Skids. Drifts. Oversteer. Churlish, childish stuff that is inefficient, irresponsible, wears through tyres and slows cars down. All true. A colleague came back to the office the other day and reported that an industry test driver had told him one of the “problems” with car journalists is their obsession with going sideways. True, too, perhaps.
This driver, and the company he works for, likes cars that go fast. Flipping fast. If there’s too much lateral slip, too much looking out of the side window, too much smoking of tyre, with knuckles visible through the windscreen to amply demonstrate that you’re quite the helmsman, applying the obligatory ‘dab’, then you ain’t going as fast as you could be. And that’s wrong.
Which may be kinda true as well. But what’s also true is that, frankly, oversteer is a giggle. A laugh. And, as one of our hired hands – who held a world record for doing precisely this sort of thing – says, you can find out an awful lot about a car when grip is lost and you start playing with the chassis. That’s when handling really starts.
A lot of car companies get that. A lot of chassis engineers understand that. Even a lot of racing drivers – in fact, most of the ones I’ve met – enjoy that.
Ferrari is apt to bring a professional driver to road test figuring sessions involving their cars (to advise, help, or demonstrate how fast you could be going – long story). Usually it’s a development engineer. Sometimes it isn’t.
When we road tested the California at MIRA, my colleagues and I were introduced to ‘Marc’. We popped over to the tea machine, looked at each other and whispered: “That Marc fella… is that Marc Gené?” A driver with 36 F1 races and a Le Mans win to his name? It was.
Anyway, he was a lovely bloke, as it turned out, and was a bit hesitant about the narrowness of MIRA’s dry handling circuit. It’s a handling circuit, not a race track, we assured him; we don’t go flat out, so we don’t go off.
Then we got on to the wet handling circuit. And I remember the precise moment, as we exited its bottom hairpin, in second gear, view forwards through the side window, with his arms pretty much crossed and the little V8 brapping away in front of us, when he looked across and said: “Now I understand why you love your job!”
Exactly, Marc. You get it. I get it. We all get it. (The last time we did it on the open road without a spotter, a two-way radio and several runs through the same deserted corner? The 3rd of Never. But that’s not quite the point, is it?) Sometimes, fastest just isn’t best.