I decided to arrange its maiden trackday outing at Castle Combe, with BookaTrack.com. I’d driven at Combe a few times before in my old TT Coupe and VXT, so at least I would know my way around the circuit, which I think is always a help with an unfamiliar car.
The day was run in sessions and I was put in the “advanced but non-Caterham” group, which contained an extremely diverse and impressive selection of machinery including a Ferrari 575M, a 996 GT3 RS, an S2 Exige, some tuned Skylines and a host of other modified and competition cars. I have to say I felt slightly intimidated as I rumbled out of the pitlane in the first session, deliberately positioning myself at the rear of the group while I got used to the Cayman’s on-track manners.
To begin with, I left the car in its default setting of PASM normal, Sport Chrono (SC) normal. The car was a bit floaty and wallowy in this mode, with the throttle response out of the chicanes feeling sluggish and I could really notice the PSM stability control knocking the power back a tad on the exits of some of the corners. After a few laps I engaged SC sport mode, but left PASM on normal – which is my preferred on-road configuration. This felt a bit sharper, but there was still too much float and wallow for optimal circuit use.
In every subsequent session I put the car in full Sport mode (PASM sport, SC sport), which proved to be much better. The car ‘sat down’ more readily and felt totally underneath me. I kept PSM switched on all day. I could feel the system intrude a few times, usually on the exit of the second chicane and occasionally at Quarry (the trickiest and most unforgiving corner on the circuit). It may also have affected the car’s behaviour under braking, because the brakes pulsed a little more than I was expecting them to – and the pedal felt a bit ‘long’ as the afternoon wore on.
During the first session after lunch, the digital display within the central tachometer flashed up a message saying something like ‘check bulb’. My left rear indicator bulb had popped out of its socket and was rattling round inside the rear light cluster housing.
Removing the bulb socket unit was easy, but it proved impossible for me to get the bulb out of the housing using just my fingers! “Luckily” [copyright S Rockman], the garage next to the circuit fabricated a bespoke part for me (for free), consisting of some welding wire bent into a hook-shape, with some black sticky tape over one end.
I then put this wire through the small hole where the bulb would normally sit, stuck the bulb to the sticky tape, and retrieved it through the hole. For a thoroughly non-practical bloke like me, this was a heady achievement!
Most of the other guys in the group were pretty complimentary about the car and how it looked and sounded out on the circuit. It was just a shame I couldn’t actually hear it at full chat from the outside myself! The other Porsche drivers were especially keen to have a sit in it.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the car at Combe, but not absolutely blown away by it. The acceleration seemed a little lethargic, which was perhaps exacerbated by the wide-open nature of the circuit and the relatively high corner exit speeds. The car didn’t feel particularly edgy (which is a good thing), but by the same token it didn’t give me the highest buzz of excitement. Perhaps Combe isn’t best suited to the Cayman, or perhaps I just wasn’t on top form behind the wheel that day.
The car’s second track outing took place at Bedford Autodrome. This is a terrific venue – flat and smooth, with plenty of runoff and a good mix of high and low speed corners. I’d driven the South Circuit back in 2003 as part of the ‘free’ Palmersport day on buying my VXT, whereas the layout for this particular event was a combination of the South and West circuits. I put the car in full Sport mode from the start, and once again kept PSM switched on throughout.
The Cayman felt completely at home at the Autodrome, which allowed me to build my confidence very quickly and then enjoy exploiting the car’s composure through the faster corners. Smoothly feeding in the power on the exit of third-gear sweepers and riding out the deliciously progressive oversteer was tremendous fun. I was lapping pretty quickly too, making up time on just about everything through the quick third-gear lefts in particular. The brakes felt strong throughout, despite having to cope with some serious stops from north of 130 mph.
It was great to see another Cayman S at the circuit, meaning that finally I could get to hear what the car sounds like at full chat. ‘Jet-fighterish’ would come close. Mr Yu was there too in his Phwoar-vette, which looked the absolute business and was probably the quickest car all evening. I even had the pleasure of seeing him have a big spin exiting the last corner. He’d got it very sideways there on the previous lap, which had prompted me to say “Ooh, good save” to the person standing next to me in the pitlane. On the next lap, I said “There’s no way he’s going to save that” – about two seconds before the laws of physics took their inevitable course!
I’ve put 6,500 miles under the wheels now, and the car seems to be getting even quicker as the engine continues to loosen up. I’m seriously impressed with my steed, and still look forward to every drive.
Castle Combe pictures: BookaTrack.com Ltd & Jakob Ebrey Photography Ltd