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Gutter to Glory - Pygmalion at the Track

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Rob Rothwell
It’s 2,000 metres of concrete that twists and turns like a boa constrictor suffocating its prey.

The road course at Mission International Raceway is known as an intensive, challenging track that doesn’t suffer fools or their machines. Feathering a hair trigger, the utmost in concentration is needed to prevent an accidental shot with calamitous results.

At least that’s how it felt to me.

At 5:30 Saturday morning I rolled out of bed with eyes that could have used a few more hours welded shut. I didn’t complain.

I was headed to the track, but those simple words fail to do the long awaited day justice.

Seated next to me would be local racing legend Tony Morris Sr. Since retiring from racing in 2002, Tony has partnered with Porsche Cars Canada Limited teaching journalists how to drive and appreciate the breathtaking capabilities of Porsche products.

Tony Morris Sr.
Photo: Rob Rothwell/

While Tony is an integral part of the process that elevated me from the automotive gutter to a professional track in some sort of octane-fueled version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, it was the driving dynamics of two German rides that enabled my metamorphosis.

The morning hours of my ascension found me behind the wheel of a Porsche 991, better known as the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S.

My lime gold metallic coupe bellowed with 400 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque derived from a 3.8L flat-six powerplant featuring direct injection and integrated dry sump lubrication.

With man and machine working in perfect synchronicity, I became the unknown variable in the gutter to glory story. And while self-doubt permeated my being and kept my ego in-check, Tony exhibited unwavering confidence and determination in commissioning my evolution from newbie to novice.

TM’s first challenge upon the green flag was to find a way to relax me and calm my nerves as we were waved onto the track from pit lane. TM can see it. One look at a driver’s hands on the wheel and he knows the person’s mental state.

Nothing good comes of clenching the wheel like the arms of a dental chair.

I took Tony’s instruction to heart, and before I realized it, I had become singularly focused. Nothing else mattered. If it didn’t pertain to getting the Carrera S around the track quickly and safely, it was repressed deeper than bottle-fed scarring.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S on track
Photo: Rob Rothwell/

The only audible intrusion over the famed rear-engine wail was TM’s instructive play-by-play.

“Only brake in a straight line,” is one of those techniques that Tony harps on. Slowing the car to the ideal speed to enter a corner must be accomplished before turning into the curve or one risks unsettling the car mid-corner, and that’s not a good thing.

With speed nailed, it all comes down to the most efficient line through a turn, and that’s not as simple as it may seem.

My natural driving instinct had me placing the car too tight to the inside; Tony quickly corrected that.

“Go wide – wider,” was TM’s refrain as I came into number eight and tried to set the car up to exit turn nine carrying as much speed as possible. Unwinding the Carrera to the outer edge of the track through turn eight felt so unnatural but that’s what my clairvoyant insisted I do.

Suddenly, I was coming out of number nine carrying velocity far exceeding that of the Ferrari 458 Italia I was chasing. As we hit the immediate straightaway, I flung Porsche’s little supercar past the Italian stallion which had committed to an inferior line and was not able to ignite the afterburners as early.

With two big thumbs-up from Tony, I felt elation flood my senses and a need to chase down the next target in my sights – I’ve tasted blood.

At the track, everything stops for lunch. No light-headed racing here. With a full stomach, I return to my two-kilometre stretch of concrete crack but this time my ride is much bigger; we’re strapped into Porsche’s 2012 Panamera S Hybrid that combines battery with octane to deliver a total of 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S and 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
Photo: Rob Rothwell/

Accompanying the car change is a change in weather; deluged by rain, wipers waving, Tony tells me that he used to love racing in the rain. “Oh great,” I think to myself.

My racing coach isn’t advising me to slow down due to the slick road surface. No. He’s pushing me, and frankly, I’m a rabid dog pulling mercilessly on the leash.

Tony has revised my cornering lines to take advantage of drier portions of the track, avoiding Olympic-size pools of water that others wade through. The strategy works, and I begin reeling in some pretty impressive machinery.

I’m sure more than a few drivers were surprised to see the big four-door sled filling their rearviews as my octane-fuelled Pygmalion Story played out. My professor worked his magic over the course of the day, lifting a mediocre driver from the asphalt gutter to create a racer thirsty for the chase.

Despite TM’s absence, Porsche owners or any driving enthusiast with a properly prepared vehicle, can enjoy a track day at Mission’s International Raceway by registering for the Inside Line track event with Morrisport Advanced Driving at
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Rob Rothwell
Rob Rothwell
Automotive expert