Data, data, data. The amount that we collate for our road tests is (smarm alert) one of the things that, we think, sets us apart from our rivals. But I’m wondering: can you have too much?
Specifically, I’m wondering about lap times. Now, we’re not alone in taking these. We’ve recorded them since we moved our road test figuring sessions to MIRA in 2007, and taken them on features and Handling Day sessions since long before that.
And I like them. They’re objective and repeatable and give a broad overview of a car’s capabilities, especially as we take them on wet and dry circuits.
The number that we get out of it isn’t always relevant to the buyer but, as assessors, we find out a lot about even an everyday hatchback’s stability, safety, traction and braking systems by punting it around a track.
And the thing is that we don’t drive absolutely flat everywhere. Drive every lap like it’s a qualifier and, eventually, even the best tame racing drivers will fall off. And we’re not tame racing drivers.
Drive at 80 per cent and you’ll be able to do it on a Monday morning after a rubbish commute or a Thursday afternoon after a cup of tea and a Twix, and whoever the tester, you’ll get the same result. Sometimes we try that with the same car, just to be sure.
Which can cause a problem. Say Ferrari turns up with a car. And a team. “It has the lightest options,” they say. “We’ll check the tyre pressures,” they’ll say. (“It’s not totally straight,” their rivals will say. But that’s by the by.) The lines risk being blurred if Porsche says “come and pick the car up from us in Reading, and drop it back when you’re finished”, while somebody else is leaning on you to push harder in their car.
But that’s not my beef. We’re quite happy to tell a crestfallen engineer that his car is slower than a 911 GT3 and that we’re pretty sure that we’ll fall off the circuit, to the mild annoyance of our insurers and great annoyance of our publisher, if we try to make it go any faster.
No, my concern is whether such lap times are ultimately beneficial – not just ours, but all of them, from the ones that gamers post in super-accurate simulations, to Top Gear’s Power Laps, to Sport Auto’s Nürburgring laps, to Ferrari’s own Fiorano times, to, well, seemingly every bloody manufacturer’s Nordschleife time.
Maybe it’s just time to stop. Stop it all, because although it’s significant in discovering a car’s capabilities, it has no bearing on whether we think you should buy one, or like one, or want one. We say so often enough, hence our excitement for the Toyota GT86 and that new three-pot Caterham.
But some people don’t believe us, and sadly they seem to work for car companies.