Name the bucket list items that will fulfil any petrol head’s dreams and the obvious ones come to mind. Nurburgring, Route 66, Monaco – maybe a few circuits here and there.
Evo Triangle is a recent one for me. Named after the testing route adopted by Evo Magazine, it’s a trio of roads that join up to create a triangle, hence the name. It is already a favourite haunt for car clubs and enthusiasts so picking the right time to attempt it is crucial. Add to that the weekend traffic of caravaners in the area and cyclists, a dream drive can quickly become very frustrating. I tweeted Dickie Meaden from Evo a few times and got the best advice for when to go and where to stay.
Having left London at 2pm, I’m already accustomed to the thick treacle of traffic that appears to be a permanent resident of the M1. I’m thankful for my mindfulness training which allows me to fall back from the bumper in front, go back up to 6th and drop into the middle lane and cruise.
The GTS has long gearing which, until later that day, never really made much sense to me. Only on the motorways does it comfortably allow you to sit in top gear and watch the miles tick off the sat nav. It’s a noisy cabin, make no mistake. Those fat tyres create significant road noise and the lightweight panels do little to insulate. 1420kg is a remarkably lightweight car for this class so the compromises are both welcome and obvious.
Even with the Bose sound system the 997 has woeful audio output. With the loud cabin noise and tinny speakers you need to have the volume quite high which can quickly fatigue any journey, so instead, I choose to roll down the windows, open the sunroof and relax.
My first stop is a meet up with my driving partner. Glenn rolls up in his Turbo S Cab and it is brutally demanding in attention in polar white. The fat exhausts and wide spoiler is in stark contrast to the purer shape of the GTS which is unadorned by any cosmetic surgery, save for its wider body shell and stunning black, centre lock wheels (same as on the Turbo S).
Pulling away from the slip road and up the M1, I follow Glenn’s Turbo S as his car creates a mobile vortex approximately two feet behind his exhaust. The sound that car makes is not of earth as the turbos do the intergalactic thing and catapult the white blur up the road at a pace scarcely matched by anything else with 4 seats and a hood down.
From standing start, there’s no point trying to keep up as all you end up doing is wringing the neck of the GTS in the same way a jockey would whip a lame racehorse – it’s just not going to make any difference. When on the move, things are much more different with momentum doing the GTS huge favours as it counters the Turbos huge power advantage with its lighter weight, sharper turn in and the remaining pages from the book of excuses.
Approaching Wales, we decided to skip the Evo Triangle as the day was coming to a close and instead chose to take the A458 from Welshpool to Dolgellau and straight from there to our hotel, Groes Inn, via Blaenau Ffestiniog, Betws y coed and Trawsfynydd. (see map here)
Hats off to Glenn for this foresight as what we had instead was 85 miles of absolute driving heaven. Practically devoid of traffic, we enjoyed almost every single type of road you could possibly dream of with everything from sweeping bends to hairpins to infinite amounts of chicanes. The lack of any other car, an absolute godsend and miracle I’m reliably informed, meant we were able to utilise the whole road within the confines of safety and really absorb ourselves in the most palm sweating collection of roads ever.
Add to this the backdrop of Snowdonia and I challenge you to find a better place in the UK if not the world. We quite often read journalists challenging manufacturers to launch cars in the UK in order to test them on natural ground, but it wasn’t until this trip that I realise how important that is.
I’m following the Turbo S in my GTS and both cars are working together almost poetically as we sow one bend to the next, utilising years of track-day experience to ensure the following bends are met with the most brutal efficiency. A rare level of vision across all the roads allow you to plan meticulously each and every section mere seconds before you arrive at them.
Watching the Turbo S from behind, it’s fascinating as you recognise just how much work is going on under the chassis with each wheel moving up and down and sending separate signals up through each suspension arm, hotwired eventually to the seat and steering wheel. It looks hard work, but cast your gaze a little higher and the body is utterly composed and calm, instead converting that frantic underbody chaos into a stream of serene ballet.
It’s also still a very sexy car. When the 997 came out, it absolutely killed the 996, making it look practically prehistoric. But the 991 has failed to kill off its predecessor in the same way simply because it has magically retained its sharp looks, especially with the Gen 2 update in 2010.
I feel just as good as the Turbo S, as mine is worked very hard. We occasionally drive through a thick rain cloud as the skies do their job in complicating our work. As the roads dampen, you’d expect our spirits to follow suit, but instead the modern 911 proves itself as a perfect all weather tool, with either the rear wheels driven or all four. The tyres on the GTS provide a level of confidence I never had on the road with the GT3 and if I’d attempted this road in the GT3 with the same ferocity, I’d have become a permanent Snowdon backdrop.
Instead, I take advantage of the long gears on the GTS that had, up until now, proved a little too long, but now, on these roads that combine long sweeps with sharp chicanes, even with the luxury afforded by the longer gearing I’m still flicking between 3rd and 5th gear through the wonderfully slick gearbox that somehow manages to make every gear shift a rewarding event.
I do miss the lighter flywheel though incredibly. I’m conditioned to heel and toe on manual cars and the GTS is, of course, perfectly set up on the pedals to allow it. But the revs don’t rise or drop nowhere nearly as fast enough as I like, which often results in slightly over exaggerated throttle blips in order to bring the revs up to speed with the gears.
But even that starts to flow into space and the supreme brakes (steels) on the GTS work hard to dip the nose in aggressively, time after time, provoking the front tyres to bite deep into the tarmac whilst it drags the rears around by their very hair. I have to say, the M3 would have been utterly destroyed out here as its standard brakes wouldn’t have stood a hope in hell of remaining solid after the 4th corner.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so alive behind a car but the GTS raises the bar for you just high enough for you to reach it with each and every successful encounter being firmly awarded to you as an achievement. Despite this it’s also not too shy to remind you that you’re driving a 410 bhp car with the engine over the rear axle. Get your braking points wrong and it will slap the life out of you. Do something as daft as dab the brakes mid bend and you’ll get a close up tour of the wildlife. Forget to scrub your speed off on the compressions and instead do it as you get air and you’ll be airborne long enough to remember what your policy excess was.
Following the Turbo S is made only slightly less impossible because it’s bright white. Glenn is a two times Carrera Cup class champion (shoot me now) and would be hard enough to keep up with in a 118d, but in 530BHP all wheel drive millenium falcon mode, my palms are sweating. But my faith in the GTS is supreme. I am so absorbed in the drive, I actually ignore the fuel warning light and even when it eventually reads ZERO on the range computer, I still continue to ignore it. However, my nerves eventually click in and I can’t help but stop at the first fuel station I see which only offers 95 ron. Good enough for a tenner.
Rolling into the Groes Inn car park it’s dusk and I have a grin that doesn’t do my spirit any justice. I’m invigorated and exhausted in equal measure and this clash of emotion is going to give me a sleepless night but as I drift off recounting the millionth switchback, I swear amongst the sounds of the sheep in the night I can still hear my 3.8 tinking into the night.
Next morning has us sight seeing and this region of the UK is utterly stunning. How I’ve got to 40 and never seen these sights is really a tragedy but rather than me recount this natural beauty to you I implore you to get in your car and go. The humbling backdrops are obvious attractions to automotive magazines and you can see why they flock here to take photos – it’s just so picturesque and scenic.
As we drove through Menai Bridge and through to Llanberis Pass, despite the continued excellent roads, there was thankfully enough traffic to force us to just slow right down and take in the truly incredible vista that was in front of me.
I had quite a few reports on the Evo triangle. Many people claimed it was overrated, too busy, too many police and generally touristed out. So without any preamble, parked up at the start of the Triangle, we set off with a 2 minute gap between us.
I’ll save you all the investment now, the A543 is one of, if not THE, greatest roads I’ve ever driven on. An incredibly challenging piece of fresh tarmac that was again, devoid of traffic apart from the odd hot hatch (hastily dispatched). What made this road even more special was the clear sighting, safely allowing me again to take advantage of all this car had to offer with this harmonious piece of road that was so similar to something like Cadwell or a tighter Oulton Park.
It’s not super fast top end because the straights between each bend were very short so shuffling between 2nd and 3rd gear meant quick sprints with heavy brakes between. So intoxicating was this stretch of road that I missed my triangle turn off and instead continued here for another 5-6 miles before I realised the 30mph speed limits were probably a good clue to my being lost.
Coming back up the same road again (and going past said hot hatch again), the second leg of the triangle was the B4501 and I can’t express how different this strip is. Very fast stretch of road with long, sweeping bends, deep downhill straights that demand you keep your speed in check, it’s that easy to let it fly. Anybody who’s played any of the earlier GTA games will be familiar with this road with low trees and the sunlight bursting through creating rays you smash through, momentarily blinded as your eyes adjust to the persistent verdant green that occupies and surrounds the black strip of perfect tarmac across the entire region.
Coming back to the meeting spot, Glenn was already there in his Turbo S having arrived earlier as I’d missed my turn. My beaming smile and darting eyes only dampened by his squeals of pain – as the crazy fool pulled in, he leaned on his car except in his excitement forgot that the exhaust pipes were cooking a number 8 on his calf, now scared as a permanent tattoo and reminder of our exploits on that road – lucky bugger. His directional skills are appalling though. Poor van.
My entire journey back home was riddled with roadworks, useless motorway drivers and the constant threat of police and speed restrictions. It was, I imagine, the same feeling prisoners get when break time is over and they’re all shepherded back into their pens. But I wasn’t down. Instead, my mind was populated with intense memories of having experienced the best driving holiday ever amongst the company of a great friend with a superb car.
It’s coming up to midnight and my fingers hurt, I feel like I have sand in my eyes and worst of all, I’m suffering from truckers elbow as the sun appears to have burnt only parts of my body. But equally, I’ve been left with just as difficult a dilemma, how can I get back up there again?
Ninja edit – Andy (in comments below) sent over some of his GTS pics – Cobalt blue with aerokit looks awesome. Loving the colour coded trim too.