OBJECTS OF DESIRE – Learning from the big cat

Emily Atkins

BRIAN GRAHAM SP-11614-376

Photo by Brian Graham

By Emily Atkins, Provinz Editor (from Provinz June 2014 page 37)

Cats are aloof, anti-social, bloody-minded creatures who’ll turn on you at a moment’s notice. At least that’s their rep. So I have been wondering if my lion will show these same traits.

The 911 is a car renowned for its ability to let loose and spin with little warning. It will slap you down—hard—if you make the mistake of not paying enough attention to it, or playing too rough. Just when you think it’s purring along nicely, and you relax for a sec, that’s when it curls up and bites you. Just like a cat.

I’ve been warned enough, listened to plenty of track-side cautionary tales and sad stories of 911 drivers being blindsided by their finicky four-wheeled friends, to know to pay attention. My question has always been how do you know when you’re pushing it too hard. What’s the car’s “tell”?

Never, not once in my many, many relatively quick laps with my 944 Turbo did the back end even begin to think about letting go. Or if it thought about it, it didn’t act.

So here I am at Mosport, driving the new 911 after only a couple days of practice, thinking about all the 911 lore I’ve gleaned. It’s my very first race this year, and, of course, raining. I’m driving in what I believe to be a very conservative manner. Tippy-toeing around the track on rain tires, watching the more experienced racers, who aren’t going much faster than I am.

Everything’s going well. To my surprise I’ve passed a couple 944 Turbos; my brother’s Mustang is in sight ahead of me. I come down Corner Two, nice and easy, and as I’m crossing off the new pavement onto the straightaway, I feel the car start to wag its tail. It wags, and wigs, and wags again. The swoops are not getting any bigger and I’m feathering the throttle, but ready to throw in the towel (or rather both feet) if I get really sideways. Then, just as quickly as it started, the pendulum stops and grip returns. As I gently lighten up on the throttle for Corner Three I remember to breathe, and whisper, “Good kitty”.

Subsequent laps in the race were quicker and more sure-footed. I felt more comfortable, not rattled after the warning, as I had expected. Now I know the car’s tell sign and am learning the limits of grip in this car in the wet and on rains. After the race it was confirmed to me by friends who were watching that they had been holding their breath too, as the car began its swing, so it was an obvious wobble, not just in my head. But I also heard from another of the drivers, also driving an ‘82 911, that the transition at the bottom of Two was very slick, and he had the same experience.

Familiarity definitely leads to a level of comfort. Comparing the 911 to the 944 makes me wonder if the difference is all in the car. Surely the driver has a lot to do with it. In the 944 I was never racing—I don’t count the Time Attack competition, where I did lay down my fastest lap, because you’re on the track solo. So perhaps then I wasn’t overcome with the competitive spirit. But on the other hand, in the 911 I feel cautious—I don’t want to start racing by wrecking my new car. It will take some more time to learn the nuances of the 911’s handling in the wet and the dry, on slicks and rains, in traffic and on my own.

But a few laps after the warning, something changed. Coming through Corner One and onto the short straight I was struck with the certainty that this is the car I am meant to drive. A psychological barrier blended from caution, mistrust and maybe a little fear lifted, and suddenly I was connected, controlled and trusting the car—feeling it communicating with me.

I can’t wait to spend more time with my new lion. Like every cat, it’s fickle, fast and fascinating. It has so much more personality than the previous cars I’ve driven. I know I need to pay close attention to what it’s telling me. I’m all ears!

 

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