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Tests of endurance: Ford GT vs racy rivals

Tuesday, 9.23am - Brooklands museum: It has just gone opening time at the oldest purpose-built motorsport circuit in the world and, in front of the century-old clubhouse, a small crowd is gathering.

Early-fowl visitors to Brooklands Museum are becoming a examine an impromptu show off: a trio of current motorsport-derived manufacturing motors whose designs and origins make them right away essentially alike but additionally fascinatingly one-of-a-kind from each different.

Crazy automobiles that went from race music to street

There are three cars here – three. I can see all of them. Two of them have rear wings that look large enough to moonlight as ailerons on an Airbus A380. And yet it’s as if the very low, very wide, very yellow Ford GT is the only car anyone else can actually see. For a few minutes, people just nod and grin at it. Beards are stroked (Brooklands is heartland beard territory) and the Ford’s engine bay and cabin are peered into.

One or two people take an interest in the Radical RXC Turbo parked just a few feet away, but it’s a passing one only. The Porsche 911 GT3 RS – the car that sold out in a nanosecond two years ago, and is now changing hands for north of £200,000 on the second-hand market – might as well not be here at all. Such is the power of the original GT40’s legend, and of the arresting impact of the design of the new GT, it seems.

We?Re all set to take that legend on a brief tour of British roads. These motors are about to set out on a two hundred-mile convoy meant to expose just how usable they are in the actual world. Starting here, and taking in Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, Donington Park circuit in Derbyshire after which some favourite roads on the brink of the Peak District, our journey need to rack up a cutting-edge Formula 1 race distance within the space of 36 hours.

On the manner, there might be highway, A-street and B-street; visitors queues, potholes and velocity bumps; high kerbstones and narrow car parks; and, I?M very a good deal hoping, a piece of right British climate. So exactly how will that sort of ride be negotiated with the aid of a ?Prototype?-style current Le Mans racer for the road, a road-converted GTE-magnificence opposition machine and a sports vehicle with very critical circuit talents? What type of street-going existence are you in for in every of them ? And might you be loopy to contemplate it?

Right now, I?M questioning myself. This was, unnecessary to say, now not muggins? Concept, and when all of it is going wrong and I?M left looking ahead to a restoration truck through the side of the A43, I shall lay the blame totally on Matthew James Prior. Right now, he?S likely engaged in something a whole lot extra realistic. Sensible people don?T commonly set out on road journeys until they?Re assured they?Ll arrive at their destination ? And I?Ve already heard testimonies from colleagues approximately early GT test vehicles breaking down several instances in the same day.

I?Ve skilled first-hand how fragile the Radical RXC can be: the last time I drove one, I began out with all seven ahead gears present and correct and ended up with 3. If we make the overall two hundred miles in all three of those vehicles with the aid of teatime day after today, I?Ll have motive to impeach my most important reservation approximately them: reliability. And I definitely hope that proves to be the case.

Tuesday, 11.23am - Oxford Services, M40:

When normal Autocar group take a look at driver and all-round pinnacle bloke Nick Stafford ?Needs a brew?, he explains, ?I actually need a brew?. Which should be actual if he?S willing to take on a Starbucks ?Force-via? In a Radical RXC. He?S inflicting a piece of a stir (preceded by way of milk and two sugars ? Badoomtish). You wouldn?T consider he could attain far enough upwards from the driver?S seat handy over his loyalty card, let alone discover somewhere within the vehicle to position his drink - but wager what? The Radical?S got a cupholder.

More importantly, Nick?S now not tearing his hair out or desperately making alternative onwards journey plans having driven it this far.

“It’s fine,” he says, “once you get used to the seat. And the doors. And the clutch. And the noise. Not that I’d have one. If you can afford one of these, you can afford a BMW X5 and a trailer.” As ever, it’s impossible to argue with the common sense of this man.

My passage from Brooklands has been spent in the obvious place: the dayglo Ford. The GT’s cabin is wonderful despite its cheaper touches and it’s perfectly comfy for two, as photographer Stan Papior will attest. So far, it hasn’t missed a beat. I’ll admit to watching the various temperature gauges on its TFT instrument screen pretty closely as we rounded the M25 and climbed up past High Wycombe, but I needn’t have.

The GT?S guidance is weighty but sincere and judiciously paced; smooth to gel with. The car?S engine in all fairness noisy and a chunk undeniable-sounding but severely potent, and the gearbox remarkably easy and properly- mannered. Select the GT?S ?Everyday? Force mode, put its dampers into ?Consolation? And it?S also a lot more compliant-driving than you believe it?Ll be. The biggest limitations to playing the auto on the street are, in truth, nothing to do with noise, hyper- responsiveness or any kind of notably strung temperament. This is a huge vehicle inside which the driver sits at the left, so it?S tough to vicinity instinctively on UK roads: simple as that.

We leave the GT for a few minutes to grab some lunch-to-go, and find it has attracted some company once again when we return. A group of squaddies want a look inside and few minutes for selfies. These lads aren’t really petrolheads – you wonder how much they’d care about a Lamborghini or a McLaren – but they’ve come all the way over to the far corner of the car park for the Ford. None of them have guns but all of them have large, obvious tattoos, and they get what they’re after – and thanked for their public service – before our convoy rolls on.

Tuesday, 2.36pm - ?CAR PARK 50?, SILVERSTONE CIRCUIT:

You might think a cavalcade like this would be let in anywhere, particularly at a motorsport circuit – but not here and not today. There’s a Ferrari ‘Corse Clienti’ one-make event going on at Silverstone and, though I’ve asked permission in advance to come in and pose a few static photographs, the man on the main gate’s not budging. “You can use an outer car park but I can’t let you into the paddock,” he says.

Maybe he is aware of his Le Mans racing records and how poorly Ferrari aficionados may take to an uninvited successor to the GT40 stealing their limelight. Or perhaps it?S simply that Ferrari has paid a five-discern sum to be here and we haven?T.

I took the chance to swap from the Ford to the 911 GT3 RS on the way here, expecting to find the Porsche several times better-mannered and easier to drive. It’s certainly smaller, easier to place and easier to see out of, but quieter? Nope.

The RS’s engine, transmission and rear axle could make enough racket, between them, to test the effectiveness of the world’s best foam earplugs. There’s a combination of factors in play here: the 911’s rearward weight bias means it needs unusually wide rear tyres and unusually firm rear suspension settings. When you ramp both up to ‘RS’ levels, take out all the sound insulation and add this car’s gravelly, sabre-edged engine and lightning- rod half-cage into the mix, you get noise. A lot of noise, of many kinds. The Ford GT’s suspension gets noisy when you hit sharp edges and the like, reminding you a bit of the ride in a Lotus Elise: the 911 GT3 RS’s ride is noisy all the time.

And you embody that noise within the Porsche because it comes packaged with this kind of shiny, hair-raising using revel in complete of comments, drama, grip, poise, handling adjustability, revs and velocity. The GT3 RS is all of the tune system that all of us, besides possibly Tom Kristensen or Max Verstappen, surely wishes ? It?S absolutely incredible. And if this workout changed into meant to find out how much you need to spend, and how some distance you want to head down the line in the direction of using a competition car with numberplates, earlier than locating a vehicle to excite in same degree on each avenue and song ? Nicely, the GT3 RS could be its winner. But then it?S also well worth remembering how few people buy automobiles like this due to any rational choice-making procedure. For a awesome many, the reality that the Porsche is the plain desire may additionally make it the ultimate vehicle they?D purchase. For others, a 911 ? Any 911 ? Simply wouldn?T be special enough.

We line up our trio on the far facet of Silverstone?S large expanse of empty vehicle park tarmac with a view of the circuit?S wing-shaped new paddock complex within the background. And then, just as I?M belting in and getting ready for my first stint within the Radical, a few raindrops begin sploshing onto its stickered windscreen. Oh suitable.

The technique of stepping over the RXC?S wide sidepod, dropping into its Corbeau bucket seat, squeezing your thighs beneath its Alcantara steerage wheel and doing up your six- point harness is numerous instances more complex and hard than even getting into the carbonfibre-tubbed Ford. Then you?Ve were given to consider the begin-up routine, close the gullwing door with out inadvertently punching your self in the head (I failed with that on my first strive) and shrink back. I stall the car 4 times earlier than I correctly get the racing grab out, and twice greater before we hit the A43. I also realize I?Ve failed to close the motive force?S door well while it swings open above me at 50mph; queue every other frenzied grab and some other punch in the head.

My phrase, this thing?S noisy. Being in it reminds you of watching staying power racing in-car video photos, except that the gear whine in here is dialled up past eighty decibels, I?D estimate. That heavy, troubling clutch doesn?T hassle you once the car?S above walking tempo, though, and the auto?S seat and riding position is definitely comfy and roomy sufficient to spend some hours at the wheel.

The rawness and physicality of the Radical’s driving experience would wear you out soon enough, though, I reckon. The car’s steering is very heavy indeed, and the Radical’s suspension settings make it tramline and bump-steer much more than either of its road- trip buddies. Its ride is respectable as long as the surface you’re on is decent, though it’s both short and somewhat unforgivingly firm over typical B-roads, making the RXC skip and deflect.

The automobile?S accelerative pace is without difficulty apparent when you?Re brave enough to dig into the pedal journey however, on bloodless tyres and in site visitors, it?S a vehicle you power with a always big dose of circumspection.

On simply the proper street, on simply the proper day, with not anything else around, you?D have a ball driving it. Most of the time, I suspect you?D actually be getting to or from a circuit ? Wherein you?D have an absolute rebellion. But on-street trips in a Radical RXC would need to be carefully deliberate to keep away from bumpier stretches. You?D must avoid tighter junctions and car parks too (the automobile?S turning circle have to be drawing close 15 metres), as well as napping policemen (the restricted floor clearance is usually inside the again of your mind). And horrific weather ? God, you?D want to avoid that. Dunlop Direzza cut slick tyres and no anti-lock make you very aware about the distance to the auto in the front when it?S raining because the RXC?S brakes feel like they?D be very smooth to lock inside the wet.

After a diversion off the M1 to avoid a few constructed-up visitors, the convoy stops for gas. Somebody asks me if I need anything: coffee, water, candies etc. ?Honestly,? Comes my ref lex-like respond, ?I?D pretty want to get out.? What a jessie. But the fact is, both the Ford and the Porsche spoil you for a vehicle like this.

Wednesday, 9.56am - DONINGTON PARK CIRCUIT:

The dew was clinging so seductively to the Ford GT’s waxed haunches in the morning sunshine earlier on, before we left our B&B, that I must have spent a good ten minutes just staring at it – willing myself not to imagine it in Gulf colours and failing miserably in saving myself from falling completely under its spell. It gets past your normal defences, this car, as much for what it is as what it does.

An hour or so later, we’ve just about managed to get the Radical’s front splitter up the gravel slope to the Redgate corner viewing area at Donington for a photo. The yellow Ford is parked highest up, quite plainly in view of anyone contesting what looks like a practice session for a Mini Challenge race on track. Not long after we’ve parked, one Mini driver away on his own loses it in a pretty odd, innocuous place on the way out of the corner. Did he look up and get a visor full of yellow distraction? I like to think so.

When you bring cars like this to places like Donington, you’d be amazed who you meet. We’re not standing around long when a fairly short, lean-looking bloke with a broad Belfast accent pitches up. You can tell he’s a racing driver – but then the paddock’s full of them.

This guy’s Steven Kane, works driver for the Bentley M-Sport Blancpain GT racing team – and he’s getting an advanced look at the boss’s next car. Turns out Malcolm Wilson, who runs the Bentley team but also fields Ford Fiestas in the World Rally Championship, is one of the lucky few getting a new GT this year. With Wilson’s independently run Fiestas topping the WRC, perhaps Ford has offered him a GT as a thank you. From here, it’s only 40 miles or so up to the Ringinglow Road running west out of Sheffield up into the Peak District, where we’re due to wrap up our race-car rideabout. I’ve got the pick of the trio for the drive up there, and if I was being serious about how much fun I might get out of the miles, I’d probably pick the Porsche. But I’ve driven the Porsche plenty, on several occasions over the last two years: and the GT’s calling my name again.

It’s the sense of occasion you get from this car that marks it out, and its usability that really surprises you – because it if was as compromised as the Radical on the road, you’d probably only want to wrap it up and admire it all day. That fixed seat and those sliding pedals; the steering wheel you can pull so close to your chest; the cool, tactile, anodised metallic knobs and switches you use to switch drive modes and select gear... so much about the car reminds you that it’s a purpose-built racing car that happens to have been rather cleverly and thoroughly converted for the road, but not fundamentally altered in the process. The sense of purpose the Ford GT has is totally beguiling and completely unmatched in my experience, but it’s allowed to be because it’s so easy to enjoy.

The Peak District’s moorside roads do feel a touch narrower in the Ford than they might in the other two cars here, and I’m spending longer clattering the catseyes than I’d like, which I’ll blame on left-hand drive. Still, every corner’s a joy; every short, well-sighted straight a chance to drink in the savagery of that turbo V6 again, and to savour it.

The road’s busy with cyclists and walkers as we knock off the final photographs of the trip. Many of the latter are probably wondering if that odd sound they can hear is the mating call of a rare reed warbler. In fact, it’s just the “psst-psst-psst” of someone trying to find reverse for the umpteenth time on the pneumatically actuated gearbox of a Radical RXC.

Still, we’re here; nothing’s broken, everyone’s sane. And I’m delighted to say my worst fears were unfounded. There have plenty of truths made plain on our way, but very few genuine trials to endure – and so perhaps we’ve proven that even the most extreme track car can be used on the road, for the right journey.

All that remains is to go home – part of the way, at least, in Ford’s awesome star of our show. On the way back through the city’s suburbs, a cheery Sheffielder smiles through the car’s open side window and asks what lottery numbers I put on. She’s onto something, because the GT certainly makes you feel like a winner – albeit not quite the kind of winner she was suggesting.

Related stories:

Ford GT review

Radical RXC Turbo review

Porsche 911 GT3 RS review

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