Turns out Porsche wasn’t that stoked with our attempt to get its then-new Porsche 911 Turbo banned from Sydney Dragway’s Race-for-Real Wednesday night street drags.
This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s January 2011 issue
You see, in line with Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) rules, any car that completes the 400m sprint in less than 11.0sec must be fitted with a roll-cage, fire extinguisher and various other safety gear. One of these items includes a parachute if you exceed 140mph (225.302km/h).
None of that was really an issue for Porsche. The problem had more to do with the fact that the Aussie PR bloke wasn’t technically informed that we were going engage his $400K press car in a motor race. It was a minor detail that slipped my mind.
Secondly, and although Porsche Oz was roundly impressed at the 911 Turbo’s emphatic performance – my best run was 11.025sec @ 205.40km/h – Stuttgart doesn’t take kindly to losers. And my ineffectual attempt in getting the 911 Turbo banned rendered the hierarchy unamused. In contrast, my colleagues found my so-close-yet-so-far effort to be priceless.
Apparently, it only takes 0.026sec to go from hero to Village Idiot. Dep-ed Dupriez found it riotously funny to brand me as “Mister two-tenths” for weeks after. Of course, any time spent in my defence, pointing out that I only actually missed out by two hundredths, rather than two tenths, would only incite more laughter.
Even a long-time reader got in on the act. But at least he offered some useful advice. “If you creep past the final staging mark, don’t reverse back into stage. Reverse back past it and creep forward again,” he said.
Classic MOTOR: 997 911 Turbo
The thinking behind it was to allow myself an extra wheel rotation before the car trips the three-foot (one metre) start-line timing beacon. When you’re chasing hundredths and getting wheelspin off the start line, every rotation helps, especially when the circumference of the 911’s rear tyre is more than two metres.
But despite the volley of criticism, I’d argue that my near-miss wasn’t totally unexpected. I mean, the only reason you’d build something like, I dunno, a 911 Turbo S for instance, is solely because the ‘standard’ Turbo isn’t quite ballsy enough, right? It makes sense.
In fact, it made enough sense for Stuttgart to do just that, and craft a demon that could out-monster the fearsome 911 Turbo. Remember, the less potent stocker was still the fastest production car that MOTOR has ever tested, despite my failure to get the thing banned.
The Turbo’s bare specs require some prudent consideration before you strap in and kick it in the slats. Its twin-turbo 3.8-litre flat-six produces 368kW at 6000rpm and 700Nm between 2100-4000rpm. Weighing just 1595kg, it equates to a formidable 231kW/tonne power-to-weight ratio. If he was still alive, what would dear old Ferdinand Porsche say?
Probably the same word I spoke as I launched the Turbo for the first time. In truth, the launches weren’t ideal that night. Temperatures were in the early teens, and the track/tyre temperature combination couldn’t muster enough grip for the Turbo to launch perfectly. But when it did hook up, at about 10km/h or so, boy did it unleash.
Once you’ve experienced the relentless acceleration for the first time, it’s no longer scary. That’s because the Turbo does it so easy. There’s the forceful whoosh of the twin turbochargers at full throttle, but even that gets drowned out by wind noise by about 180km/h. There’s no shakes, vibrations, clunks or bangs to give any sense that the car is working hard.
The actual terminal speed you’re carrying by the 400m mark is deceptive – it all happens so quickly and effortlessly, and the high-speed stability is such that it belies the actual numbers. My mind was at least 50km/h in arrears: which is less than ideal when you’re driving a car like this.
However, my incompetence didn’t seem to prevent Porsche calling five months later to offer the services of the new Turbo S. This time, however, I was given clear instructions: “get it banned, Cleary.” Disobedience wasn’t an option.
Weighing in at 1585kg, the S is 10 kegs lighter than the stock Turbo, but is basically the same car. The main difference is an extra 0.2bar of boost pressure that nets it another 22kW, with an unimproved 700Nm torque figure that is spread over an extra 250 revs: 2100-4250rpm. The resultant power-to-weight is up 15kW at 246kW/tonne. More than enough to squeeze out an extra three hundredths, I reckon.
There’s no getting cute by avoiding lunch and blasting it down the strip on the mere smell of fumes this time: we’re going to do it properly. After a good meal, I arrive at Porsche Centre Sydney and regard our black-on-black Turbo S. It certainly looks tough enough to do the job. As requested, it’s only half-full of 98 RON fuel, so all prepped I head to Sydney Dragway.
Even in traffic, the odd opportunity to half-open the taps leaves no doubts about this car’s broader torque spread in difference to the standard Turbo. Sure, you’re never left wanting more in the stocker, but instead of the sledgehammer-like shove piled on in peaky bursts, the S offers a more linear, surging delivery.
Just to enhance the feeling of déjà vu, I meet up with photographer and former dragway accomplice Brasher at the servo. We check tyre pressures, top-up the fuel to halfway and add a bottle of octane booster just in case, and we hurry to the Dragway to complete the paperwork (we’re #911 again), get scrutineered, and line-up for the first attempt. There’s probably double the number of entrants this time around, so we’ll have to make the most of each run, seeing as we’ll probably only get three or four chances.
This time it’s for business, not pleasure. I can imagine the hilarity back in MOTOR HQ if I was to fail a second time. We’re not interested in what other punters are doing, or what they’ve brought to race. We’ve got a job to do.
Reluctantly, I submit to our photographer’s requirements and agree to sandbag the first few runs so he has enough photos. I won’t engage Launch Control; leave the radio blaring, and the air-con blasting. All of these will cost me time, which should allow my basic, step-off launches to pass in enough seconds to prolong our eviction.
Stepping off the brake and flooring the throttle induces plenty of wheelspin, but with that in mind, and considering all the Turbo S’s ancillaries are on, a first attempt of 11.328sec at 203.59km/h is very promising. Needless to say, I’m quietly confident.
Even so, I’m not prepared for The Launch when it finally happens. I engage Sport Plus, then creep forward into stage. As soon as the green light flashes, I release the brake. The revs drop faintly for a frozen split-second in time as the engine, seven-speed PDK, all-wheel-driveline, Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and sticky Sydney Dragway surface all compete with each other.
Milliseconds later, The Launch happens and I’ll never forget the feeling for as long as I live. The instant the Turbo S leaves the start line, I know that this run is going to be the one that takes me beyond the 11-second threshold. The tyres bite savagely into the road and catapult the Turbo S off the line – no wheelspin this time. As the PDK slams through its seven ratios, it’s like riding a cannonball.
Exactly 10.874sec later, I cross the 400m line, doing 209.50km/h.
Even though I haven’t really done anything, the feeling of achievement is palpable. And as expected, on returning to the paddock area, an official greets me. But he’s trying to hide a grin on his face. He is just as impressed as we are, surely, as he advises us that we won’t be allowed to compete any more tonight. Our Porsche 911 Turbo S, a standard production car, has officially been banned from competing at the Speed off the Street drags.
For the second time in six months, I’ve recorded the fastest acceleration numbers in MOTOR’s history. But this time, they’ll really take some beating.
The good old times on classic MOTOR