Motor Trend wrote an excellent article about taking the Taycan 4S through the streets where Riverside International Raceway used to be. The article not only talks about the Taycan but also the history of Riverside and how significant it is to racing and Porsche.
So how about you and me, 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S, go kick at some old bones around what used to be Riverside Raceway?
The silver 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S is sprawled out on the couch, staring at the ceiling. Observing this scene for several seconds, I finally thumb-click my pen and ask "So you're feeling … inferior? Do I have that right?"
It's understandable, I guess. Out on the road, you're a lookalike for the Taycan Turbo S we tested a few months ago. But up close, I can tell you apart thanks to your narrower tires and smaller wheels.
Let's flip through your chart. I see that your $105,150 base price is $82,200 less "premium" than the alpha-dog Taycan. Your 562 hp is 25 percent tamer than the Turbo S's uncaged 750. And you have the smallest—umm—battery, too, at 79.2 kWh.
Still, Porsche says you can clock a decent 3.8 second 0-60 time; in fact, we did a 3.9 on an empty street without even trying. But let's be honest; we both know that the difference between a 3.8 and the Turbo S's 2.4 to 60 is firecrackers versus Falcon 9s.
As your chart clearly indicates, you're at the bottom rung of the Taycan ladder. The first-place Taycan climbers will put their checkerboard Vans before ascending up to the 4S's Performance Battery Plus-version with 93.4 kWh, then the Turbo with 670 hp, and finally that big doggie, Turbo S.
"Am I even a Porsche at all?" you sigh, blowing your grille as your headlights tear up. Here's a Kleenex.
This is going to require an intervention. I wind my index finger towards me. Get up; we're going on a field trip. There's a place you need to visit.
Riverside Int'l Raceway
As an 800-volt, 350-kW Electrify America charger hums next to us in a Walmart parking lot, I carefully unfold an old AAA Southern California road map and slide my finger across its creases to the right, tracing the 91 freeway. There's Corona, then Riverside. South a bit on the 215, east on the 60, and then it's the first exit. There it is—Day St. See that black icon of a car next to it? I tap the old paper. This map was printed in 1986, and it still says 'Riverside Int'l Raceway' right there by the little race car drawing.
The track used to be about a mile over there, due east. Back then, it was a barren, brown moonscape of desert, decorated by a necklace of asphalt highlighted by white-painted, half-buried car tires to keep you honest at the apexes. Shuttered 31 years ago and scraped flat by mindless bulldozers, it's like any battle ground. They're never really, really gone, are they?
So how about we act like a couple of African elephants, you and me, and go kick at some old bones in a road racing graveyard. Maybe we'll discover a few things.
Bel Canto Racing Engines, In Stereo!
The word Riverside first met my ears as a kid, hearing an old Bel Canto stereo demo record (which I still have). Setting a needle on its outer edge, I'd go into a half-trance watching the psychedelic splatter of its multicolor vinyl spin at 33-1/3, and then the rest of the way listening to its audio tour of some raucous L.A. venues picked for their one-ear, then the other-ear, magical stereo effect.
At the 4:23 mark, Jack Wagner, the Bel Canto tour guide, announces: "Now we're off to the Riverside racetrack. There's sports car racing going on there and the sounds are just tremendous. Look at those cars—Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsche Spyders!" And then the sounds of screaming race cars flashing past, right to left, exhausts popping on the overrun as they lift for some corner we can't see. Looking back, I think that's literally when my rudder turned and tacked me towards cars for the rest of my life. And did you notice the guy said Porsche Spyders?
He was probably describing Riverside's 1958 Pacific Coast Championships, where in one of the day's events Jack McAfee and Ken Miles finished 1-2 in Porsche 550 RS Spyders. Yep, that Ken Miles, the toothy-smile Brit you saw in Ford vs Ferrari. You're carrying a little of his car's DNA, young Taycan 4S. Let's go retrace his laps.
I've worked out a route on these streets that approximates the path his Porsche took. It's embarrassingly crude, but here and there, actually pretty close, too. We'll start on Arbor Park Lane here, heading north—at 30 mph, not 130—which puts the old course's fast first turn about 200 feet over to the left. Now, we'll make a quick left at this Fire Station. Your steering, by the way, is extraordinarily precise; I can gauge my path as if I were walking it, the texture of Eucalyptus Ave a distant but communicative tremble in against my fingers. Okay, now a right turn into the Fairfield Inn's entrance—thunk, thunk—your suspension's firm, but imperturbably absorbent. Like a super-saturated sponge. We'll just skirt along the edge of the WinCo Foods store's parking lot before jogging right at the Costco's loading docks. This is where the Essess were. A sequence of very fast, alternating left-right moments of increasing terror.
In 1973, I stood just about here and watched the original IROC (International Race of Champions) races, which were entirely comprised of multicolored 911 RSR's that Porsche created just for these events. Their drivers were an improbable roster of luminaries—from Richard Petty and A.J. Foyt to Denny Hulme and Emerson Fittipaldi. Mark Donohue, probably at the peak of his powers that day, utterly dominated all of them. A few minutes after one of races ended, Jackie Stewart—just three weeks after winning his third Formula One World Driving Championship and bowing out of the US Grand Prix after his teammate, Francois Cevert, was killed—trotted by, Tartan cap and all, on his way to conduct an interview as a color commentator for ABC's Wide World of Sports. My high school friends and I yelled a question about an incident during the race. And unbelievably, he swerved towards us, stopped, and in his half-singing, high-pitched Scottish voice, carefully explained his view of the whole imbroglio before apologizing that he had to rush off. We all looked at each other. Did that just happen?
About 10 years later, Renault held a press introduction for the Fuego Turbo at Riverside, and at about the same spot in the Esses, two of them—one after the other—were rolled by journalists, the second guy getting pretty shaken up. The event was awkwardly suspended, and everyone was sent home before somebody got killed. It's still the most disastrous press introduction I've ever seen. Thankfully, your weight is way down low, though, due to your underfloor battery, so you nip around the Hampton Inn, flat as a pancake.
Getting to Turn 6—where I used to watch SCCA Regional races from the shade under bleachers—can't be reached without widely circumnavigating the Moreno Valley Mall on a giant ring road because the parking lots are mostly barricaded off during the COVID crisis. But there's one that isn't—the one just about where those bleachers stood. Of course, just as I pause, there, in your side mirror is a Mall Cop in a silver Tundra with a flickering light bar on top. I wish the switches for your side mirrors weren't positioned so awkwardly far back; I'd have seen him sooner if the mirrors were better adjusted. Don't get upset; it's a minor point. Let's demonstrate your real-time accelerator response and 472 ft-lbs of zero-rpm, EV torque. Man, that's a lunge worthy of any race car that's ever accelerated out of this corner. Bye, bye, Tundra. Adios, scolding.
Let's pause here, by the curb on Dracaea Ave near Yellowwood Street. The giant 1.1-mile back straight went right through here, where Mark Donohue's Porsche 917-30 Can Am car allegedly touched 230 mph. Further down, Jim Hall's white Chaparrals would angle their radical, giant pivoting wings when Hall pressed the brakes, so the car would grip better into Turn Nine. In 1966, the bodywork of Ken Miles' prototype Ford J-car—the successor to the GT 40 Mk II—disintegrated down there, sending it tumbling, ejecting and killing him. In 1969, the straight gained a kink towards the end, allowing Turn 9 a more gradual sweep and a slight banking. I've never been more terrified than being in the middle of Turn 9 in an oversteering Mazda RX-7 at 100 mph. Ever.
The Checkered Flag
Cruising north again, between the stucco two-stories up Acacia Ave, its intersection with Sweetgum Ave is the Finish Line. Where, on Wednesdays, it says there's no parking for street sweeping. In 1960, Sterling Moss wasn't thinking about parking when he flashed through here in a Lotus 18 to win the second United States Grand Prix. And over the next 28 years, neither did Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Mark Donohue, or six-time winner Ken Miles. All of them had their right feet pinned to the floor, shooting past whipping checkered flags.
In 1958, Ken Miles' average lap time in his 550 Spyder was 2 minutes, 18 seconds. Mark Donohue's 917-30 cut that by more than a minute, to 1 min, 16 sec. Ours was ... 13 minutes and 22 seconds. Well, that red light at Towngate and Eucalyptus was really, really long. Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say you now have Riverside's electric car lap record.
The track has now been closed as long as it was open. And it's not just Riverside Int'l Raceway—as the old AAA map had it—that's been replaced by these sleepy knotted, red-light intersections and multi-acre parking lots. Like Kentucky's Kudzu vines, the re-landscaping has crept clear across Southern California, engulfing and entombing the Ontario Motor Speedway, and Ascot Park, and Orange County Raceway, and all the rest of them. Leaving us with what's become our modern, real-world, everyday civilian racetracks.
In 1958, production cars drove like a Camry without shocks, with half the spark plug wires removed and whip cream instead of brake fluid. People drove nice and casual, because they had to.
Not so, now. For a lot of folks, the driveway has become pit-exit. Crossovers and economy cars nervously maneuver for position on the 405 freeway, while ordinary-looking people in ordinary Accords anticipate green lights like John Force.
For engaging in this, the cheaper Taycan 4S is actually the more effective Taycan. Sure, the Turbo S would be the right one to teleport back to Riverside's Esses and Back Straight. But in 2020, when every day's a race, 3.8 seconds to 60 is overwhelmingly quick enough to dispatch the worst lane-blocking doodler, while 2.4 seconds will simply alert the LAPD's SWAT Team. Meanwhile, the 4S's tires nail the sweet spot between 550 Spyder-steering and suppleness you want when you hit the real-world versions of Alligator strips.
Feeling better now? See, you won't be the first Prozac-prescribed Porsche after all. Yeah, it was that old 33-1/3 record's scream and crackle of racing engines that started me here. But I'm happy to listen to it on your BOSE Surround Sound system whenever I want to. In stereo, even.