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Friday, 14 February 2014

Someone Please Explain The Trackday GT

The inspiration for this rant, from evo's Facebook page

There are many things about the motoring world that I still do not understand. Why can't they advertise cars as exciting? Why are safety regulations so different even within one continent, let alone comparing the EU to the US? Why do most foreigners insist on driving on the wrong side of the road? Why are there now Minis and Fiat 500s that are so big? And why are small crossovers such big business when they make no logical sense at all?

But flicking through my blog, you might start to think I'm only really interested in sleek, sporty stuff or racing cars. This isn't true, and in fact there are some small niches in this part of Motorworld that make little sense as well. One of them is the stripped-out GT car.

This is a car that was born as a big, comfortable long-distance four-seater which is then given a big daft wing and lashings of carbon fibre to make them more track-oriented and "hardcore." Usually they take the rear seats out as well, so they lose their practicality in the transformation. Prime examples include the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG CoupĂ© Black Series ("C63 Black" to its friends), Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale, Bentley Continental GT Supersports and the new Jaguar XKR-S GT. Oh yeah, they also tend to have pretty long names, too...

I just don't get these cars. If you want a car that's track-oriented, why would you get one that's so big and heavy? Nissan GT-R aside, because that thing is magic, a heavy car is bad on a track because it's slower off the line, slower on the brakes, slower in the corners, less aerodynamic and thirstier. Plus it's more likely to slide around because of the stronger centrifugal forces and has to have less give in the suspension in order to control that weight, meaning that the journey to/from the track will be unpleasant, so it's no longer a good GT car either. It's the same paradox as the "performance SUVs" that were so popular about 5 years ago. You're trying to put two opposites together into one car, making something that's compromised at both and best at nothing. They aren't true sports cars, they only pretend to be in order to grab a few more sales of an ageing model that's not in the limelight any more.

What's more, the manufacturers try to make up for this weight issue in two ways. The first is Clarksonian - more power. If you can't make it light and agile, then what's wrong with a bit of brute force? Some people like being Goliath instead of David, plus grand tourers tend to have a pretty big engine in a fairly relaxed state of tune, so waking up the 5.0 supercharged V8 in the XKR to add another 50 horsepower, for example, gives you a 560PS (552bhp) missile. Yes, high horsepower makes a fat car fast, but it also makes it wayward, so you end up with a hulking great drift machine instead of something to hunt down and dispatch all those Porsche GT3 RS's and tuned Godzillas. I'm sure it's hilarious fun and you'll look like Chris Harris, but you won't be going all that quickly and you'll get through rear tyres like Welsh weather gets through umbrellas (especially recently). Except that high-performance quasi-slick tyres cost an awful lot more than a new umbrella...

Another thing that bugs me about the Jaguar particularly is that when I think of Jaguar, a brash carbon fibre areo kit with matching giant rear wing and go-faster stripes isn't the look that comes to mind at all. Their old motto was "Grace, Space and Pace," and something with all those letters and carbon canards isn't graceful. With the rear seats taken out there isn't much in the way of space (for humans, at least), and with a meaty kerbweight of 1713kg all of its pace will most likely be in a straight line despite the downforce that the aero add-ons provide. But maybe that's just me. Adding "GT" to the name having made it less of a Grand Tourer is also slightly ironic, although they're instead referencing the FIA GT racing cars that Jaguar...... don't race against? Hmm.

How much better would an F-Type R-S GT be? Smaller, probably packing the same engine with the same power and about 100-200kg lighter. It would be a better track car and a better road car (assuming they calibrate the suspension well) because it'd be more forgiving and more agile at the same time. Only the shorter wheelbase would make it more of a handful. It could even rival the Porsche 911 GT3 (991), which even with a double-clutch gearbox and four-wheel-steering weighs about 300kg less than the XKR-S GT. That's half an original Mini!

I don't know. Maybe it's one of those things you don't get until you do it. Anyone got one I can borrow? I'm pretty handy at Gran Turismo, so I can probably manage a six-figure which-GT-do-you-mean GT car...

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