Welcome back to The Garage for coverage of day two of the International Motoring Press Association’s annual Test Days event, held in the beautiful New York Catskill Mountains. Whereas on day one we were free to drive the surrounding roads of our home base, Monticello Motor Club, today it was all about taking to the race track, and access to a rigorous off-road course.
When taking to a race track, I generally prefer to go with something on the mild side to get used to the track. In this case I picked a MINI Cooper Roadster. Dogged with an automatic tranny and not enough power to get you into any sort of trouble, the MINI was ideal to acclimate myself to the track. Satisfied, I turned my sites to something a with more bark-the BMW Alpina B7. Under the hood lies a 4.4L twin turbo V-8 cranking out 500hp. On the track, you are aware of the B7’s size and weight, but she is seriously fast. A 2013 Ford Mustang GT hit the track with a 30 second lead in front of me, and I caught up to it.
I did sample a V-6 powered Mustang for the first time. I don’t mind Mustang’s at all on the street, but I’ve driven Mustangs on a race track a few times now, and each time I am reminded how awful these cars perform on a track. No confidence in these cars at all, with twitchy handling and not nearly enough steering communication.
Yes, driving flat out on a race track is great fun, but slogging along at 5mph on an intense off-road course if equally exhilarating. For starters, I was given a ride in a Land Rover LR3 with an off-road expert to familiarize myself with the course. Once done, I surveyed the trucks available to us, and settled on the Nissan Frontier. The Nissan’s smaller size and off-road package seemed like a safe pick for my first run. The Frontier was an ace at the difficult course, but after riding in the Land Rover, the Frontier felt primitive and very basic. After the Nissan I went for the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which was positively amazing. All in all a fantastic course with some extremely capable vehicles.
Having satiated my urge to go off-road, it was time to get back on the track. I made my way to where Porsche was stationed. Sure, there was a wait, but I put my name in to track the all-new Porsche Boxster S and the 911 Carrera S. After a wait, it was time to hop in the Boxster. With the other cars, I was on my own on the track, but Porsche had driving coaches on board, with the intent to make us push the cars harder and go faster. So upon hopping in the Boxster, I am greeted by Andrew Davis, who races a Porsche 911 GT3 in the Rolex Grand Am series for Brumos Porsche. That’s right, a Grand Am driver is riding shotgun, giving me tips on how to maximize a Boxster on a race track! The Boxster feels fabulous and unflappable-very easy to drive fast and incredibly forgiving.
Next up was the latest Porsche 911, a car that holds a lot of meaning to me as I own one myself. I was nearly beside myself when I climbed in to find none other than David Donohue, Daytona 24 winner and son of the legendary Mark Donohue sitting in the passenger seat. I quickly informed David that I was about to turn in a truly awful lap as I tried to process the racing goodness seated beside me. In the Boxster, Andrew was pretty laid back, but in the 911, it was totally different riding with David. And it was awesome. David let me in on the racer’s mindset. How far ahead you are looking-even two corners ahead of myself. And he pushed me-when I wanted to back off on throttle, he insisted I go all in. The 911 is radically different from the Boxster, and David had me pushing the car hard enough I was getting sideways in a $100,000 car without breaking a sweat. Some people say if you haven’t scared the crap out of yourself, you weren’t going fast enough. With ace racer David Donohue as my co-pilot, I can safely say he pushed me to my limit, and the tail-heavy 911 as well. It’s an experience I will treasure for life.
And on that note, that concludes my coverage of the 2012 IMPA Test Days event. I was able to sample some of the most remarkable vehicles on the market in gorgeous settings on bucolic country roads, fantastic race track and challenging off-road course. Thanks for joining us in our coverage, and we look forward to Test Days in 2013.