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Performance Car of the Year 2018: Track Test

By David Morley | Photos: Ellen Dewar & Nathan Jacobs, 16 Feb 2018 Performance COTY

Performance Car of the Year 2018 Track Test

We grab a Bathurst 1000 winner and an empty racetrack to split the heroes from the hopefuls

Last time MOTOR rocked up to Winton, we managed to destroy a day’s hard work painting the floors of the pit garages by walking all over the still tacky paint.

Winton’s chief of all that must be obeyed, Charlie, came screaming through the pits, flashing his ute’s headlights and waving his arms out the window to stop us. But it was too late. Robbo – among others – had already stomped through the pits, leaving behind their size-10 evidence and sending Charlie and his crew back to the paint shop for another gallon of Berger Jet-Dry.

This year, Charlie was taking no chances. He lined us up, made eye contact, and requested (in his own, quiet, but meaningful way) that we refrain from doing burnouts at the start of our 400m runs.

Apparently, the bitumen at Turn 11 (which forms the start of our impromptu drag-strip) now sports two nasty gouges from the last MOTOR quarter-mile session. Oops.

Charlie’s other piece of advice was a bit more sobering: “Watch out for snakes,” he told us. “They’re everywhere this year. Don’t jump over the concrete walls without looking on the other side first. And it won’t get above 27 degrees today, so they (them Joe Blakes) will be out all day”.

Staying well clear of the tyre bundles was an equally obvious recommendation. Apparently, 2017 looks like a bumper year for snakes.

Apparently, they like lying on the warm hotmix first thing in the morning. Apparently, even a big ride-on mower doesn’t scare the bastards any more. Charlie now mows the grass at Winton with a 12-gauge shotty over his shoulder. Okay, I made that up, but you get the point.

So much for the snakes; what about the elephant? You know, the elephant in the room. As in: where’s Luffy? Well, while it may not seem like it, MOTOR does understand ethics.

True, we have trouble with the words ‘no’ and ‘drifting’ being used in the same sentence, but that’s just our normal reaction to any authority figure. But we understand we ultimately answer to you lot and that’s why Luffy was benched for PCOTY 2017.

Not that you, our dear readers, aren’t as fond of the Luffster as we are, but we actually wound up with a potential conflict of interest had we dragged the orange one down to Winton. How so?

Well, you may recall that Senor Luff was the main development driver for the HSV W1

Yep, a large part of the fact that the W1 is such a weapon is down to the input from W. Luff. To make matters stickier, the HSV team used Winton as the W1’s main test track, so that’s where Luffy did his best work. Now, the problem with all that is a two-parter.

First, that while we trust utterly Luffy’s professionalism, allowing him to be a judge in a contest involving a car he’d developed could be seen as an opportunity for some chicanery. Secondly, when the track we were going to use was the same track he and HSV had used, there also existed the chance that Luffy would be quicker in the W1 than he might have been if he’d gone in cold.

Add both those things up, and we couldn’t risk the internet trolls screaming blue murder. So Luffy got a DCM. Fear not, he’ll be back for the next MOTOR extravaganza.

So how do you replace such an intrinsic member of an established, experienced team? You go straight to the top, that’s how. Which is how we wound up acquiring the services of none other than David Reynolds, fresh from the top step at Bathurst and full of good cheer and his trademark sideways view of the world.

And in case you think Davey’s left-field quips are engineered for the TV cameras, believe me when I say that’s not the case. The bloke is genuinely as twisted (in a good way) as he seems on telly. He can also drive a car like very few people on Earth.

So how’d it all pan out? Alphabetically okay for you? Great, let’s begin.

You can see the lap times and corner speeds and whatnot for yourself below, but what those numbers don’t tell you is how each car felt. And the Alfa? Well, that felt like an Alfa. As in, an old-school Alfa. So that’s a good thing, then.

The fact is, the Giulia QV is so darn good, it makes you wonder why Alfa spent all those decades messing about with front-drive when the new QV is proof that rear-drive is the secret to a car like this.

Okay, so there’s more to it than simply which axle is driving, and 375 kilowatts are always going to have a pretty good chance of leaving their mark. The super-quick steering rack is another part of the puzzle. But throw all those things together and the Giulia is not only fast, it’s entertaining in a way Alfas haven’t been for yonks.

The Audi TT RS is what happens when you stick with a formula and hone the crap out of it. The yodelling five-cylinder is now an Audi RS ‘thing’ and the look of the TT still involves a little retro-ness, but it’s also become its own trademark over the years.

But while the badge says ‘quattro’, the understeer at the limits says Haldex and the TT RS remains a front-drive car with on-demand all-paw when the computer decides you need it. You can see it in the lap times. The V-max is handy enough, but it’s the slower corners that add the seconds – especially compared against the Cayman.

But that engine! Holy cow. True, it’s a tiny bit laggy and the gearbox is a fraction slow to kick-down when you jab the left paddle, but it’s good fun and would make an ordinary pilot look pretty sharp on a track.

The BMW M4 CS is a car that should really shine on the track, even if it loses a few points on-road. Fact is, for most of us, it was the other way around, and while we mortals reckoned it felt a bit wooden at Winton, it really came to life when you got it out in the real world and let that chassis do its thing.

The exception to all this was Reynolds who, with a skill set to make us look like motoring monkeys, really rated the CS on the track. It only just misses out on a podium in lap-time terms, too, and a large part of that is the torque curve that grabs you by the scruff and hurls you towards the next braking mark, like throwing a fat cat over a six-foot fence. (Hold ya emails, I like cats, okay?)

Pop quiz: Which of these two cars is going to have the most torque-steer; an all-wheel drive Focus RS or the front-drive Civic Type R? If you answered the Civic, you have clearly not driven one.

Fact is, there’s effectively zero torque-steer in the Honda. Or anything else to annoy you either. This is one resolved little car and on the track, that equates to a chassis that is lively enough to side-step, but stable enough to get through the Winton sweeper at a good pace.

Ultimately it wasn’t that fast, but that says more about the big-horsepower competition than the Civic. And by the way, it sure isn’t slow, either.

The other point is that the Type R will not only be a track-friendly car for those without Davey Reynolds’ experience, it’ll also go faster the better you get, so you won’t automatically outgrow it as a track-day car. Brilliant.

What can we say about the HSV GTSR W1 that hasn’t already been said? Designed for the track from the outset, it has the dry-sumped engine, the sticky tyres and the grunt to be a proper weekend weapon. And regardless of the physics tied up in its weight and bulk, it still managed to get around Winton at the pointy end of the field (once you ignore the ballistic Nissan anyway).

But more than that, it feels like a track-ready car, not something we’ve been able to say about too many HSVs over the years. Saving the best till last? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Reynolds was no fan of the Kia Stinger. But, just as the rest of us did in the case of the M4 CS, we couldn’t totally agree with him.

The gearbox with no intentions of obeying you was the biggest sticking point for most of us, but beyond that, the Kia actually turns in pretty well and has enough grunt to be entertaining between corners. Okay, so the rear end gets a bit lively (as you can see in the pictures) as you really stretch it out, but it’s relatively taut for the first nine-tenths.

Given that Lexus itself admits the LC500 is a grand tourer rather than a sports car, there were no prizes to be first to discover that it’s a bit underdone as a track car.

It really feels its weight and the light steering becomes a bit lifeless at speed. The engine, too, suffers the fate of many good atmo units – it can feel a bit flat and wanting on the track. The bottom line is that the LC500 never really encourages you to have a trackside crack.

Rarely has a car fallen into MOTOR hands that has such an epic motor as the twin-turbo V8 in the AMG E63 S. Even fully blown supercars would have trouble staying with it and a quick journey into drift mode and you can see why it’s now all-paw. But miraculously, driving the front axle hasn’t ruined the track experience.

It still bites pretty well and for all that mass, it feels balanced and always on the balls of its feet. It’s a bit of a win-win situation.

A lot of you would by now have guessed the GT-R Nismo would be the lap-time champ, but even then, it was amazing to see just how crushingly effective it was.

Forget the road manners, because here is a car that will lap Winton faster than the fastest Group C car ever did (an XE Falcon back in 2005, for reference). It feels immediately fast, too, with huge grip and that boosted V6 hauling you along like you’re on the end of a very fast winch.

The steering is fast, the diff sharp and the brakes so good that you’ll be needing different markers. Hell, it’s even pretty foolproof.

Awesome, as always, probably sums up the Porsche Cayman S. From what started as one of the most benign, balanced chassis in the world, Porsche has refined the deal and now fitted the 2.5-litre version of the turbo flat-four. It still doesn’t sound right to us, but the acceleration is scorching and the steering as accurate as anything else out there.

You can actually feel it searching for grip at the front and doing everything it can to help your cause. They don’t come much more tactile than this.

So, what about mechanical failures? Apart from a few tyres starting to shed a tread or two, only the one, which given what we did to them, is pretty amazing stuff. It’s a long way from the bad old days, too, where we’d have cars puking coolant, power-steering fluid and brake pedals going to the floor.

So which car blotted its copy book? The Nissan, surprisingly.

Follow the Performance Car of the Year 2018

Even then, it was a minor failure (although it could have created a major problem) limited to the 12-volt power-socket in the centre console refusing to power anything up. Including our Driftbox lap-timer. I checked the fuses and they were fine, so somewhere, in that web of intrigue that is a GT-R’s wiring loom, there must have been a glitch.

Why not just use the second power socket located inside the storage bin under the armrest? Glad you asked, because in a ‘normal’ GT-R, that’s exactly what you’d do. But in the Nismo version, that socket has become a USB port so you can download your horoscope or whatever it is kids do with these things.

A quick trip to the local parts shop had a set of alligator clips to connect the Driftbox straight to the battery.

Thankfully, it’s a crisis averted.

THE TRACK 

Since MOTOR’s relocation to Melbourne in late-2013, Winton has been our go-to track for testing.

Undoubtedly, location plays a big part in this but it’s also an extremely good place to test road cars – Ford, Holden and HSV are regular visitors. The recent resurface also changed the profile of a couple of corners shaving a couple of per cent off lap times but thankfully the track’s character – its bumps, kerbs and cambers – has largely remained intact.

It’s a fiendishly tricky place to get right, often requiring a driver to sacrifice speed in one corner (turns one, five and eight, for instance) in order to gain speed in the next. There’s also a great combination of straights and squiggles to ensure it doesn’t necessarily favour one type of car and it’s relatively low-speed, good for controlling engine and brake temperatures, as well as limiting the damage our meagre skills can manage.

THE DRIVER

Bathurst champion, Supercars personality and all-round good guy, David Reynolds is no second-rate option. The jokester from Albury doesn’t sugarcoat his words or quick wit for anyone and he’s a dab hand behind the wheel. He doesn’t like bakeries, though. Which is weird, really.

IN THE BEGINNING
A Formula Ford and Carrera Cup champ, Dave won his first Supercars race at the Gold Coast in 2013 with Dean Canto before grabbing his first solo win at Hidden Valley in 2015 with PRA.

‘THAT’ COMMENT
At the 2015 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, Dave infamously referred to the Harvey Norman Supergirls’ Falcon as the ‘Pussy Wagon’. We got his Kill Bill reference, but the $25,000 fine was a tough lesson in political correctness.

2017 BATHURST 1000 CHAMPION
An unlikely, but deserving, 2017 victory with co-driver Luke Youlden, Reynolds and Erebus proved to be the form Holden team all weekend in testing conditions with a mature race-winning drive. Dave also claimed the honour of the Barry Sheene Medal for his achievements throughout the 2017 season.

THE LAPTIMES