Local Hero

“I’d be ashamed,” my driving partner said, clucking his tongue behind the wheel, “It’s embarrassing.”
Just up ahead, the shining flanks of a Cayman GT4 rippled along this undulating road – 20” alloys, a 3.8L flat-six making a highly-underrated 385hp, functional aerodynamics, huge brakes. It’s a fantastic little car, terrier-like in tenacity, grippy like a gecko; the best blend of raw driving pleasure and mid-engined docility you could wish for, stirred up with a proper six-speed manual transmission.
And then, just ahead of the best driver’s-car Porsche produces, there is a tiny white hatchback – a Citroën C3. I can’t see the badge, but let’s assume it has the largest engine, a 1.6L four making 120hp. Soft, French, economical, efficient, slow?
The road continues to wind through rural Portugal, past orange and lemon trees, white-painted houses, people going about their daily business. Ahead, the lead Cayman’s flat-six yaps and growls.
Undeterred, the little Citroën keeps kicking its mid-engined ass.
Now, some of this ass-whuppin’ is clearly due to the fact that the driver of the lead GT4 is – not to put too fine a point on it – a sluggardly moron. When we get to the track, he will be so abysmally slow that our lead-follow convoy will have to come to a walking pace on the main straight to allow him to catch up after a single lap. And he still didn’t catch up.
This isn’t hubris – I consider myself to be only a pretty average driver; I don’t do enough dedicated track practice to really improve (not with a two year old and another on the way), and I was never particularly well-coordinated. However, I can at least muddle along well enough to not be a total embarrassment: we can’t all be Paul Frères and Denise McLuggages, but a little basic competence would be a nice minimum requirement. You won’t find it up ahead though.
My driving partner is no slouch, but more importantly, he’s also experienced enough to spot a few erratic moves from the lead Cayman and drop back to not push him into an fatal error. We are on the way to a racetrack after all, even though this road is temptingly windy.
But even if this guy up ahead is a sort of Midshipman Slow, a gastropod in “driving” shoes, he still has near enough 400hp under his foot and a car that’s supremely forgiving and packed with go-even-faster technology. The German panzer should make pâté out of the crappy little French hatchback, in a manner not seen since – oh, I’m sure there’s some good example out there. Can’t think of one at the moment.
But the Portuguese driver in his little sardine tin of an econobox is simply flying. He’s not just keeping ahead of us, he’s actually pulling away; at first one turn ahead, then two, then three, then – he’s gone! My co-driver is pissed, but I’m chuckling softly to myself and making the kind of face Ron Burgundy would. I’m not even mad – that’s amazing!
There’s hardly anyone on this little ribbon of backroad, but the gajo in the Citroën clearly travels this way a lot. It’s his home-court advantage, a back-of-the-hand knowledge of the terrain that has every gearchange plotted, every blind corner traced out.
Basically, dude’s Takumi Fujiwara, this is Mount Akina and we’re the Red Suns. Well, except that our lead driver is a bit of a Keisuke, and that’s a brie-eatin’ front-wheel-drive hatchback instead of a super-dorifto-potential haichi-roku.
The analogy stands. Each of us has a road that we’ve traced time and again, a favourite path that’s like walking through your childhood home in the dark. It doesn’t matter what car you’re driving, you can see three turns ahead, know where to brake, know which corner always has gravel on it, know where the fuzz likes to camp out.
Maybe it’s your Sunday morning canyon route. Maybe it’s your local racetrack. Maybe, like me, it’s the road home to your folks’ house, a winding lane where you first cut your teeth behind the wheel.
There is a joy to be found in exploring a new road. There’s the sense of exploration, the delight found in coming ’round a corner to see a whole serpent’s nest of wriggling tarmac ahead of you, the fizz of the adrenaline in your veins as you discover something unknown.
An old road is like an old car – it’s a piece of music you know by heart, the kind of thing where your fingers and feet bypass your brain entirely and touch only your heart, roving through the apexes with ease, hitting the same old notes, anticipating the tricky bit, achieving mastery.
A long straight ahead means that we finally catch up to within sight of the little Citroën, just as the entrance to the track comes up. My partner shakes his head again disgustedly.
“You know,” he says, “That just made his whole day. He’s going to be telling all his friends at work, you can bet on that.”
And then the track, hustling hard after Walter Röhrl who’s half-assing it around this tightly knotted circuit with one eye on his stragglers. The GT4 snuffles along in his wake – at the end of a couple of hot laps I’ll be able to a pick a handful of black gumballs out of the front intakes like rubberized snot. What a wonderful, ridiculous, idiotic thing to find yourself doing for a living.
But even here I’m thinking about our acquaintance and his honeybadger of a French hatchback. I envy him his road. I envy the way he reacted to seeing a brightly-coloured track special by not giving way meekly, but by putting the damn thing solidly in the rearview. I envy the way he must feel, elated, buzzed, grinning, having clearly demonstrated the difference between a fast car and a fast driver.
I wish I’d had the chance to shake his hand, buy him a cerveja, and hand him a Hooniverse sticker for his car. Hoon of the day, right here kids. King of the countryside. Master of his backroad.
Home court legend.
Local hero.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

  1. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    Standing in Portugal, with his rev count low
    Couldn’t pass a Citroen, it was a one lane road
    Heard the roar of the engine, he could picture the scene
    Put his foot to the floor, then like a distant scream
    He heard one flat-six, just blew him away
    He smelled exhaust in his nose, and the very next day
    Bought a beat up six speed in a secondhand store
    Didn’t know how to drive it, but he knew for sure
    That one GT4, the steering wheel in his hands
    Didn’t take long, to understand
    Just one GT4, slung way down low
    Was one way ticket, only one way to go
    So he started drivin’
    Ain’t never gonna stop
    Gotta keep on drivin’
    Someday he’s gonna make it to the top
    And be a track day hero, octane in his veins
    He’s a track day hero
    He took one GT4, track day hero, octane in his veins
    Track day hero, he’ll come alive today

    1. irishzombieman Avatar


    2. wilco40 Avatar

      That is fooking excellent !!!!!

    3. Troggy Avatar

      Put that to the beat of “Going the Distance” by Cake. Well done.

  2. irishzombieman Avatar

    “I envy the way he must feel, elated, buzzed, grinning, having clearly
    demonstrated the difference between a fast car and a fast driver.”

    Great post, Brendan. That feeling is its own kind of drug and it’s more addictive than crack.
    There’s a stretch of road near Yosemite that I know well, that I’ve driven literally hundreds if not thousands of times. Thirteen miles of twisty downhill before it hits a 3/4 mile climb and the road straightens out. My Geo Metro tops out at around 55 horsepower, but with brake and suspension improvements, no one gets away from me until that little climb. I’ve stayed right behind Vettes and Miatas, seriously pissed off a guy in a whale-tailed 911. Dude in a Ferrari 360 nearly crashed trying to ditch me.
    Admittedly, anywhere else I’d be lost by the third corner. But that piece of road–my piece of road–that’s my personal roller coaster.

    1. Frank T. Cat Avatar
      Frank T. Cat

      I have a similar stretch of road near my house. My 900 has no turbo, a tired slushbox, and 135k of its 155k miles were spent with as little maintenance as possible. But, I know every corner on that stretch of road– how fast I can safely go, how to handle some of the weirdly cambered corners, etc. I’ve ended up embarrassing a lot of people in much more powerful and well-handling vehicles because of that.
      Last summer, I got stuck behind a particularly meaty meat-fist in a red E90 M3. This was right after I’d upgraded the rear sway bar, put in some new PowerFlex bushings and replaced all the brakes, so I was in fighting form. Despite his best attempts to lose me in the straightaways, I always caught right up to his bumper on the corners. This made him irate enough to misjudge one particular corner that you have to go WAY slower than you think you can to stay on the road. He ended up skidding off into the dirt while I blew on by.
      Anywhere else, my car and I are hopeless.

  3. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
    Greg Kachadurian

    That lead Cayman driver reminds me of my roommate – in the nicest way possible, of course (I don’t think he reads Hooniverse). I once nicknamed him “The Moving Chicane” and it’s stuck to the point where we’ve contemplated giving him a custom sticker with fancy sparkly text to put on his windshield. He drives an LS1 Trans-Am.
    This was a fun read and I totally understand the pain you and your co-driver experienced. Watching locals who know the road the best is fascinating, and I once saw a guy in a Tacoma appear in my rear view out of nowhere on The Dragon – only I quickly got out of his way. Someday I hope to achieve that status on an epic road too but there’s not much nearby.

  4. Vavon Avatar

  5. Batshitbox Avatar

    Sequential license plates? Were these on loan from someone?
    I thought I was having a blue dress / white dress moment until I noticed the plates weren’t the same. You were in the blue one, I’m guessing.

    1. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
      Greg Kachadurian

      Looks like a press event. They haven’t started delivering the GT4 to customers yet but press drives have already started.

    2. Brendan McAleer Avatar

      Yes, press launch for the car.