Fish out of water

MONTH four

FUEL THIS MONTH 11.4L/100KM AVERAGE 10.0L/100KM DISTANCE THIS MONTH 825KM TOTAL 5452KM

Liked

Surprisingly capable

Disliked

Lacking some top-end grunt

MOMENT favourite

Trying to catch 911s – failing, but trying THIS IS CLEVER ESP can’t be deactivated completely, but was surprisingly not much of a hindrance at Sandown

The Skoda tests its mettle on track

AKING ‘my’ Skoda Octavia RS230 to the track wasn’t in the original plan. As mentioned previously, its suspension is on the soft side and its electronic nannies can’t be completely deactivated, potentially making any hot laps an exercise in frustration.

This is not a slight on the Octavia, as despite the RS badge, race track use is not likely to have been high on Skoda’s development priorities.

My resolve crumbled, however, when a Friday afternoon session became available at Sandown Raceway, just 15 minutes from MOTOR offices. A white Skoda wagon certainly turned heads in pitlane, looking particularly incongruous among the plethora of Porsches and barrage of BMW M3s.

Sandown’s layout is relatively simple but deceptively tricky to nail and having not been on track for a while, the Skoda’s relative lack of outright speed made it a good partner in attempting to shake off some rust. One neat feature of the Octavia RS230 is the ability to individually tailor various mechanical settings and save your favourite combination under the appropriately named ‘Individual’ tab, accessed through the Skoda’s vRS button.

The list of options is long, including, weirdly, the ability to adjust the headlights and air-con, but as the Octavia RS230 lacks adaptive dampers, the only things you need worry about are the engine mapping, steering and front limited-slip diff.

As it happens, my ideal combination of settings is identical for road and track: everything in T Sport bar the steering, which remains in Normal to reduce its heft.

On the speedy side of the pit wall it’s fair to say the Skoda raised eyebrows, both my own and others’.

There are no prizes for guessing it’s not a car to induce sweaty palms, but nor does it result in yawns. The engine is strong in the midrange, if a little breathless at the top end, and punches well out of Sandown’s tight turns; with a little patience the electronics were happy to take a back seat and let the diff do the tractive work and were relatively subtle if they did intervene.

The Skoda’s soft setup did hurt it in Sandown’s quick changes of direction but also allowed it to ride the kerbs well and also made it very easy to drive at its limit. Its long wheelbase also made it very stable and confidence-inspiring through the scary-fast left-hander at the end of the back straight.

The brakes, so often a road-car bugbear on track, held up well for two or three hot laps at a time. They were a little groany at day’s end but returned to normal after a few days, though sadly the tyres, especially the hard-working front right, didn’t undergo a similar recovery.

No times were taken on the day but putting a stopwatch on the video footage later revealed a best time of 1:30.6sec. How that stacks up is unclear, but instructors on the day seemed surprised at the humble white wagon’s turn of speed.

A word of warning, however, that Sandown’s stop-and-go nature suited the Octavia. Recent BFYB testing at Winton showed the Skoda’s nonswitchable ESP and traction control to be a real hindrance, so choose your venue carefully when booking that track day. That said, you’ll probably have a lot more fun than you were expecting. – SN

Instructors on the day seemed surprised at the humble white wagon’s turn of speed