Currently reading: Opposites attack: Porsche 911 Turbo S vs Formula 4 race car
Porsche's 911 Turbo S is a seriously fast road car, but can it defeat a 185bhp F4 single-seater on a track?

The latest Porsche 911 Turbo S is one of the fastest road cars that money can buy.

It has 552bhp and 516lb ft of torque, puts its power all over the road courtesy of a complex four-wheel drive system and can, as a result, cover ground more efficiently than almost any other road car on earth. And it costs £140,852.

For less than a third of that, however, you could arm yourself with a device that could lap any circuit in Britain much faster than a 911 Turbo S. And for half of that again, you could pay to enter said device into a bona fide racing championship and find out if you have what it takes to become the next Lewis Hamilton.

Or, more realistically, find out if your son or daughter has what it takes to become the next you-know-who.

But even if you just fancied running a Formula 4 car at track days every now and then, you’ve got to admit that £45k for a fully tooled-up single-seater that could run rings around anything else that turned up is, in all sorts of ways, a mouth-watering prospect.

But how fast, ultimately, can a single-seater like the new F4 machine be when it has but a mere 185bhp from a 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine? Fair enough, the spaceframe chassis and part-carbonfibre safety cell of the F4 car mean that it weighs little more than a cup of tea, but surely it can’t compete with the pure grunt of the Porsche on the straight bits of the average circuit? 

And even if the F4 can stop rather well, courtesy of its AP Racing brakes, and changes gear instantly, thanks to its trick new Sadev six-speed paddle-shift gearbox, the PDK-equipped 911 Turbo S also has a reputation for being able to swap cogs faster than you can think. It’s quite good at slowing down, too.

So what actually happens when a 552bhp, 1605kg Turbo S squares up to 185bhp and 470kg of Van Diemen-designed Formula 4 car on a circuit? Does the F4 car just disappear into the distance at the first corner, never to be seen again? Or are there areas in which they overlap? Are there parts of the circuit, in other words, where the heavier but far more potent 911 can keep up or even pull away?

We went to the West Circuit at Bedford Autodrome to find the answer, and we chose the West because it has a decent mix of straights, which would in theory favour the 911, and corners, which would suit the F4 car. 

Read the Porsche 911 Turbo S first drive

According to Caparo T1 second on 1min 14.8sec. But to give you an idea of what sort of times more normal supercars are capable of, the McLaren 12C is listed at 1min 19.6sec, the 2012 Nissan GT-R 1min 20.1sec and the Noble M600 1min 20.8sec

Back to top

And to give you an idea of how mighty the new 911 Turbo S is, it thumped in a 1min 19.2sec on its first flying lap of the day. Which was pretty extraordinary for such a usable, everyday kind of supercar. 

But what was more surprising still was what happened when we put both cars out on the circuit at the same time, me in the F4 car and Autocar’s resident hired gun, Mauro Calo, in the Porsche.

Because on cold tyres, and with muggins sitting behind its digitised steering wheel, the F4 car was nowhere beside the 911. It understeered badly where the Porsche sliced into corners.

It locked its slick front tyres everywhere and very nearly went into the back of the 911 under brakes at one rather terrifying point. And on the way out of corners, it was left for dead. The 911 would rocket away, not just with better traction but with massively more acceleration as well. 

To begin with, in fact, the F4 car felt oddly underwhelming at Bedford, even though its gearchange felt super-precise, its engine surprisingly willing and its cockpit suitably like that of a junior F1 car.

But the problem with the F4 car initially was me, not it, because to get a relatively low-powered single-seater that uses slicks and wings to generate its speed, rather than its primary power source (in other words, its engine), you need to drive it in a particular kind of way. 

You need to get heat into its tyres and air travelling as rapidly as possible across its wings, and if you don’t, you go nowhere, slowly, and it all feels a bit disconnected as a consequence. And the 911 Turbo S murders it in the process.

But once you learn how to unlock its box of secrets – by getting heat into its tyres, basically – there is a quite extraordinary transformation that occurs in the F4 car. The faster you go, the more speed you can carry everywhere, and as the grip levels go up, so does your confidence, and so it goes on.

Until you reach a point where you find yourself operating the car using minuscule inputs at the steering wheel, with quite violent but short, sharp prods on the brake pedal (with your left foot, not your right, just as you do in a kart) and using full throttle absolutely as often as you can.

Back to top

And once the heat comes and you can bring yourself to go fast enough to light the wings up too, the ability of the F4 car to cover ground becomes quite breathtaking, literally. And after a while, you discover that it really can run rings around the Turbo S in a way that, an hour previously, you didn’t think was possible.

And because it can brake tens of yards later into every corner and carries miles more speed into and out of each corner, the F4 car doesn’t actually get that badly dropped on the straights, either, in the end.

In the end, I did a 1min 13.0sec lap in the F4 car, which was over six seconds quicker than I managed in the 911. Of arguably more significance, though, was the fact that this was also a shade quicker than the 455bhp Radical SR8 LM’s outright lap record as well – with just 185bhp. 

That’s how much raw performance the F4 car can generate. Bear in mind, too, that a top-line driver would shave at least another second off that time. No wonder the F4 grids are full to bursting. And no wonder the 911’s tyres were looking more than a touch frayed by the end of the day.

Porsche 911 Turbo S

Price £140,852 0-62mph 3.1sec Top speed 198mph Economy 29.1mpg (combined) CO2 227g/km Kerb weight 1605kg Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3800cc, twin-turbo, petrol Power 552bhp at 6500rpm Torque 516lb ft at 2100rpm Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Formula 4 race car

Price £45,000 0-62mph 2.94sec Top speed 142mph Economy 11mpg CO2 NA Kerb weight 470kg Engine 4 cyls in line, 1998cc, petrol Power 183bhp at 6750rpm Torque 148lb ft at 5250rpm Gearbox 6-speed sequential manual

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Join the debate

Add a comment…
eseaton 2 August 2014

Road car are pathetic on tracks.

That road cars are feeble track cars is surely obvious, which makes the endless pursuit of 'F1 car on the road' technology laughable.

They are not fast on a track. Really, none of them are. And I really don't know why anyone cares how fast these risable F1 gearshifts are - it makes no difference to anything of consequence.

The only things that a road car can do that is 'cool' is, look good, sound good, and be a rewarding challenge to drive. Everything else in nonsense. (Does anyone seriously buy in to this guff about cars like the FXX - 'buyers will be part of the development team'. Right.)

Road cars are being sent in a bad direction, in substantial part by journalists who encourage or buy in to all this delusion. They are catastrophically slow per £; always have been, always will be.

But they can still be lovely things if judged by the correct criteria. And that is absolutely NOT a lap time of the Nurburgring.

275not599 2 August 2014

Well I found this

Well I found this interesting, but I am bracing myself for whiners along the lines of "they are not comparable", "can't take the formula car to Waitrose" etc. etc. I wonder how far back you would need to go for a current super car to match F1? Maybe the 3ltr F1 cars of around 1970. I think they did 0-100 in about 5.5 and, though they had wings, didn't have ground effect underbodies.
michael knight 2 August 2014

always interested in this stuff

275not599 wrote:

I wonder how far back you would need to go for a current super car to match F1? Maybe the 3ltr F1 cars of around 1970. I think they did 0-100 in about 5.5 and, though they had wings, didn't have ground effect underbodies.

Yep - i find those kind of comparisons fascinating, particularly the historical ones. At the same time it's crazy to witness the march of progress; to think that a Tesla would be quicker than a Ferrari Daytona to 100mph?! Mental.