There’s a lady with a walkie-talkie employed by Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway to sit in a tower above the track’s uphill straight and use an instrument to measure the noise levels of passing race-cars below. It’s all part of ensuring a certain decibel limit isn’t exceeded, and that the noise-pollution gods (and nearby residents) remain happy.
So, I’m with Richard Hull, a Porsche Driving Instructor, getting some pro tips ahead of a blast of the new Porsche 918 Spyder around the circuit. And while I’m listening to him tell me how to use the gear shifter, how to switch from the 918’s E-Power mode to Race Hybrid mode once we’re out of the pits, and how it’s probably faster to just leave it in full Drive than to paddle-shift, he mentioned something, apparently, about “takin ‘er a little easy” near this sound control lady’s tower, so she wouldn’t get upset.
This is the new big Porsche. Not Turbo S big, no. Performance wise, this 918 Spyder would rip up a 911 Turbo S and leave it looking like a Tyrannosaurus used it for a chew toy. It also costs as much as four of them. The 918 Spyder is a supercar, and a very big-deal of a rig that forms a sort of technological gene pool from which future products will draw.
2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
And though it’s a plug-in hybrid that you can juice from the same outlet you plug your weed-whacker into, this thing’s loud. Loud and fast and extremely expensive. So much so that when you walk up to the swooping carbon-fibre-reinforced shell stuffed with racing seats and batteries and this really next-level bit of tech bolted beneath, recalling the numbers in your mind causes nervous pang in your stomach. 887 horsepower. No less than US$845,000. The better part of a thousand lb-ft of torque. A thousand. And that’s the sort of right-now torque generated in part by a pair of electric motors, so there’s lots of it, everywhere, all the time.
But it’s loud. Loud, loud, loud. Even accelerating on electrons only out of pit lane in E-Power mode, the car leaps forward with alarming urgency when the throttle is pressed. And, in the same way a sports car shows off the sound of its engine, the 918 Spyder proudly floods the cabin full of noises from the electric propulsion system in the form of clicks and whining and whirring away as electricity is generated, stored, and dispensed to all four wheels at the driver’s command. It’s the sort of high-tech aural symphony you’d expect to hear in the engine room of the USS Enterprise – especially during regenerative braking. This isn’t one of those ghostly quiet hybrids.