On track – Blyton Park
It’s chilly and wet when we arrive at Blyton Park with the TT RS and its rivals. Our second attempt to bag some dry laps has also been thwarted, but today we’ll unpack the VBOX and press on regardless. With the ambient temperature around nine degrees the tyres stand a chance of working, but with the track slick from overnight rain this is going to be not only a test of traction but also of balance and progressive breakaway characteristics.
For consistency’s sake we’ll drive with ESP disabled on all three cars. Not just because doing so reveals their true on-and over-the-limit traits, but because a few exploratory laps with electronics active shows the systems are too restrictive to permit decent lap times, even in their most generous modes. Seat of the pants it is, then.
It only takes a few corners to deduce the M2 is going to have a fight on its hands. The lack of traction isn’t a great surprise, but it is a hindrance. The bigger problem is the abruptness with which traction is breached. A tendency to oversteer on turn-in doesn’t help matters, so you’re always chasing the M2’s tail. That sounds worse than it is, but every slip, slide and flurry of wheelspin wastes precious tenths at every corner.
You need to be quick to stay on top of it, but ironically the steering is a little too responsive, forcing you to do that trickiest of things: make sharp, precise inputs. What tends to happen is you sometimes over-correct, which makes for scrappy progress. It’s definitely exciting, but not a car you can relax with for a moment, at least when showing it full commitment against the clock. The resulting 1:11.60 is hard won, but not, I suspect, hard to beat.
The inclement weather plays to the TT RS’s strengths, but the Audi isn’t at home on track. It puts down the rampant five-cylinder motor’s power and torque to terrific effect: a look at the data trace shows that whenever the wheels are straight, the TT romps away. There’s grip to lean on in the corners, too, but when you do eventually find the limits of traction and lateral grip, it needs careful handling. The chicane that feeds you into the long, crucial left-hander at Lancaster highlights the TT’s propensity to oversteer on a closed throttle. Quick direction changes have a kind of Scandinavian-flick effect, which needs steering lock, throttle and a fair bit of space to catch.
Consequently you tread a fine line between working just to the TT’s limits and going way over them. The former is hugely effective, but not much fun; the latter needs space for the Haldex all-wheel-drive system to sort things out. What sweet spot there is between those two is fleeting and inconsistent, but the RS’s 1:10.35 is hard to argue with.
And so to the Cayman S. A mid-engined car with lots of torque should be a handful – at least in theory – but the Porsche is far and away the nicest, most exploitable and most enjoyable car to push for a time. It’s also the only stick-shift car here, which probably costs it a few tenths but immediately makes it more fun.
The four-cylinder engine works well, summoning strong torque across a broad rev range, and the carbon-ceramic brakes are the best of the bunch, both for feel and ABS intervention. The conditions are so slippery that all three cars rely heavily on their anti-lock-braking systems. Frustratingly, on the Cayman’s best lap I’m actually a bit timid on the brakes at the end of the straight, which probably costs a tenth or two.
The 718 doesn’t have the traction of the TT, but it’s progressive when the rear end does break away under acceleration. It also has truly sublime balance. Nowhere more impressively than the fast right-left at Port Froid, where it carries and sustains considerably more speed because the rear axle is so much better planted. Of the three, it’s the car I want to stay out in and keep lapping, which speaks volumes, even if the eventual best of 1:11.01 hands a convincing win to the TT RS.
Audi TT RS: 1:10.35
Porsche Cayman S: 1:11.01
BMW M2: 1:11.60