from rest in 3.6sec) and, once you’d turned the stability systems off, how much commitment it still needed. Grip levels were predictably prodigious but, with 457lb ft of torque, surprisingly easy to overwhelm as it accelerated away from the apex. It would then, and despite its all-wheel-drive hardware, powerslide all the way to the exit.
I was so busy feeling the bite of its brakes, the response of its steering and, above all, its comical ability to accrue speed, that I almost forgot that this was also a civilised road car that will spend much more time on clogged city streets than empty race tracks. It’s not faultless: the ABS was often fooled by Oulton’s bumps and undulations and the rev-limiter cuts in savagely and rather early, but what 911 ever was? All that mattered to me is that the spirit born the day Porsche decided to stick one of those newfangled turbo things on its flat-six motor is as alive and strong today as it was more than 30 years ago. David, you’d have loved it.