Getting down to some proper driving

IMG_0654_HotMarques_1600_49831a379b5ed-lightboxAs I’d missed the tail-end of the trackday season in 2007 thanks to a poorly timed injury to my hand and more than a little conspiracy from the mechanical gods, I was really keen to get up to Knockhill, my local track, and recreate some of the magic I’d experienced at the Nurburgring the previous summer and inspired me to buy the car in the first place.

Having made a decent start on renewing various electrical components, the winter of 2007 going into 2008 saw the renewal of most of the underbonnet wiring, along with new heat shielding and ties to make the whole thing look neater. While I was in there, I took the opportunity to try a little experiment – the airboxes sit directly above the exhaust manifold, and on the Tuscan racers TVR saw fit to add a metal plate to act as a heat shield between the two, so I reasoned that, seeing as I had a sheet of heat shield matting in hand, I’d try coating the bottom of the airboxes and measure temperatures at the intake trumpets to see if I could achieve a drop in intake temperatures.

Although the newly silver coated boxes look the business (if you were very small and sitting on the exhaust manifolds looking up), tests on the effect on the intake temperatures were inconclusive. Although the average trumpet temperature (measured with an IR thermometer) dropped by around one degree across three runs, variation between trumpets was as high as two degrees and variation between runs on a single was as high as two and a half degrees. I’d like to imagine it’s made a difference though!

Before the trackday season got going, I’d also attended to replacing the tired looking windscreen washer hoses with clear poly hose, re-greased the steering rack, replaced the rear driveshaft gaiters and, in a moment of uncharacteristic narcissism, replaced the coloured side repeater and indicator lenses for clear items (sold as the reversing lights for an MOD armoured personnel carrier, no less!).

I’d also taken the car into a local specialist for its 6k service. In a way it grates a little to pay a not-insubstantial sum for someone else to do little more than change the oil and filter and give the car the once over, but I guess it’s a necessary evil given the importance potential owners place on a fully stamped-up service book.

Finally March arrived and I was ready to give the 1.3 miles of Knockhill’s tarmac a decent V8-powered pounding. Unfortunately, conditions weren’t exactly ideal – the Scottish weather was typically Scottish, and I found myself lying in a big puddle, sleet being propelled up my trouser leg by 50mph winds, wondering why the rear dampers resolutely refuse to shift from their dry settings.
Undeterred by sub-zero track temperatures or the fact that a Skyline had decided that its oil wanted to be anywhere other than in its sump, I ventured out regardless and joined the other drivers in tiptoeing round the river-striped track.

I kept it on the black stuff but the experience was fairly disappointing – unable to use more than a tickle of throttle anywhere and having to constantly move out of the way of the various rally teams out testing their kit. It did however, serve as a pretty solid lesson in car control, and back at home with some warm seeping back into my extremities and the sense of white-knuckle fear subsiding a little, I realised that the experience had provided valuable insight into the car’s handling that I hadn’t been able to glean from my previous dry track expedition, or road driving in winter conditions.

Armed with this newfound experience, a couple of clicks wound off the dampers, and slightly less inclement conditions, the second track outing was far more enjoyable. Still streaming wet, my absolute pace still wasn’t up with the big power 4wd stuff, but confidence was way up – so much so that I was drifting round the hairpin whenever traffic would allow, and having a ball into the bargain.

Even after a reasonable time owning the car, I’m still surprised at the amount of love there is out there for the Cerbera. Even though I was a long way off the pace of the fastest stuff, there was still a long list of requests for passenger rides and even comments of encouragement from the marshals about my sideways antics!

It took another two wet outings before the gods of Celtic weather decided to smile on me and call off the tempest for long enough to put some dry laps in, during which time I’d built up enough confidence to be regularly cooking the brakes towards the end of the two hour sessions. This led me to fitting some Pagid endurance pads at the front and filling the system with super-expensive Castrol SRF.

With so much wet experience behind me, driving my home circuit in the dry was an absolute dream, and the car was clearly on the pace of most of the fastest road cars, but with higher ambient temperatures, much higher speeds and no water to help the cooling effort, the brakes were beginning to suffer even more, despite the new fancy-pants upgrades.

In some ways its unfair to blame the car too badly, as the problem really stems from the unique layout of Knockhill, with two very heavy braking zones and a lack of decent straight to get any meaningful cooling done. Two hour sessions don’t help either, as it’s plenty long enough work the brakes hard, but not long enough that you can take lengthy breaks without feeling like you’re missing out on track time. Still, regardless of cause, I’m going to be doing plenty more short sessions at this track, so fitting some brake cooling ducts has been promoted towards the top of the job list.

Track work aside, the first few months of the year also saw a couple of extended road-trips, both with and without family in tow, proving the TVR’s grand-touring credentials.

The overwhelming feature of the car is the other-worldly power – squeezing the throttle at any speed is a bit like standing on the testicles of a fairly ill-tempered dragon. The harder you squeeze the louder and more violent the response. A gentle prod will be met with a bark and a surge of positive shove. A stomp elicits what feels like a short pause while the fire-breathing one takes in the severity of what you’ve just done, before delivering the sort of forward motion usually reserved for quite small objects being hit at some velocity by large heavy ones, and the sort of vocal accompaniment that you’d expect from an irate mythological reptile.

The speed it piles on is extremely impressive too. Whilst the double-ton still remains tantalisingly elusive, the Cerbera can certainly prove its ability to dispatch 996 Turbos and their ilk as the numbers get bigger.
The one minor criticism I would have with regard to long distance motorway driving is that the stiffness of the suspension and quickness of the steering necessitates quite frequent inputs, especially when pushing on, meaning that one is relatively busy at the wheel compared to a more softly set up car – quite mentally tiring after the six-plus hour motorway run to London!

That said, I regard A-roads as the car’s natural habitat, where the “busy-ness” feels like alertness, like a sprinter up on his toes. It feels alive and actively encourages you to exploit its edginess to deliver light-footed changes of tack in the tighter, more technical bits, lean on the abundant grip through the longer, faster stuff and really get the most out of that wonderful engine across a range of road and surface types.

Even after a good few months with the car and a good feel for its on-limit handling from the various trackdays, I’m still not completely comfortable to give it ten tenths on the public road – partially because the car is quite intimidating up at those heights and can be upset by camber switches or larger surface imperfections, and partially because ten tenths equals sufficiently big speeds to make any misjudgement catastrophic. That’s not to say that the front and back wheels are always pointing in the same direction, but I do try to keep things neat and tidy when pressing on.

A certain degree of fear is a good thing too – not only is it the mechanism which prevents the talent/perception of talent disparity leading to a horrible and fiery demise, but it means that you’re still learning. When a car runs out of things to teach you, or stops giving you the incentive you carry on learning them, then it’s time to move on. And I can’t see that happening any time soon.

 

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Neil Broome