It’s all to do with tyre choice!

9226_152830998500_832683500_2586383_1158_4ad60100687d6-lightboxAs most of you are aware the R26.R comes with optional track spec Toyo R888s. These are a must in those summer months when attacking your Ring personal bests, but come autumn and the threat of showers or full on wet weekends and the benefits start to look a little bit more compromised. This month’s European jolly proved them to be at different times either the best or worst thing about the car.

As usual the week leading up to the trip was spent scanning various weather websites to check out what the forecast was and to be honest things didn’t look good. Still, any chance to combine the two legendary circuits at Nurburg & Spa Francorchamps was not to be missed so we set off safe in the knowledge that at least one of those tracks has some run off area!

The Ring visit proved to be a typical Eifel day of showers and light rain but we managed to get in a couple of good laps before it got too bad. News of our friend’s GT3 RS hitting the barriers resulted in some time off at Pinocchio’s for one of their giant pizzas before deciding there was nothing to be gained and a whole lot more to be lost by venturing out again, so we set off to Spa in preparation for the next two track days. If you’ve never made the journey I can’t recommend it enough. The roads from Adenau at the Ring to Spa in Belgium may only be 100 or so km but they truly are some of the greatest bits of tarmac you’ll come across with a Nissan GTR spurring you on, some fantastic driving is there for the taking.

The next day dawned dull and cold but after an hour or so a dry line appeared and the car was again on top form. The chance to drive any F1 circuit is awesome in its own respect but Spa truly is something else. the combination of fast but technical curves with some wicked gradient & camber changes makes for for one hell of a challenge and yet again I couldn’t have wished for a better car to tackle them in. Interestingly, the high grip asphalt surface showed up a touch more understeer than I’m used to but all in all the car coped superbly. Of course while we headed off to lunch the inevitable happened, the heavens opened and it only got worse over the next two days.

Now, this is where you guess I’m going to complain about the tyres but to my surprise they really came into their own. Front wheel drive predictability and relatively low power resulted in some of the best fun I’ve ever had on track. The angles of slip that could be generated and the ease with which any slide could be controlled resulted in the little blue shopping trolley humbling some truly exotic machinery. In fact so little came past we were left to conclude that if a set of race wets had been fitted it would be a fair bet it would’ve been the fastest car out there.

Unfortunately things didn’t stay that way; as usual I’d left it a little bit late in setting off for the ferry which resulted in a cross country dash in not exactly optimum conditions for a car wearing semi slick tyres. For some reason, on the continent the water just doesn’t clear from their roads like it does on ours and the resulting puddles completely lifted the car off the ground at anything over 70 mph. With the sat nav predicting one  and a half hours for the journey and our ferry check in closing in one hour there was nothing else to do.

Seeing cars in your rear view mirror backing off from you as you travel down a motorway sideways is not something I ever want to repeat and a few times I did think to myself it wasn’t worth causing an accident for. Every glassy looking puddle that came into view caused my grip to tighten around the wheel in preparation for the inevitable skating feeling that lets you know that your car is floating and completely out of control. It’s funny the number of times you see nervous drivers clinging on to the steering wheel for dear life while you casually tell them to slacken their grip and feel the car so that they can control it, but believe me I don’t think I relaxed one moment all the way through Belgium and Holland; as they say “never again”!

After a few pints onboard we agreed that although the car was a handful it really was our own fault for not allowing more time. We knew the reputation for wet weather handling was compromised but if we’d been able to sit at a relaxed pace it would have been fine. If you’re driving one of these as a day to day car in Britain, I honestly think the easiest thing to do would be to buy a second hand set of wheels for winter months keeping the Toyos for track work.

As for costs this month I needed to put a fresh set of brake pads on while in Belgium, but the tyres are still holding on. One more trip this year to the ring should see them finished off, so don’t forget to log on for next month’s instalment where I think I’ll give a breakdown of everything spent so far and exactly what it costs to run one these as a track car for a year.

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craig Winter