Perhaps you’ve read (or watched) the Evo car of the year group tests, where – on the right road and with the right car – Supercars can be well and truly beaten by much humbler (but actually on the day, way more exciting) cars. The Yaris GR and FK8 Civic Type R spring to mind here. Welcome to another Auto Talk blog.
Road trips, either organised trips with a driving club, or a last-minute outing with a few friends, are a unique opportunity to test your car and your own driving skills. Covid-19 has meant that trips to Europe including the Alps, Nürburgring, or the Pyrenees, have been virtually impossible for almost 2 years. But there are some incredible destinations in the UK, with Wales and Scotland offering some real drivers’ roads, stunning elevation changes, and spectacular scenery.
I hope to have an opportunity to take the Auto Torque Audi R8 V10+ Twin Turbo to Europe in 2022, but in the meantime, I have spoken to Auto Torque’s customer Richard White to ask him about driving in Wales and Scotland in two very different vehicles, an R35 GT-R and a Golf R. Richard has managed to take his Auto Torque tuned and maintained stage 4.25 GT-R around Scotland’s North Coast 500 each year for the last 3 years, on 4 or 5 day trips organised by Buckinghamshire based car club On The Run Adventures. So, what are his top tips for taking Japan’s finest on that 1,500-mile round trip?
“Firstly, let me say that even if you are tempted to venture to Europe – and I particularly recommend the Nürburgring and the Alps – I really urge you to also try Scotland’s NC500. The hospitality of the people, the drama of the immense landscape, and the long hours of daylight, only add to the exhilaration of driving unquestionably some of the best roads in Europe. What advice do I have then, for R35 owners?
- Make sure that you are well prepared for brake fade from the standard front discs and pads. With sustained heavy use, the pad material clogs the cooling holes on the discs, and you will have no alternative but to allow the brakes to cool right down. It can be alarming and very frustrating. A simple change to slotted and non-drilled front discs (From Alcon or AP Racing), and upgraded Ferodo or Pagid pads, are all you need to totally transform the braking to being dependable, powerful, and most importantly, fade free. Oh, and they are also cheaper than OEM replacements…. Check out Auto Torque’s advice on all the options available.
- I ditched the standard run-flats at my first tyre change. They are rather scary in the damp and cold, and (because they are run-flats) massively stiff. And whilst they are hyper-responsive in the dry, they tramline everything and unless you want a permanent upper body workout, then do what most owners do, and swap them for Michelin PS4Ss, increasing the contact patch with 265/35 fronts and 305/30 rears. The Porsche ‘N0’ rating are preferred as they have the stiffest sidewalls. So, the Michelins are a wise choice; safer in the wet, and grip levels on a dry, well surfaced road (which accounts for 80% of the NC500) are excellent, particularly when you can get some heat into them.
- Another tactic to improve traction is to run the GT-R (particularly the pre 2011 model) in Normal or Race damping mode on only the smoothest surfaces, and immediately switch the standard Bilsteins to Comfort to get more compliance – and hence less skipping and more traction – as soon as you leave those smoothest sections of road.
- The standard car’s ride height is perfect for me but be careful if you are tempted to have a 102mm exhaust or lowering springs fitted. One of my friends had a 2017 GT-R with a 102mm exhaust, which he kept grounding out on some of the faster, undulating sections. So, check the fitment and your ride height: you don’t want that sort of thing to ruin what is, otherwise, the most exhilarating drive outside of mainland Europe.
- Have your geometry checked and adjusted. I am astonished every time, just how much impact (literally!) our worsening roads have on the geometry of my GT-R. Not only will you feel the difference, but because GT-Rs run quite a lot of rear camber anyway, and without a check and adjustment, it is very easy to quickly wear those difficult to see inside edges of those expensive rear Michelins!
- Take along some high-quality oil as even standard GT-Rs are expected to use a litre/1k miles. I use Fuchs Titan Race Pro S 5W40, which is the oil recommended by Auto Torque for all tuned GT-Rs.
- Standard GT-Rs are known to over-fuel, but this increases when the car is tuned, resulting sometimes in some quite embarrassing soot emissions! I am pleased to say that one of the benefits of the latest Version 8 of the Ecutek ECU software is significantly reduced soot. It’s not eliminated, but it’s going to be much kinder to whoever is following me on next year’s drives!”
So that’s enough about looking after your car, Richard. What about properly enjoying it on that famous NC500?
“Well, the entire route is absorbing, stunning, mysterious even. The roads are generally excellent – smooth surfaces, well sighted, and luckily virtually traffic free on the sections that you really want to enjoy. The further north you travel, the more isolated it becomes, with villages miles apart and only Highland cattle and sheep to stare at you and your safe, but swiftly moving convoy…..’
I then went on to ask Richard what the experience is like in his 2019 Golf R: a car with less than 50% of the power and torque of the GT-R.
“So, to be honest I regretted taking the Golf to Scotland the first time. I assumed the roads would be similar to Wales: how wrong I was! In fact, I also wrongly took my GT-R to Wales the first time, and I was mightily frustrated with it there! Wales, as fabulous as it is, is just not on the scale of Scotland and consequently you will get much more out of the Golf on the tighter, twisty, narrower roads of Wales, than on the faster, more open roads of Scotland. So here are my thoughts on preparing the Golf R:
- Again, brakes are crucial. I was astonished when Auto Torque quoted me £100 less for fitting uprated Brembo front pads, than VW wanted for fitting the OEM replacements! The car now has reassuring bite and consistent feel on the brakes.
- I read last year’s evo performance tyre test, which placed the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S in first place, so it was only logical to have a full set as soon as replacements were required. Please ask Auto Torque for a quote on tyres as not only will they be super careful with your rims, but they can often match or even undercut the national chains. With the predicable chassis of the Golf, and the benefit of the Haldex 4WD channelling up to 50% of the power to the rear axle, let me say that at 8-10 tenths, the car is incredible: safe, predictable, and so much fun! In fact, it can keep up with most of the convoy, including the Supercars, over those Welsh roads. And that’s the very reason why I won’t take my GT-R there: you can’t drive it as it really wants to be driven.
- Whilst I have one of the last Golf R 7.5s with a slightly strangulating (WLTP) OPF, it is still very capable. In fact, I have driven in Wales with two of my friends with GTIs; one a Clubsport which has been mapped to 370BHP. How does it compare with the R? I’m pleased to report that despite the power deficit, a standard R, over the challenging roads of Wales, can comfortably keep up with the Clubsport! Auto Torque can easily and safely install a Stage 1 remap for the Golf GTI/R/Audi S3 ECU Remapping & Tuning Specialists – Auto Torque. I’m not tempted because the car is leased, but just as I trusted them with taking my GT-R up to Stage 4.25, with 654BHP and 600lb/ft, I wouldn’t hesitate if I could”.
So I think Richard makes it clear that selecting the right tool for the job – or in this case the right car for the road – is most sensible. Auto Torque are proud to support Richard and all our customers. So, it doesn’t matter which vehicle you might be intending to drive on some of our own epic roads, with proper preparation and good advice, you are sure to be ready for an exciting driving break. Please let me know if I can help you with any aspects of driving, servicing or modifying your performance vehicle: advice and guidance from myself and my team is always a pleasure and is always free.