GRR

Ignore hypercars, track cars are the best... track cars | Thank Frankel it’s Friday

02nd September 2021
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Once in a while I get asked to drive a car. Well, in fact and perhaps not too surprisingly, that happens all the time in this line of work. But on the vast majority of those occasions I have then to write about it too. Indeed motoring journalists don’t get paid to drive, it’s just what we do in order to be able to write and therefore earn a living.

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Writing can be incredible on those occasions when you sit back and watch half decent words almost fall out of your fingers, but the truth is it’s rare. Most of the time it’s a long, hard, lonely struggle to craft a sufficient number of stories to the required standard to keep the proverbial roof over your head. Driving, by comparison, is a doddle. And driving without then having to write is a dream which, for me at least, sometimes come true.

It happened most recently when Bell Sport & Classic had a customer day at Donington where it had two Ferrari Challenge race cars in which to ferry current and prospective clients around the track. And while Bell Sport’s Peter Smith is a superb driver, not even he has mastered the art of driving two cars at once. So he asked me to help out.

And here’s the thing. You start to get delusions of grandeur. A 488 Challenge car may be Ferrari’s most affordable racer but with nearly 700PS (551kW), slicks and big wings it’s no slouch. No slouch at all in fact. Even the other car, a 15 year old F430 Challenge car was quicker by far than any other car at the track day we were attending. In the 488 driving around the track felt like negotiating an obstacle course full of barely moving vehicles.

So I spend the day howling around the track, wore my neck muscles into a two-day ache and generally had a thoroughly good time. And every time a new customer departed the car, slightly greener around the gills, it was with words of thanks and kind compliments about my driving. And I defy anyone to spend a day like that and not emerge feeling pretty damn pleased with his or her pedalling skills.

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But if I am honest with you and myself, the truth is what they were experiencing had very little to do with me, and everything to do with the car they were in, which in every case was unlike anything they’d travelled in before. It may be based on a street 488GTB and have the same engine, but the moment you fit race brakes and suspension, add slicks and some downforce, you enter an entirely different realm, one in which no conventional road legal car could hope to keep up.

And what I didn’t tell any of them was that I wasn’t actually trying that hard. You can’t if you’re expecting a set of expensive slicks to last a day, or for it still to have some brakes by the end. Sure, you go steaming down the straights but in the corners you’re at around eight tenths max. It also means that if someone else bins it in front of you, or drops oil, you still have some options. At ten tenths your trajectory is set and the car will go wherever you just pointed it. Also, I have to look in the eye the fact that I’m not some teenage hotshot who can be on the limit all day long with no more apparent effort than watching TV. These cars exert between 50 to 100 per cent more force on your body in any given corner than will a normal road car during a full emergency stop. So imagine doing that eight to ten times a lap on and off for a day. It beats you up after a while.

People often ask me what kind of track day car they should buy and a sizeable constituency have a reasonable amount of money to spend and, while not out to prove they’re the next Lewis, they’d also rather not spend their day looking in the mirrors. I always say get something that’s actually designed to do the job, and spend a small fraction of what you save over some mad hypercar on a tow car and trailer. At the top end this might be an old Challenge car, but it could also be a GT4 car like a Porsche Cayman or old Aston Vantage, or something far cheaper like a Radical or Ginetta. There would seem to be no glimpse of the obvious more blinding than to say track cars make the best track cars, but I still don’t think people appreciate just how different they really are. Travel in one, even as a passenger, and you’ll never look at them the same way again.

  • Andrew Frankel

  • Ferrari

  • 488

  • 488 Challenge

  • Track Cars

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