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Opinion

Opinion: do track-honed road cars make any sense?

Speed Week 2020: won't someone think of the lower-back pain?!

Published: 05 Nov 2020

I’ve never driven something, got out, looked back at it and thought “good car that, but a bit too comfy for me". It just doesn’t happen. On the other hand, I regularly stagger away from test cars rubbing my lower back, complaining about concrete dampers and seats with all the give of a quartz worktop. I realise that as a motoring journalist I should stand resolutely behind anything that’s harder, faster or more powerful, but that in itself is not a recipe for an enjoyable driving experience, on the road or on a track.

Take the new McLaren 765LT for example. Did I get a bit frothy when McLaren trotted out the specs and showed off the feast of new vents and wings that elevate it beyond the cooking 720S? Yes, yes I did. Here was a car that claimed to take the sublime 720S as a starting point and outmanoeuvre it in every department.

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On the Anglesey track it felt totally at home but also, in my hands, constantly on the verge of a significant accident. The power delivery is savage, its purchase on the tarmac other-worldly, but unless you’re capable of driving it at nine tenths it refuses to flow, constantly snapping and snorting and generally rolling its eyes in your direction. Driving it was like swimming with sharks: a great story to tell your grandkids, but not something you want to do every day. Driving the 765LT I was acutely aware I’d probably be having more fun in a ‘vanilla’ 720S… or the more road-biased F8 Tributo and 911 Turbo in the pitlane.

There are exceptions to the rules of course, times when manufacturers up the intensity, but leave enough bandwidth for them to be enjoyed on the Queen’s highway – the 488 Pista is a good’un, so’s the 911 GT3 RS, but if you’re honest with yourself, on most roads you’d be having 96 per cent as much fun in a 488 or a 911 GTS, and saving a wheelbarrow of cash, too. Cash that you could sink into a decent tow-car, trailer and something built specifically to demolish racetracks and justify your new Sparco speedy boots. And you’d still have plenty left over to buy something suitably rapid to enjoy on the road.

Take the new AMG GT Black Series, a car one wafer thin piece of Alcantara away from being a GT3 race car. In fact, for roughly the same amount of cash (£335k) Mercedes will sell you an actual GT3 race car. Which would probably make more sense because if you ever wanted to drive your Black Series on the road, the half-price AMG GT R Pro would do a better job at that (and you wouldn’t look quite so deficient in the trouser department). On track the proper GT3 racer will be consistently quicker.

Aston Martin’s Valkyrie promises to be the fastest road-legal car ever around a track, but appears to offer all the comfort and usability of a punch in the face. Gordon Murray’s T.50 on the other hand has an even higher-revving V12, but also luggage space, a decent sound system and a seating position where your ankles are below your ears. I’m obsessed by the engineering in both, but if you actually want to drive your £2m+ hypercar anywhere other than a circuit, only one of them makes much sense. It’s just logic.

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But when did logic ever come into buying fast cars? The lure of the fastest, lowest, raciest and most expensive versions will always be strong if your pockets are deep enough, and as long as that’s the case manufacturers will continue to produce them. Just don’t come crying to me when the second-hand market for your LT or RS is a little more saturated than you’d anticipated… and your lower back’s in bits.

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