Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: Road trips and track days
British summer time: the cynical may define this as roughly a two-week window of high temperatures and peak sunshine amid a perpetual rainy season, but for driving enthusiasts like you and I it defines six months of prolonged daylight and dry(ish) roads, perfect for digging the Porsche out of its winter slumber in search of glorious, sweeping roads and high-octane track days. British summer time is awesome.
You’ll already know from previous online diary entries that so far for the 2016 season I’ve completed one track day at Castle Combe and been on a driving tour of Scotland, but that’s hardly enough flat six action for your discerning Total 911 Editor. Good job, then, that I’m just back from a Porsche Club GB track day at Brands Hatch, with a weekend driving through Wales with the magazine’s fellow ‘Living the Legend’ 911-owning contributors to follow.
Before any of that though, I needed new tyres after the Continentals perished at my last track day. I sought new performance rubber that would ably complement the 996’s brief under my ownership of fast road and occasional track use all year round, in a variety of conditions. I decided to try P Zero Rossos from Pirelli, after the Italian brand relaunched its range of new N-rated tyres for classic cars (as many will know, the 996 is bizarrely now classified as ‘classic’ by Porsche). A relaunch it may be, but the blurb is the technology underneath that sticky rubber surface is all-new, with Porsche-specific testing carried out by none other than Walter Röhrl.
I had the tyres fitted at Protyre in Poole, which is my nearest Pirelli Performance Centre (before you ask, it’s a scheme that rewards excellence for dealers using Pirelli in the UK. Dubbed PPC for short, the key objective is to provide a network of dealers with high technical details and commitment to service. These businesses have to pass a 130-point technical audit twice a year, so awarding and renewal of PPC status is no mean feat). I then covered around 400 miles on the road before my track day, where I discovered the P Zero Rossos need little heat in them to come to life, offering very good grip levels near enough immediately. I found this to be most impressive. I was also very happy with the levels of rolling tyre noise, which is reduced compared to other N-rated variants I’ve experienced.
For the acid test on track, I booked myself and my brother, Jack, into an evening session with the Porsche Club GB on the Indy Circuit at Brands Hatch. Save for a passenger ride in a 997 Cup car with Total 911 columnist Ben Barker in 2012, I had no previous on-track experience at Brands and, with the standard of driving at PCGB events usually reasonably high, it wasn’t just the new tyres under scrutiny! To add further spice to the evening, monsoon-like rain descended upon us during the first group’s initial sighting laps, leaving a completely sodden track in our wake. Perhaps those summer time cynics are right after all?
Regardless, this meant the first half of the evening was largely processional as all cars attempted to skate through the elements, meanwhile contending with severely limited vision thanks to the spray from cars in front. However, I felt the Pirelli tyres held their own in truly adverse conditions, communicating nicely to me when grip was in short supply (and, on one occasion skirting around Clearways, completely gone!).
As the track started to dry out for the second half of the session, my brother and I could push the car a bit harder. The P Zeros again performed well as we rode the tyres on their shoulders through the infamous Paddock Hill bend and on to Druids, their progressive feedback communicating fluidly where we could push more or ease off. For a do-it-all performance tyre, the P Zeros have wasted little time in winning me over. They’d already proved themselves an astute purchase as we left Brands in one piece despite the slippery conditions.
It was great, too, to share track space with like-minded owners through the Porsche Club GB and I’m already eyeing up another session on the calendar before this year’s out, but before that I need to look at a serious understeer problem that dogged the 996 at Brands. That’ll involve starting again with the car’s geometry, but the problem likely stems from the fact a lot of different people have tinkered with the adjustment underneath the 996 in the last few months in between the fitting of new suspension, brakes and then tyres. I’ve precisely three weeks to get this sorted, as the car and I have a 300-mile road trip along eight of Wales’ very best driving roads to contend with before autumn approaches, and with it… more bloody rain!