Friday, April 24, 2009
Hung out to dry
I had something akin to a religious experience last Thursday. You see, ever since the TVR’s rather sobering performance at North Weald I’ve been slightly concerned about its wet weather handling. The new setup certainly works well in the dry, but there was no way of knowing if it had cured the vicious snap oversteer which presented itself on that soaking airfield. And so, as torrents of rain lashed against my office window in the morning, I couldn’t help feeling more than a little bit apprehensive about my track session that evening.
Things didn’t improve in the afternoon either as I trundled along the M25 in a dense cloud of spray while the heavens continued to open. Memories of Brands Hatch’s unsettling gradient changes and cambers remained lodged in the back of my mind, along with the notions of minimal run off area and solid-looking barriers. ‘Oh dear’ I thought, ‘what have I let myself in for?’ Yet, as I turned off the A20 and into the circuit’s familiar gates, something very strange happened - the downpour eased off. Then, despite 24 hours of incessant deluge, forecast to continue for the rest of the day, the rain stopped completely, the clouds parted and miraculously even a hint of golden sunshine appeared.
There was plenty of time to meet the other attendees as the organisers first delayed our start time, then announced they were shortening the session by half an hour. Next came the noise test – often an issue for TVR’s more vocal offerings, but I was quietly confident, having carried out a DIY test at well below the session’s advertised 105dB limit. Except, as the marshal explained when my car registered a slightly suspect 104.9 dB, that was no longer the limit - they’d dropped it to 102. Great.
As the better prepared TVR owners started bolting on additional silencers I had no choice but to opt for a slightly more devious approach. I apologetically explained to the tester that actually I’d made a mistake and the test had been more like 90% of maximum revs, not the stated three quarters. Just to be on the safe side I went for a slightly economical 3,500rpm next time round and got the coveted ‘noise test passed’ sticker. “Just don’t floor it going out the pits,” commented the marshal, who clearly believed the story about as much as I did. Still, I was ready to go.
With the tarmac now bone dry I took one last glance up at the sky and elected to stow the hood before venturing out. Taking it easy at first, initial impressions were good. You sit fractionally higher in the TVR than in the Caterham I previously drove at Brands and it made even the blind crest and steep, off-camber plunge of Paddock Hill Bend seem less ominous. It was more than just a case of eye level though – the car was handling superbly. The new, firmer damper settings had sharpened up the turn in somewhat and the car felt more nimble, despite retaining a fundamentally neutral balance. When provoked by a sharp lift or a determined burst of throttle the back end could be coaxed out somewhat faster than it had before, but it remained a progressive, well-telegraphed event to savour rather than anything to fear.
As the session progressed it became obvious that the TVR had the measure of most of the naturally aspirated MX5s which made up the bulk of this Mazda on Track event. However a somewhat-modified turbocharged example proved the exception, pulling away easily along the main straight. I’d spoken to the owner beforehand and meant to find him at some point for a passenger ride, but sadly never did. One car I did get out in was the 4.5-litre TVR Cerbera of a man known simply as Mad Graham. Far from being insane he proved to be a very smooth, competent driver and demonstrated that the much-maligned Cerbera, despite having a massive 250bhp increase over the S3, needn’t be a monster either.
Suitably impressed I returned to my somewhat humble machine and lapped on and off until the chequered flag came out. As the session drew to a close and the light began to fade everyone agreed it had been an evening well spent. In fact, the track time proved so much fun I now find myself contemplating a dedicated track day toy. What’s more the TVR continued to impress with another superb performance, keeping up with some much more powerful machinery and putting a broad grin on my face in the process. There was just one thing however. Travelling back with the roof down and the stars beginning to appear above it suddenly occurred to me; I still hadn’t had a chance to find out how the it handles in the wet.