Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Michelin Cup 2 tires are phenomenal

The San Francisco Bay Area is experiencing a heatwave, one of the few each year that balances out all of the parties we’ve been having in enjoying our typical mid 50’s weather, no matter the season. This particular heatwave is quite severe, though: not since Labor Day of two years prior - where temperatures in the city reached beyond 100 - has it been this bad. 94 degrees for three days straight really puts a strain on the nerves.

Especially when buildings in San Francisco aren’t equipped with air-conditioning.

Indeed, every time one of these hot weather patterns rolls around, I always declare that this will be the year I finally buy a portable air-con unit for my room, but it still hasn’t happened yet. Admittedly the not insignificant financial outlay for a machine only to be used a few days out the year is not so easily palatable. Add to the fact that usually by the time I’m ready to click buy, normal cool weather have returned, inducing me to procrastinate.

Let’s see if this year will be different, and I may have a secret weapon. Lately I’ve been super diligent on ensuring I get the appropriate quality of sleep, and a huge factor towards that is room temperature. Apparently, humans are evolved to get better sleep when the weather is cool (I certainly do during the winter months), so needless to say the last few days of this heat have not been conducive to me falling into slumber quickly; not when the bedroom is hovering in the 80s at midnight.

So, spend money to assist with something we do for a third of our lives; makes getting an air-con unit reasonable and justifiable, doesn’t it? I might get a chiliPad too while I am at it.

This first heatwave of the year did allow me to take the GT3 out this past weekend, the first chance to assess just what the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires can do when it’s within its optimal operating temperature. The verdict? So. Much. Grip. Astonishingly so. Only now did I realize that driving the Porsche around in San Francisco’s typical middling weather gives almost no information on the Cup 2’s true capabilities.

Is it possible to fall in love with a set of tires?

With the Michelins properly lit up, the GT3’s front-end is simply mighty. The communicative beauty of the 911’s steering shines in letting the driver know via the hands the grip level of the front tires, and in this maiden outing in hot weather, I’ve never felt more confidence-inspiring sensations through the GT3’s rim. I can truly trust the front-end: the tires dig and bite into the tarmac, no matter the amount of steering lock is inputed. The 911’s inherent understeer is still present, but it’s easily correctable when the tires are willing to do the work.

Obviously, the enormous 12-inch wide rear tires welcome the hot weather in equal measure to the fronts. Thanks to the engine being situated behind the rear-axle as is its signature, the 911 offers traction I dare say no other rear-wheel drive car can match. The Cup 2s with proper heat sticks to the ground immensely, but reassuringly so, allowing super fun mid-corner adjustability. Throttle-steer to tuck in the nose a bit or kick the rear-end out for some brief slip-angles: it’s all possible in the GT3, and easily accessible.

The 911 chassis reveals itself splendidly when the tires are on, and I’m ironically eager for more hot weather so I can sample the Cup 2s further it its absolute element. It’s so much fun.

Maybe I will get that air-con unit after all.

From my friend who’s traveling in Europe.

From my friend who’s traveling in Europe.

Depreciation really hurts

I’ll be the first to say that car enthusiasts shouldn’t give a single care about depreciation, and that we should simply drive and enjoy our cars. This is especially so after the car is already bought. Obviously, before signing on the dotted line you should take depreciation into consideration, so if a particular car is hellish on retaining value, you’d want to buy that car used.

However, buying sports cars with abnormal depreciation curves – like my GT3 – used, can be tricky. Special trim 911s are known to keep value superbly well, but one can never be sure if some future events or variables will dramatically affect the price. On the whims of market forces, a 911 GT car – or any high dollar sports car, really -  can easily fluctuate downwards in value in mere months.

I know this, because I’ve seen it with my GT3. Between January and now, the value of my car have dropped nearly $15,000, which is absolutely eye-watering, even if it’s an abstract, hypothetical number since I don’t plan to sell the Porsche ever. Sadly, my human mind doesn’t work like that, and often times I’ve been agonizing at the lost opportunity to save a significant chunk of money, if only I could have waited a few months to buy.

Yes, we shouldn’t care about depreciation, but it seems that’s easily declared than done.

Of course, I would say the joy of owning the GT3 for three months far outweighs any potential financial savings from delaying the purchase. I wouldn’t trade the more than 3,000 miles I’ve put on the car since January for having more money in my savings account. Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought the 911 if making sound monetary decisions were a top factor.

The GT3 is an emotional purchase, predicated on a life-long love of cars, and the mentality that if there’s something I want to do and I have the capability to do it, I should execute as quickly as possible; because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Deprecation hurts, but I don’t think it’s nearly as much as regret.

Sunny afternoons on campus. Or what passes for sunny in San Francisco anyways.

BMW M cars will have adjustable brakes?

During my daily perusing of automotive news today (not during work, obviously), I ran into this article from Jalopnik, stating the upcoming BMW M8 and M8 Competition will feature adjustable braking. By toggling a setting within the infotainment screen, the driver is able to select the amount of braking effort required between two settings: Comfort and Sport.

I cannot believe this is now a thing, and this isn’t even the good sort of adjustable braking: brake bias. All the system in the BMW does is vary how hard you need to stomp on the pedal to achieve the same level of braking pressure. This is in addition to the already myriad of adjustments available for things like steering, transmission, suspension, and throttle, offering an absolutely dizzying array of possible combinations.

I do miss the days of sports cars coming out of the factory with one setting only for everything. Parameters were set by the engineers, who would formulate a singularly best dynamic configuration to extract the maximum out of a car. Automotive engineers are highly paid and highly skilled; I want them to decide and set the optimal mode, rather than letting me figure out which permutation of modes feel most definitive to my grubby fingers and my uncalibrated rear-end.

M cars of old like the E46 BMW M3 offers zero adjustments, and it was and still is a brilliant car.

I’m glad my 911 GT3 offers “only” two adjustments: sport modes for the PDK transmission and the suspension. Both are practically useless on public roads – sport suspension is way too stiff, and PDK Sport is far too aggressive, so the car is de facto setup as is from Zuffenhausen as intended by Porsche engineers. The steering has one ratio with no adjustments to effort, the sharp throttle response cannot be changed, and sure as hell the brakes has but one setting: immense.

Keep it simple, sports car manufacturers.

Have a seat.

It's not all that precious

It’s expectedly strange to drive around in a car costing six-figures: the price-tag never really leaves the back of your mind. Every peculiar sound the car makes, loud or faint, causes an immediate reaction, questioning whether this will be the hour the car crumbles, costing to the tune of thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t help the GT3 is a manufactured in Germany, and we’re quite familiar with German automobiles’ reputation for reliability, which is to say, not good at all.

Alas this is what happens when you buy a car in that high of a price category, but you yourself am not sufficiently endowed monetarily as the typical owner (I don’t even make the price of the GT3 in salary annually). Surely those people have no issues dropping the occasional hundreds or thousands on an errant bent wheel or coil-pack failure, but I definitely do. I’m somewhat stretching it just to afford the 911 as it comes, so surprise repair bills are not welcomed sights.

Obviously, the prudent option would’ve been to buy not so nice of a car, but as the kids say these days, you only live once, and indeed I can pay for the GT3 and its associated running costs; it’s just that when things go wrong in a Porsche, the fix is usually spectacularly expensive (hello, Porsche tax!). Therefore I end up treating the car as if it’s the most fragile object in the world, like dodging even the smallest of road debris, or thinking it’s irreparably ruined at the first hint of any weird noises.   

Often times I have to remind myself the Porsche 911 is known for its robustness, a supreme legacy of reliably fun motoring for nearly six decades. It features some of the finest German engineering to exist, and ergo I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about driving it as I would any other car (within reason). The components that interacts with the ground are all motorsport focused, so the typical pothole isn’t going to do any damage. The engine is meant for heavy track abuse, so my putting around town and the occasional mountain road isn’t hurting a thing.

I have to train myself to let go of the GT3’s preciousness, and treat it as it’s meant to be: a superbly fast and immensely sporting transpiration device. Unexpected costs should be dealt with as they come unexpectedly, rather than keeping it constantly in mind. I bought the car for a sole reason, and that is to drive, unreservedly.

Lens flare to make JJ Abrams proud.

Want to go faster? Buy a faster car

Car enthusiasts modify their cars to stand out, to show off their personality. Unless they’ve got a super rare, practically one-of-a-kind vehicle (no one’s driving around a 250 GTO every day, I’m fairly certain), people will seek methods to make their car easily identifiable inside a parking structure. Even drivers of mundane grocery getters like a Toyota Corolla are wont to spend money to make it cooler than it really is. I know this, because I had one.

More importantly, car modifications are done in search of more speed and better performance. On one hand it makes perfect sense because who doesn’t want faster straight-line speeds and quicker cornering numbers? On the other hand, if you count all of the money spent to improve a particular car’s performance (and looks), wouldn’t it be more prudent to, combined it together with the car’s original price, buy a different model that’s simply faster?

Then again, I would argue most of anything related to the automobile is based emotionally, rather than logically. How many times have someone asked us for car purchasing advice only to go and not buy the one we recommended? Look at the popularity of heavy sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks: how often are those drivers hauling around enough people and gear to justify the extra volume?

Obviously, purchasing decisions aren’t logical, and therefore I don’t expect car modifications to be, on the contrary, completely utilitarian. The ‘Hellaflush’ and ‘StanceNation’ styling trend that’s been with us for a decade now (and don’t seem to be abating anytime soon) - I totally understand it, even if it’s far from my cup of coffee.

I’m known for my pragmatism amongst my friends, so it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten away from vehicle modifying since moving on from the Corolla. Admittedly, the Toyota was much too plain and unsightly for me to not invest some funds to lessen the enormous wheel-gap and give it a proper set of wheels - among other items. Since then, my motto has been if I want to go faster, I buy a faster car. Granted, my subsequent cars are built on decidedly sporting platforms, so there wasn’t any immediate impetus to improve on things.

Presently I own a 911 GT3, one of the best race-car-for-the-road platforms in existence; because honestly, we’re simply chasing after that race car aesthetic anyways. Cars slammed to the ground, body kits, wheels tucked neatly within a wheel-well, and adding horsepower: these are all inspired by motorsport, the look and sound of pure-bred racing machines (that’s why we like loud exhausts).

Instead of modifying the WRX STI and then the MX-5 to chase that aesthetic, I bought an entire car instead. Problem solved.

No shots were thrown away today.

I get to gripe about gas prices again

Gasoline prices have uniformly shot back up above the $4 dollar threshold here in San Francisco, and it feels weird for me to once again be able to grumble about high petrol costs. After nine months of not owning a car, I’ve now got a vehicle to feed, and a super thirsty one at that. The 15 miles-per-gallon average I’m getting with the GT3 almost makes me miss having my previous MX-5 Miata, a car that in its worst day still averaged 27 miles to the gallon.

The GT3 is loads more fun, though. Obviously.

Nevertheless, feeding a 15mpg habit gets expensive really quickly, especially so because the GT3 has a 23-gallon fuel tank. With the latest uptick in prices, a typical fill-up is well into the $80 dollars territory; now I know exactly the pain drivers of heavy SUVs feel every time they’re at the pump.

It’s well known California has the dubious honor of the highest gas prices in the nation, but the real indignation is for that privilege we don’t even get the best possible grade of gas. While rest of the States get to enjoy the sweet nectar of 93 octane, California is saddled with lowly 91 at the maximum. Worse, highly strung sports car engines absolutely demands as much octane you can give it: the GT3’s flat-six is tuned for 93, so being restricted to 91 is not an unsubstantial compromise.

There are gas stations in the area that sells 100 octane petrol, but we’re talking about nearly $10 dollars a gallon. No thanks.  

I wouldn’t mind paying the most for gas if we were able to get the highest grade of octane. Since that’s not the case, I’m going to protest along with the rest of the drivers whenever prices shoot up, as it has done this past week. Indeed, even though I commute using public transportation, on the weekends I put quite a bit of miles on the GT3, so I’m not all that different from the person who commutes via car.

Granted, no one ever said the car hobby was inexpensive.

I so wish I can get this California legacy plate and not the sort of ugly black and yellow one.

Fast mountain driving is an exercise

Can spirited driving be considered as exercise?

After what transpired this past Saturday, I certainly think so.

It was a glorious post-rain afternoon basking in sunshine, on a long stretch of winding tarmac where nary a car could be found (we were out in the middle of nowhere); I had the first opportunity to really explore the lofty limits of the 911 GT3 since I bought it back in January. For a word to sum up the experience, it would be ‘sweaty’.

Perhaps an empty parking lot might have been the more ideal proving ground to start off with, because for the first quarter stretch of the road I was super hesitant with my inputs, not daring to upset the car. Admittedly I had yet to break the GT3’s backend loose even once, so I had zero idea what its dynamics were like. All I knew at the time was the Porsche has tremendous power and grip, and it’s up to me to find the edge where either of those begin to falter.

That is, if my body is up to the task.

For the first proper go on a twisty mountain road in anger, I can say I handled myself fairly well: my friend who was following behind told me afterwards that I got noticeably quicker the deeper we got into the route. That said I simply could not keep up with the driver in front of me in a Chevrolet SS; he’s had 60,000 miles of familiarity with that car, and in his capable hands the SS disappeared from my windshield in short order. No doubt the GT3 is capable of going much faster - a 475 horsepower sports car ought to be quicker than a 4,000lb sports sedan; the problem is obviously not the car, but rather me.

Nevertheless, I was absolutely hustling the car to my (not so great) abilities, and it was indeed quite the workout. Even with the automatic climate control set at the standard 72 degrees, my back was perspiring heavily, and my palms needed periodic wipes on my shirt. I had to take off my hat because sweat was forming on my head as well. A leisure weekend drive it certainly was not.

And I felt the affects the following morning: I must have gripped the steering wheel too hard because my fingers were sore, and due to the countless shuffling of the right foot between braking and acceleration, the calve muscles were barking. I guess I never appreciated - until now - how much of an athlete a racing driver has to be, and how sorely lacking my own conditioning is.

Looking forward to improving on both fronts: mastering the GT3, and making sure my body is up to the task of doing it.  

Paying my respect to the locals.