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Flat out in Alpine’s new Porsche Cayman fighter
Our first go in the new French sports car…is a soaking Goodwood hillclimb
Next year Alpine will release a mid-engined, hard-top sports car with a four-cylinder turbo engine. Interesting tactics, just as the Porsche Cayman, in flat-four 718 form, is arguably the most vulnerable it’s been. Alpine has a white ‘Vision’ concept car with a spangly, fully-finished cabin (with lots of expensive switchgear which won’t see production) and a caged, winged, really pretty racer version painted blue and orange. You join me in that pricey one-off for a ride up the Goodwood hillclimb.
It’s raining extremely hard. The car doesn’t have a blower, and the Perspex window shutters only open a handspan’s width. The wipers are also just for show. So it’s a bit steamy and neither test driver Julien Piguet nor I can see much out. He’s also never driven the course before.
This really is a little racing car. The engine is out of a Clio Cup car, the bijou cabin is filled with a snaking roll cage lattice that my helmet-protected head doesn’t quite fit under. My feet rest on a hefty Sparco tank, the four-point harness is restrictive and there are lots of French labeled toggles on the carbon fascia. The brake bias knob is wound all the way around to the front.
Julien starts the motor on a toggle switch and it bursts into a grunty idle that resonates the roll cage and makes children nearby clamp their ear defenders closer around their heads. The paddleshift transmission doesn’t appear to like the trundle/idle/three-point-turn faffing that’s part’n’parcel of negotiating to the Goodwood start line.
Julien is flicking between Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook on his iPhone as the marshalls beckon him forward. He’s pretty relaxed for someone who’s never driven in anger up the world’s most famous driveway in front of 150,000 people.
There’s enough punch off the line to light the rears up well into second gear. Julien short-shifts the top of first gear and it chomps through the ratios. He uses just his left hand to negotiate the tricky second corner before the run past the house. His right hand is gesturing angrily at the clods of mud that’ve been dragged onto the surface by earlier cars cutting the corner.
Gearshifts through the race ’box are lightning fast, keeping the whistling turbo spooled and vocal over the engine’s rude parp. We take a cautious braking point for the tricky Molecomb left-hander, then ping the car up the hill, accelerating relentlessly.
It can’t weigh much more than 1000kg in this trim, and the car feels easily Boxster S quick. Obviously the one we can buy next year will be a little heavier than this race machine, but the tiny dimensions and good visibility (now the rain has stopped) hint that this will be a fun car to punt along.
Piguet gives a cheery thumbs up as the Alpine rushes across the finish line. At the top of the hill, as the marshalls beckon him to a stop behind a Ferrari FXXK, Jaguar F-Type SVR and Bugatti Chiron, he nails the gas and pops the car into a huge, balanced-on-the-lock-stops slide, carried a full 180 degrees around the turnaround spot to the delight of several hundred spectators and the grinning drivers climbing out of their hillclimb-fresh supercars. The marshalls decide not to give him a rollocking.
This particular concept is obviously a lot more hardcore than any Alpine we’ll get for the road, but it’s got me excited anyway. If it’s less hard work than an Alfa 4C, more livable than an Elise, and less pricey than a Cayman, Alpine will make a huge splash in the sports car arena with this little coupe. Just get the wipers fixed first, please.