We arrived at el circuito Ricardo Tormo on the western outskirts of Valencia in time for a quick trackside lunch. Were we ready to put this Porsche to the real test? Sort of, except that the guy in the leading 918 kept pulling away while messieurs Kacher and Ruger were still debating brake points, turn-in points, and gearchange points. Sadly, all it takes to put your driving skills into perspective is one fast lap with Walter Rohrl, who ran the entire track in D and still got to the finish line light years before the distant number two. Lesser mortals clearly need more time to practice, and eventually we did learn to late-apex most corners, to step on the gas early, to anticipate the dialogue between rear-wheel-drive dominance and front-wheel-drive support, to brake
eerily deep into certain bends, to open up the steering much sooner, and to pay attention to the tires rather than understeer into oblivion and thereby convert the stern-faced minders in their brand-new black outfits into lifetime enemies.
Although the track closes at 5 p.m. sharp, we refused to say good-bye to our travel companion just yet. Instead, we pointed the Porsche's low-slung nose toward the open road one last time, through local villages and onto the wide-open barren plains, which glow in different shades of brown, amber, and gray. Although I am strapped to more than $900,000 worth of supercar, the fear factor has shrunk to 911 GT3 levels since we left Zuffenhausen less than three days ago. The 918 Spyder may not be as easy to drive as a 911 Turbo, but it certainly is not a naked razor blade on wheels, either. The difference between the standard model and the Weissach edition we briefly drove on the track is marginal unless you're a pro. Porsche will, however, wrap the Weissach edition in matte black, Martini Racing livery, or the striking Salzburg Racing design, at no extra cost.
Ferrari sold all 499 LaFerraris even before the first car was completed, and all 375 McLaren P1 coupes are also spoken for. Porsche intends to manufacture 918 units of the 918, but so far only two-thirds of the cars have customer names attached. Is this a deja vu of the Carrera GT, which found a mere 1270 takers despite a production target of 1500 units? "No, I don't think so," says R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz. "First test drives have only just begun, and as soon as word gets out about the breakthrough dynamics and the unique engineering concept, the 918 will sell out quickly."
Just in case you are in the market for one of these rare automotive dream tickets, bear in mind that there are two different seat choices (standard or racing buckets), that plug-in charging really is only icing on the cake, and that in real life, this car is so much more than the sum of its parts. Although it's packed to the detachable roof with extraordinary technology, the Porsche we lived with for three days was not an unapproachable monster machine. Quite the contrary: this is a thrilling and surprisingly unpretentious blend of supercar and race car. It's also a vision of the future.
2014 Porsche 918 SpyderBase Price: $847,975
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8/plug-in electric hybrid
Displacement: 4.6 liters (280 cu in)
Power: 608 hp @ 8700 rpm
Torque: 390 lb-ft @ 6600 rpm
Motors: Two permanent-magnet AC synchronous
Electric output: 129/156 hp (front/rear axle)
Batteries: 6.8-kWh lithium-ion
Total output: 887 hp
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Steering: Electrically assisted
Front suspension: Control arms, coil springs
Rear suspension: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented carbon-ceramic discs
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
Tire sizes F, R: 265/35R-20 (95Y), 325/30R-21 (104Y)
L x W x H: 182.8 x 76.4 x 45.9 in
Wheelbase: 107.5 in
Track F/R: 65.5/63.5 in
Weight: 3715 lb
Weight dist. F/R: 43/57%
0–60 mph: 2.5 sec
Top speed: 214 mph
Electric-only 0–62 mph: 6.2 sec
Electric-only top speed: 93 mph
Electric range: 18 miles
Charge times: 7 hours at 120V, 2 hours at 240V, 0.4 hour at 400V
Porsche and Webber return to Le MansWill the 918's hybrid powertrain go, too?
Between 1970 and 1998, Porsche scored a record sixteen overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Thanks in part to the superfast 917 of the early '70s, Porsche became synonymous with France's storied endurance race.
Porsche ended its prototype sports car effort after its dramatic win over Toyota in the '98 24 Hours, and in the years since, Audi has dominated the LMP1 class. Shortly after it unveiled the 918 RSR concept at the 2011 Detroit auto show, Porsche announced that it would return to Le Mans with an LMP1 prototype sports car (and join the nascent World Endurance Championship). Speculation is that the LMP1 car will be heavily based on the roadgoing, hybrid-powered 918 Spyder.
The team will run two WEC LMP1 cars, with Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, and Neel Jani as works drivers and testers Marc Lieb and Brendon Hartley trying out for two more spots. And then there's Australian Formula 1 veteran Mark Webber.
He isn't the first retired F1 driver to go to Le Mans, but he may be the most enthusiastic. Webber jumped into a Porsche LMP1 test car at Portugal's Algarve circuit a few weeks before his F1 contract with Infiniti Red Bull had officially expired.
Webber first raced Le Mans in a GT1 Mercedes-Benz in 1998 and '99; in '99 his car took air and crashed, both in qualifying and on the warm-up lap. He began his F1 career in 2002, racing for Minardi, Jaguar, and Williams before joining Red Bull Racing in 2007. From his first victory at the 2009 German Grand Prix, the year Sebastian Vettel became his teammate, through last year, Webber scored nine F1 victories, including two at Monaco. Although Vettel won four championships in the same period, there's little doubt that Webber was more popular with fans. His 2013 season was his toughest, with two poles and eight podiums but no wins. Now, joining Porsche at age thirty-seven, Webber's racing career may just be getting started. - Todd Lassa