Richard Hammond’s Unfair Advantage in the Holy Trinity Race

The lesson is that you want all of your tires to point in the direction you are going for maximum handling and maximum power applied to the road. In the Porsche 918, the back wheels turn with the corners, using series of sensors and computerized magic, to improve both the handling and the amount of power applied to the road during a turn.

The four wheel drive of the Porsche 918 Spyder means that it will suffer in a straight quarter mile drag race as it’s off the line speed will be less than the traditional rear-wheel drive cars like we see in the LaFerrari and the McLaren P1. The official quarter mile times for the cars, as listed by Motor Trend are:

  • Ferrari LaFerrari – Quarter Mile in 9.7 seconds at 148.5 mph
  • McLaren P1 – Quarter Miles in 9.8 seconds at 148.9 mph
  • Porsche 918 Spyder – Quarter Mile in 10.0 seconds at 145.2 mph

As predicted, the four-wheel drive system in the Porsche 918 Spyder causes the car to place third during a straight line drag race. But what happens when you put the car around a track? Motor Trend was able to race the Porsche 918 Spyder against the McLaren P1 around the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Ferrari would not allow the LaFerrari to play). As you can see in the times below, the Porsche 918 Spyder set a new production car track record, beating the second fastest ever recorded production car time, set by the McLaren P1.

  • Porsche 918 Spyder at Laguna Seca – 1:29.89
  • McLaren P1 at Laguna Seca – 1:30.71

In the Motor Trend tests, the four-wheel drive power train along with the four-wheel active steering system of the Porsche 918 Spyder simply gave it more adhesion to the road, allowing it to power out of the low-speed corners better than the McLaren P1, no matter what McLaren tried to do to the car to improve its performance.

Make no mistake, the McLaren P1 is an amazing car. It is the fastest production car in total achieved speed to have ever lapped the track at Laguna Seca on road tires, and it beat the lap time of the next closest production car by over 3 seconds. While on road tires, both of these hybrid cars achieved lap times, which were so fast, that they would have qualified for nearly any professional sports car race held at Laguna Seca!

While Ferrari wouldn’t let Motor Trend play with the LaFerrari, apparently the boys have much more pull than anyone else, because in Season 1, Episode 1 of the Grand Tour, they got to have all three cars on the same track! As far as I could find, it is the only time such a side-by-side-by-side comparison of these three amazing vehicles has ever occurred.

Here are the lap times recorded by the boys during the Grand Tour Season 1, Episode 1 at the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal:

  • Richard Hammond’s Porsche 918 Spyder – 1:54.2
  • James May’s Ferrari LaFerrari – 1:54.4
  • Jeremy Clarkson’s McLaren P1 – 1:55.5

As with the Motor Trend tests, the Porsche 918 Spyder got around the track faster than the other two. What is surprising, is how close the Ferrari LaFerrari came to the Porsche 918 Spyder. Honestly, why Ferrari won’t come out and play ball more often against its two rivals, when it performed so well in Portugal, remains a mystery. It is quite possible that the Ferrari LaFerrari is the greatest rear-wheel drive car ever produced, but its refusal play the same game under the same rules as everyone else, is only giving the title of fastest rear-wheel drive car to McLaren.

Getting off the line fast has always been a problem for four-wheel drive cars. Even Tesla’s brand new S P100D can only do a quarter mile in 10.7 seconds (a world record for a four door sedan). Until someone figures out how to make all-wheel drive cars as fast off the line as rear-wheel drive cars, the straight line race will continue to be dominated by the rear-wheel drive car.

Conversely, the days of the rear-wheel drive petrol-only cars dominating the turns through a race track are forever gone. Thanks to the Porsche 918 Spyder, corners are now and forever, the domain of high-performance hybrid vehicles with all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. You can bet your bottom dollar that Ferrari and McLaren know it, and we will see these technologies coming out of all of the major manufacturers in the next round of hyper cars.

In the Grand Tour Season 1, Episode 1, Hammond’s car had an unfair technological advantage. Clarkson and May’s cars never stood a chance.

Keep driving my friends!

My thanks to Leslie for helping me with this article.

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