Oulton Park, wavey landscapes and tyres, tyres, tyres…..
As is predictable on any trackday I may venture upon, some rain is always guaranteed, despite the whole week leading up to this Friday being completely bright and dry.
That wasn’t so much of an issue, most of you will know that I have no fear of the rain and in fact can take great enjoyment out of it. Thankfully, the rain cleared and we were blessed with a dry circuit for the whole day. But there were high stakes at play here, with most of my fellow racers come track day regulars were here in force to prove superiority over one another.
Oulton really is a unique circuit and is a great shame that it’s so far away from my house (about 3 hour drive in clear traffic). It’s got incredible, sweeping undulations, with more blind crests and bends than any other place I can remember, bar the Nordschleife. Like the 911 RS, it’s a multi-faceted place with layers of difficulty peeled off the better you become. It can reward and punish with equal measure, with very little run off on some of the massively hard braking areas, requiring you to depend on your hardware more than any other circuit I know of.
However, I simply was not on the pace. Good friend Glenn McMennamin, who recently won his ProAm 2 championship title in the Porsche Carrera Cup, was always a great benchmark. Even though he was always faster overall, I was able to at least make comparative judgment on the differences. At Oulton, however, I don’t know what happened, but he was simply in a different league, as was Ken, who competes in the Lotus Elise Cup. All three of us in 997 RS’s, I just simply couldn’t maintain the pace. I’d also just picked the car up from Fearnsport after a track geometry and suspension set up, together with that, I exchanged my standard discs for a set of awesome Alcon discs and Pagid RS29 pads all around. The discs, although expensive at £1600 for the pair, provide absurd levels of longevity, with my last set on the white car having lasted about 15 trackdays. The pads are also standard GT3 fare. Finally, brake fluids are changed to high boiling point Castrol.
No matter, I couldn’t get my power down, brakes just weren’t biting and ABS was not cutting in. It doesn’t take a genius, but at the time, I couldn’t see the problem, even though I was staring it down the face!
This was a major dampener for me so I consoled myself by resorting to drifting everywhere. Even on and off the circuit as I went out to buy petrol from the local Shell garage. Unfortunately, this earnt me two different warnings, both outside the circuit and inside! “Compliments of Race Control sir, but please could you stop your tyres from squealing everywhere?” Game over for me…
The GT3 comes with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cups (the tyre on the right) from factory. I knew that my tyres were original from new, now over two years old. Although they had some tread good enough for the road, Cups really need to be fresh to get the most out of them on track. I still wasn’t convinced until I stole Glenn’s spare set from the tyre support crew and got them fitted to my car. These were the new Pirelli Corsa R’s. Not only are they a better compound, offering some high tech science behind its grip levels, but they were also oversized, comfortably fitting a 325 section over a regular 305.
Oh. My. God.
It quite literally felt like a different car from the very moment I turned my first corner on track. Sure footed, solid, extraordinarily grippy with an almost total elimination of understeer and oversteer. It felt so amazingly different that I immediately knocked at least 5 seconds off a lap with them, perhaps even more. It truly was a revelation and I’ve never before felt such a stark contrast in tyre performance and technology.
The curious thing is that I’ve actually had these tyres before on my white GT3, but I do not ever remember being so blown away by them.
Are they worth twice the price of a set of R888’s? Are they worth a 50% premium over a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cups? Well, how much do you value those seconds? And to be frank, it’s not just about the laptimes either, they are soooo surefooted, they present a new dynamic to your car previously unexplored. For me, there simply is no question, they are a necessary investment for anybody looking to get good performance on track.
I’ve waxed lyrical about them, so I’ll just end on saying the day was finished on a high note.
Full album can be found here: