A tour of British racetracks in a Porsche 718 (warning: long post) #blogpost
Here’s my new hobby. Whenever I have a few days off work, I go visit places. These places must offer some good driving roads, something interesting to see, and, if possible, a racetrack to do a trackday on.
Here are the first three trips, starting with:
Most people would probably name Scotland if they were asked about best driving roads in the UK, and rightfully so. However, from my experience, North Wales and Anglesey are not far off.
Like North Scotland, the best thing about Anglesey is that there is absolutely no traffic. Miles of twisty, scenic and empty roads.
The road surface quality is surprisingly good too; however petrol stations seemed a bit too rare, so keep an eye on the fuel level.
I don’t want to bother you with too much non-car-related content, but just take my word that Anglesey and North Wales are definitely worth visiting if you are ever passing by.
So let’s move on to Anglesey’s main attraction - the circuit.
Weather was relatively warm and sunny, which seemed like a great starting point for a trackday.
After briefing and a few sighting laps, I started to learn the circuit at a steady pace.
Anglesey circuit seems quite simple at first, but as you try to shave off seconds of your laptime, you realise that it has it’s on caveats.
There are some significant elevation changes, which may help to reduce braking distance when driving uphill, but they also make some corners impossible to see through until you are almost at the end of the braking zone. Hairpins are quite wide and therefore relatively easy to handle.
Anglesey is perfect for lightweight cars with a decent amount of power - there are plenty of long straights to be able to use that power, however, a few corners are really tight and slow, with some combinations forcing you to go almost from lock to lock. There aren’t many fast corners to make use of any downforce-generating aero.
So how did the 718 perform during its first trackday?
I will probably sound too predictable if I said it was absolutely amazing on the track.
But it really was.
This car can put power down to the road like nothing else I’ve ever driven before - I was able to keep up with most lightweights for the first half of the day.
And then, once I learned to trust the car more and more and was able to build more speed, some of them lightweights had to give way for me… Here’s some on-board action:
(I’m terribly sorry for an overexposed video - I am as hopeless at filming as I am at driving…)
And if you watch the next video, I even managed to overtake the GT3 RS. Admittedly, he wasn’t pushing too hard - but that’s one of the benefits of driving a Cayman - you’re not risking a quarter-of-a-million investment and so able to push harder.
Once my confidence levels grew, I started to play with various settings (adaptive dampers, engine and PDK modes, etc). Most of them make a noticable difference to how the car behaves.
However, I quickly learned my lesson. One of the toys is the three-stage Porsche Stability Management (PSM, aka ESP) system. I decided to try turning that completely off. For a few laps I was fine managing power as I was coming out of corners, but for approaching one of the faster corners, I was slightly off the racing line (and hence picking up some dirt and rubber). This soon resulted in some scary lift-off oversteer:
Needless to say, PSM went back on… Although the car is very predictable once it starts sliding (and also shows you just how well balanced it is), I wasn’t feeling like I was good enough to drive with no traction control whatsoever.
Other than one sketchy moment, the track day was absolutely awesome. Plenty of amazing drivers met, cool cars looked at and noises enjoyed.
It was a first proper drive for the 718 too and it really did shine. After that day I wanted to applause to Porsche engineers - this car was able to keep up with some much more hardcore and/or expensive cars. Yet, unlike most Caterhams and the like, I was able to drive it all the way home to the South-East of the UK. In total comfort, with my ears listening to a brilliant stereo system and with my bottom enjoying wonderfully comfortable heated seats. Oh, and did I mention the fuel economy?
Now let’s fast forward to the next trip…
This time, however, was my first drive on the Silverstone Circuit. It was also the trackday which I was looking forward to the most… I’ve seen legends race here, either on TV or, in the last 2 years, in person. It was one of my dreams to drive here myself.
Porsche really do know how to organise days like this. And then not only you meet some incredible drivers and specialists, you also get to enjoy their amazing facilities. The organisation levels are above all expectations too.
I’ve talked about the Porsche Centre facilities and track before. They offer various skid plates, “ice hills” and “low grip circuits” to test the driver’s and the car’s behaviour in extreme driving conditions.
The programme I went for this time was called “Porsche Sport Driving School: Precision Course”
Once you practised your driving skills on the smaller track, you can move on to the big one.
Silverstone has a few difficult corners but generally seems easier than Anglesey (at least judging by the part of the track which I got to drive on). There is little elevation change, the run-off zones are vast (less fear pushing hard) and the surface is very grippy.
The track was slightly wet, but the car handled really, really well. The only problem I started to notice on a bigger track is brake fade - something I didn’t really experience in the 718 before. Longer straights mean that brakes get very hot very quickly (hence why I was braking so early).
The conclusion? If you want to spend more time on the track and less time in the pits, get the carbon-ceramaics. If you can afford them…
Silverstone was great fun to drive on. It felt a bit too big for the 718 and something with more power and downforce would be better suited (e.g. a GT3 RS), but for a novice driver like me, the 718 was perfect to experience the track for the first time.
Silverstone is also located amongst some beautiful villages and roads, with plenty of great hotels available within 30-min drive from the circuit, making for a great weekend.
On to the next trip…
Another wet morning. So far Anglesey was the best in terms of the weather. Who would have expected that?
Those were my thoughts on a gloomy morning as I arrived at Brands Hatch. Briefing done, a wristband and a car sticker received, time for a noise check.
Brands Hatch has very strict noise regulations. My car was just 4dB under the noise limit (anyone still thinks that the 718 is muted?), but some race teams are permitted to have louder cars. One of the teams brought a Cayman GT4 racecar and Vantage racecar, both of which sounded absolutely heavenly as they drove by at full throttle before performing a few downshifts in the braking zone.
Brands Hatch trackday was a sessioned event, meaning, that unlike an open pitlane format, you can’t go in and out on to the track at any time you want during the day. All drivers are split into three groups (depending on their trackday driving experience), with each group only being permitted to use the track for 20 minutes every 40 minutes.
Anyways, enough text, here are some car photos for you.
Now, remember I mentioned the Cayman GT4 Clubsport? Well, things didn’t go so well for him…
This almost made me cry. I hope they had trackday insurance and the GT4 is fixed now…
Not sure if this was a related incident, but there was a very broken Zenos too:
With this in mind, it was time for me to join my group for another few laps on Brands Hatch:
In between the sessions, there was some time to check out other cars:
Brands Hatch GP circuit is possibly one of the riskiest racetracks to drive on. The run-off zones aren’t that big and the walls in some areas are very much concrete. Some drivers who brought slick tyres with them decided to use regular tyres instead.
Unlike the Indy circuit (which I’ve driven in my Golf), GP circuit does not seem to be too short - the straights are long enough and there is a mixture of longer, sweeping corners and hairpins, making this racetrack more suited for balanced cars with good levels of grip. I managed to get some tuition from a professional driver too, who was able to give me some tips as to when to brake and where to place the car on the track.
Brands Hatch is also amongst the few tracks to use blue lights. Which means that they just flash constantly and you don’t know if it’s for the car in front of you, or if they are flashing at you and there is a faster car coming from behind, or they just don’t bother to switch them off.
Brands Hatch is probably the most fun track for the 718. The straights are long enough to fully exploit the 300-horsepower 2-litre boxer, yet the track is not too big for it to feel overwhelming for the car. It also offers a few tricky corners of all sorts which allow you to develop your skills as a driver, as well as get a better understanding of your car’s chassis.
Remember that tyres do get quite worn after trackdays and I will need to change my P Zeros quite soon already, having only used them for about 6 months… The car did really, really well though. Apart from brake fade after 15 minutes of hard driving (which is normal), nothing ever overheated or went wrong. Porsches really are built for the track, so if you own one, do take it onto a track, you won’t be disappointed.
That’s all from me, hope you enjoyed this long and messy post. Drive safe.
Thanks for reading :)