While I already know the RS3 is the fastest accelerating car I've owned one question had remained unanswered: is the RS3 also the fasted car I've owned on track? As I've mentioned on here a few times before I'm going back to a dedicated track car next spring and I was invited along to a closed test day to try out a couple of the potential options. I didn't think I'd get the chance to run the RS3 on track on the day but there was a lot of interest in my car and my instructor for the day soon sorted us a track pass for a few laps.
Pembrey is a track I know well so this perfect cool and dry day would be the ultimate test of track times. No video from this day I'm afraid as Pembrey remain resolutely anti video cameras, they say it's an insurance issue, and the organisers enforced the rule ("if we catch you filming, it's a black flag and go home"). I'd previously managed a lap time of 1.10.7s in my Evo IX MR360 and 1.11.3 in my Megane R26.R both cars were running on dedicated A048/R888 track rubber where the RS3 is on the road and track Michelin Pilot Super Sports. As the thread title already tells you the RS3 was faster, even on my first quick lap I managed a 1.09.9, almost 1 second quicker than the Evo. I'm not a racing driver so these are just the lap times I can achieve rather than ultimate times the cars could achieve. The Evo always felt capable of spitting me off the track sideways so a race driver might well have been able to get more from the car.
I was feeling pretty good about that first quick lap until Ed, my tame racing driver and instructor, piped up "ok that's a start but you're braking too early, turning in too soon, adding lock at the apex which is scrubbing off speed and late on the throttle on exit. Typical road drivers habits." Mildly deflated we then did a couple of laps Ed's way. Were we faster? Oh yes, after 2 sets of 4 laps we were in the low 1m09s. After a couple of solo laps to finish a 1.08.8 was my best of the day, almost 2 seconds a lap faster than the Evo. Oh and as an additional comparison the Nissan GTR will lap Pembrey in 1.08s...in the wet so really there is no comparison!
Where did the RS3 make up the time? Other than a slower apex speed at Hatchets Hairpin the RS3 was quicker everywhere. The stability of the RS3 through the fast sweeping corners meant I had more confidence to carry more speed through. The peak speeds on all straights were over 5mph higher. On the lap telemetry the steeper acceleration lines, unbroken by gear changes show where a lot of time was made up. In the Evo and R26.R the telemetry clearly show the blips in acceleration during gear changes.
The Michelin Pilot Super Sports hung on gamely howling through every corner, especially the 77mph turn in to Honda Curve and full bore acceleration on to the main straight. A GPS accurate 126mph before the braking point for hatchets (25mph apex) was as thrilling as it sounds. The AP discs and Pagid RS4-2 pads were superb and resisted fade throughout though. Four flat out laps were enough though because the tyres started to get hot and the brake pedal was going a little long by that point (though braking performance was unchanged). The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres were once again superb, there is no sign of wear on either the side wall or across the tread pattern even after these antics.
As some final fun I let Ed take me around the track for a true fast lap. I thought I was late on the brakes it felt like Ed had the rear of the RS3 in the air in each braking zone. He easily took another second out of the lap time with later braking, faster apex speeds and higher peak speeds as a result. He had the RS3 balanced on the edge of grip through every corner, happy to let the car drift out onto the concrete strips on the outside of each corner. It is just incredible that when you think the RS3 is way beyond the point of return it will just grip again, as long as you keep the throttle in. I'd had the RS3 moving around under me quite a bit but this was way beyond what I'd be comfortable with, the whole car was moving sideways through the fast sweepers. The Audi race drivers at Oulton Park had used a similar technique with the RS4 so clearly getting the RS cars moving about is the way to a fast lap.
The rest of the day was spent in a range of lightweight track machines, all brilliant and different in their own way. Ed was pushing me to get quicker in each session. At one point in a Caterham R400 the intercom crackled to life "you realise you are the limiting factor here, this bathtub can go far quicker", my thoughts at the time are unrepeatable! So I pushed on and had 2 massive spins as a result of committing to a turn in speed then bottling it and lifting. One spin took us so far on to the grass that I couldn't see the track. Ed's response was "that's more like it, now you're trying hard enough", racers are truly nuts.
The day was fun and helped me move closer to a decision on the right track car for next year. I don't need something quite as extreme as the R400, I was lapping in about the same times in a more road biased version with about 200bhp. More than anything I learned so much more about my driving and that even after nearly 10 years of track time there is still so much more to learn.
And I will finish with the unexpected news of the RS3s track retirement. I've enjoyed the few track sessions I've taken the RS3 on but I now know all I want to about its track abilities. The track is the only place you'll get near the limits of the RS3, you'd have to be crazy to corner like this on the road. While it has been fun to turn a few laps the RS3 is ultimately too heavy and brakes and tyres get hot quickly as a result. On track you feel the near 1600kg weight. With a track toy on the way in spring the RS3 will be sticking to the road from now forward, though before I do move on to another road car I just might have to make a trip to the Isle of Man for the ultimate on road test too.