As usual, Sutcliffe and I had one of our informal ‘dices’. You learn an awful lot about a car’s behaviour if you follow it closely around a circuit.
At last year’s handling day at Goodwood I was in a Panamera and Sutters was in the Jag XFR. Two facts: one, unless Steve is eating a burger on his lap or bending down to tie a shoelace, I can’t keep up with him. Two, the Jag has a lot more power than the Porsche. That I could keep up with him means that the Porsche handles extremely well and that is not difficult to drive quickly.
This year we had a nice tussle in the Scirocco and Mégane, swapping cars after a few laps. Educational and great fun. There was a time when we’d have headed for the fastest cars present and hammered those around chasing each others’ tails.
That today we limit ourselves to slower cars is not that we’ve got older and wiser, which we haven’t, it’s because modern sports cars are so damned fast. To drive a 911 GT3 RS and Ferrari 458 Italia around Donington absolutely balls out requires a lot of determination, concentration and blanking out from your mind the fact that you’re not wearing Nomex and there is no harness or roll cage fitted to the car.
For years I’ve banged the drum for lightweight and modest horsepower. The most fun Atom I’ve ever driven had only 120bhp and skinny tyres. Interestingly, I’m no longer a lone voice.
Twice in the last month I’ve read articles written by young and quick journalists who said that cars are now getting too fast to be truly fun. Loads of colleagues will agree in conversation – if not in print – and more than a few car company engineers would nod in agreement.
We need a new generation of sports cars that put the emphasis on involvement and interaction, not on power outputs and lap times. I’m optimistic because I’m convinced that there’s a groundswell of opinion that agrees with me.